West Ham vs Arsenal match report: Sam Allardyce fumes at referee as Arsenal push on towards top four

West Ham 1 Arsenal 2

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The Independent Online

If this was a battle for the Champions League it was a worthy contest, but one side took their chances and the other didn’t. One now has six points from the festive period thus far, the other has none.

Premier League Sunday - as it happened

Without having been the better side, Arsenal finished the first half two goals up. West Ham enthralled in the second as they fought to overturn the lead, but couldn’t quite do it.

It was, in the end, two refereeing decisions in the first half that settled the match, both of which enraged the east London crowd. A searing  25-yard shot from Alex Song in the opening few minutes was ruled out, with only the referee and his assistant appearing to have any idea why. But more than one West Ham player was in an offside position and, arguably, impeding Wojciech Szczesny’s view of the strike. It was an explanation Sam Allardyce did not accept.

Then, on 41 minutes, Winston Reid fell over in the West Ham box and as he stood up again he tripped Santi Cazorla, a penalty was given and West Ham were behind. Danny Welbeck then made it two, three minutes later.

“Obviously it was a very poor decision to disallow the goal,” he said. “If we’d have been allowed that goal, as we should have been, I don’t think we’d have lost to Arsenal here. It would have kicked the lads on and Arsenal would have found it very difficult.” Welbeck’s well-taken goal before half-time put the match all but out of West Ham’s reach. They attacked in waves in the second half, and scored a scrappy goal nine minutes after the restart, but it wasn’t enough.

“I don’t see any real point in confronting a referee and you know you’re 100 per cent right. You don’t get anywhere by telling him how wrong he’s been,” Allardyce said. “But we’ve ended up losing a game that was a great spectacle.”

Santi Cazorla scores from the spot to put Arsenal ahead

Amidst the controversy, it was a controlled performance from Arsenal. “Everyone did their job very well, from the keeper to up front,” manager Arsène Wenger said. One such player was Laurent Koscielny, finally reunited with Per Mertesacker in the heart of the Arsenal defence. Without either of those two, Arsenal are vulnerable.

“You need to be stable defensively,” Wenger admitted. “When you miss important players it is not easy to be stable. We have a big game in front of us now at Southampton. We have the right to believe we can finish in the top four, but there are many teams who also think they can do it.”

West Ham’s year of apparent hope and change is now halfway through and they find themselves level on points with the supposedly crisis-stricken Tottenham. Cheikhou Kouyate’s header gave the hosts hope on Sunday when he pulled one back early in the second half, but the Hammers were unable to avoid a second successive defeat.

Cheikhou Kouyate pulls one back for West Ham

And at times, they are looking suspiciously last season. Stewart Downing isn’t pulling the strings on the edge of the box quite so much, threading passes to Diafra Sakho and Enner Valencia, who looked a lethal partnership early on in the campaign. West Ham’s target man, once again, is Andy Carroll, rising to meet those diagonal balls everyone at Upton Park had vainly hoped might be at an end.

Now, we enter the part of the season where land starts to appear on the horizon. Arsenal are very much used to what is looming in front of them – the bittersweet spectre of fourth place. What shapes rise up to greet West Ham are uncertain, but if Arsenal represent the thing they are aiming for, they are not there yet.