Wenger's quality gaps exposed by West Ham
Arsenal 0 West Ham United 0
Sunday 01 February 2009
Maybe Arsène Wenger is right, the solution to Arsenal's faltering season is yet another creative player such as Andrei Arshavin, rather than a new Patrick Vieira or Tony Adams.
Under a sky as blue as West Ham's shirts, but amid a piercing wind as chilly as the foreboding seeping into Arsenal's season, Wenger's team again failed to turn territorial dominance into victory.
Aston Villa's failure todefeat Wigan at Villa Park meant the damage done to their Champions' League aspirations was limited but, though Wenger said he was "not worried" about Villa, it added to the sense of a missed opportunity. Arsenal are unbeaten in 10 League games, but have only won five. Two years ago, when West Ham became the first visiting team to win at the Emirates, Robert Green had an outstanding match. This time he was never required to make a save out of the ordinary. In part this was due to the excellent defending in front of him, testament to the coaching expertise of Steve Clarke and the indomitable resistance of a back eight magnificently led by James Collins. But it also owed much to a lack of imagination in the Arsenal midfield. Wenger shuffled his pack, moving Samir Nasri inside, then bringing on Robin van Persie, but he failed to find an ace.
"I'm disappointed with the result but not the spirit," Wenger said. "We had 70 per cent possession and restricted them to nothing. We lacked some creativity in the final ball."
Arshavin, Wenger said, "maybe the player we need but we have other players who can unlock defences like [Cesc] Fabregas, [Tomas] Rosicky and [Theo] Walcott who are not available at the moment but could be in two months."
Arshavin could be available for the visit to Spurs on Sunday but while Wenger said, "We are not far away [from signing him]," he added, "I don't really know if I am confident, anything can happen in a transfer."
Clarke said: "We didn't come to defend, but we defended very, very well." West Ham have now drawn at Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal and Clarke added: "It's very important for the players' confidence to come to these places and get a draw. There has been significant progress from October."
With Manuel Almunia a distant spectator Arsenal began with their customary rush and nearly scored after three minutes. Collins rose with Abou Diaby to meet a corner and got the last touch as the pair headed against the bar. It would prove to be the closest Arsenal came to a goal.
As his team laboured Wenger's decision to rest Van Persie soon looked as ill-conceived as some of Rafael Benitez's recent selections. Wenger said he was wary of over-working a player who has had injury problems, but since Van Persie's last act in an Arsenal shirt was to score the late equaliser at Everton in midweek it seemed a costly decision.
The thought was underlined when Emmanuel Eboué limped off after 35 minutes after a fair, but heavy challenge by Scott Parker. Carlos Vela came on, to play wide left, Nasri, who had been the only threatening presence, moved into the hole and Nicklas Bendtner was sent on to the right wing leaving Adebayor as a lone forward. The move, designed to add width and, especially, guile in midfield, made no difference. It was West Ham who came closest to ending the half with a goal, Gaël Clichy heading clear a threatening Collins header.
The Gunners began the second period as they had the first and Collins had to head off the line after Kolo Touré hooked Green's punch back towards goal. Collins then threw himself into a block when Denilson seemed poised to score. A brace of chances came Adebayor's way but he turned Bacary Sagna's cross shy of the near post then rose above the stationary Matthew Upson to head Vela's cross into Green's arms
Gianfranco Zola introduced £9m signing Savio Nsereko, giving the former Serie B striker his first taste of a London derby. Savio dropped into midfield, a surprise, but Zola had four forwards and no midfielders on the bench.
As the clock ticked down Arsenal's desperation grew with Vela booked for simulation. The afternoon became grimmer still when Diaby was carried off with a thigh injury which could keep him out for a month. Arsenal have scored more late goals than anyone this season, and even Van Persie managed to pull his shot wide in injury time.
Man of the match: Collins
Match rating: 5/10
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