A better performance by the Hammers still ended in defeat, as Arsenal turned up the heat at the top of the table.
West Ham fielded a much-changed side from games' past as Maiga made way for Carlton Cole and Ravel Morrison was omitted from the squad with Kevin Nolan returning from suspension. Adrian kept his place in goal and despite his festive misdemeanours, James Tomkins lined up alongside James Collins in the centre of defence.
Arsenal named a strong side with Ramsey, Walcott, Ozil, Cazorla and Giroud all starting.
West Ham started brightly with Carlton Cole causing a number of difficulties for Mertesacker and Vermaulen in the centre of defence. Mark Noble played extremely well in the centre of midfield breaking up a number of Arsenal attacks. As usual, Arsenal were slow to start, but once they got into their stride were very difficult to live with. Crisp, fast passing but with Olivier Giroud up front, not a great deal of end product. Despite a slow start, at the halfway point, Arsenal had dominated 68% of possession and had the majority of the chances. Theo Walcott had the best chance at the end of the half when a scything through ball fell to him in the six yard box, the West Ham faithful praying for the offside flag which never appeared, somehow he managed to drive the ball wide. West Ham were hanging on, but went in at the break 0-0.
It seemed like a change of gameplan for the Irons at the break as we looked to soak up pressure and hit Arsenal on the counter attack. As we know, a plan executed with some aplomb against the hapless Spurs team at their place last October (sorry - I couldn't resist!)
Early in the half, after a broken down Arsenal attack, West Ham broke and a Diame ball into the box was half cleared to an unmarked Nolan on the edge of the 18 yard area. A powerful drive straight at the keeper caused Sczezny only to parry to the awaiting Carlton Cole who deftly popped the ball into the Arsenal net and a surprise 1-0 lead to the Hammers. I was doubly over the moon as I had Cole as first goal scorer so was in the money. A trip to the sportingbet lads was in order, only to find they had promptly cleared out halfway through the second half!
So it was back to the football and buoyed by a vocal Upton Park crowd, West Ham's counter attacking style continued to find openings in the wobbly Arsenal defence. We successfully soaked up the pressure and hit on the break with Diame and Joe Cole the main tormentors. One such ball into the box, left Carlton Cole six yards out with an open goal at his disposal. Sadly, he could only manage to shot wide and when Joey O'Brien's free header squirmed inches wide, nerves set in and you could feel it was not going to be our day.
Ramsey pulled up with what appeared to be a torn muscle and on came Lucas Podolski who.had an immediate effect on the game. However despite staunch defending from the East Londoners, after much pressure a Walcott shot managed to wriggle through the defence and flailing arms of Adrian to equalise for the Gunners. For the last 25 minutes the gulf in quality and indeed the lack of belief from West Ham filtered through as the North Londoners piled forward. Kieran Gibbs played in a hugely advanced role and terrorised Joey O'Brien, to cause a straight swap for Guy Demel. It was to no avail sadly as a cross whipped in from the left and deflected off a West Ham defender straight into the path of Walcott who rifled it into the net, scoring his first ever goal in the Premier League with his head. Hard to believe? This is West Ham, don't forget!
The home side had all but thrown in the towel by now and further Arsenal passing and moving mesmerised our drained defence and some nice interplay saw Giroud lay off to Podolski who fired into the bottom right to seal the victory.
The game ended with West Ham in the attack, but really it was all said and done and a noble performance was never enough against such a high quality attack. That being said, we did exposé the Arsenal defence on a number of occasions and if we had a real striker of any quality, we would have gone 2-0 up and who knows what might have happened. As with so many games this year our lack of quality firepower cost us, but as always, when our best players return, I am confident we will be fine.
Hilariously, Carlton Cole was named man of the match. This depresses me as it depicts the huge lack of ambition at the club really. It was indeed his misses and his absent performance for the most part of the second half that cost us dear. If anyone was man of the match, I would suggest Noble, who worked tirelessly against a world class midfield.
West Bromwich Albion at home followed by Fulham away on New Year's Day now become huge fixtures for us.
Merry Christmas one and all and a happy new year.