28 December 2014

Hammers 1-2 Gunners: A result that restores some semblance of order...

Phew. That's about as much as I can say about that. Five minutes in, it looked as if Alex Song had done us in with a well-struck volley that knifed through a thicket of players to beat Sczcesny. Once again, it seemed like we had conceded an early goal and would spend the remainder of the match seeking an equaliser. The goal was disallowed in a harsh but technically accurate decision as Sakho was ruled offside—he nutmegged himself. Again, technically, it's the correct decision, but it's more than bit harsh. From there, thank God, we found our footing and went into halftime up 0-2, courtesy of goals from Cazorla and Welbeck. The result may not be quite enough to sink the Hammers, but it does elevate us to fourth, with an eye to third as early as Thursday.

I'm not sure I have the correct West Ham 1-2 Arsenal picture here...
Whichever way you slice it, this was a fantastic result as it sees us overtake the Hammers and draw level with the Saints, and there's a slim chance that we could reel in Man U on Thursday should they lose at Stoke and we find a way to win at St. Mary's. Let's not get ahead of ourselves, though. There's an old saying about counting eggs or chickens, I forget which, but we'd do well to mind the lesson either way. At our end, there's enough in it to encourage some optimism; but for a late equaliser suffered at Anfield, we'd've won four in a row. At Upton Park, bigger questions now loom after two consecutive losses and eight points dropped from four matches. Are the Hammers reverting to form, or is this merely a short-term swoon?

At some level, Allardyce had to know that this one was a must-win, which might be why he rested Song and Sakho against Chelsea, perhaps conceding to the Blues while preparing for the Gunners, and the rotation nearly paid off as Song delivered that early volley, only for Sakho to negate it. The heretofore high-flyin' Hammers now have to rally and reflect. West Brom will pay a visit on Thursday, and something tells me that the Hammers will find psychological succor from facing a squad that is entering the relegation-battle.

However, this result puts the Hammers behind us, not that we can safely watch them fade in the rearview mirror. With the struggles that Everton, Liverpool, and Newcastle have endured, it would be foolish to write them off. One more stumble at our end paired with a positive result or two at the Hammers' end, and we're right back to where we were.

I do sense, however, that we're rising. Clubs like West Ham, Newcastle, Swansea, and Southampton may lack the depth or experience to sustain a tilt at a top-four position. Meanwhile, we're weeks if not days away from seeing Walcott, Ramsey, Arteta, and Özil return to the fold. In other words, we're gathering strength. Against West Ham, Koscielny's return gave us a boost through his own performance as well as through Mertesacker's. In front of them, Coquelin turned in a competent if not compelling spell, leading the squad in tackles and interceptions. He offered just enough to suggest to us that we may not need to sign a proper defensive midfielder. "Suggest" is a funny word, isn't it? It falls into the same category as "interesting."

We may not have rated the Hammers as rivals for a top-four spot back in August, but they've done more than enough to force our hand. Going into Upton Park and coming away with the win may not rate quite as high as a win at Stamford Bridge or the Etihad, but, on recent form, it merits a mention. We've earned a place at the table, shouldering aside West Ham in the process. Time will tell whether this a stepping-stone towards loftier goals or an end in and of itself. Fourth place. Is it our fate, or our destiny?