HALF TIME: West Ham United 1-0 Arsenal
They can’t get it, but trot off down the tunnel looking fairly content. They’re 45 minutes away from a confidence-restoring win. Arsenal by contrast look miserable; they’ve been a lightweight non-event. “You know how we always used to get irritated by the ‘hey guys, remember Spangles?’ crowd who would forever be banging on about irrelevant minutiae from the 70s?” asks Tom Atkins, in the rhetorical style. “You always become the thing you hate the most. That said, Villa is Mita Copiers, Man City always Brother, and Ipswich obviously Fisons. I also think we need an adjudication on Crown Paints vs Candy for Liverpool.”
45 min +3: It’s all West Ham, who are pressing for a second goal that would put the visitors in all sorts of bother.
45 min +1: There will be five additional minutes, Tierney’s injury, VAR, all that. The first sees Aubameyang welt a shot miles over the bar from a very ambitious distance. Arsenal haven’t worked Martin at all.
45 min: Snodgrass is blocked off by Kolasinac as he dribbles down the right. He wants a penalty, but he’s not getting it. It all looked a bit theatrical as he fell backwards, his spine arcing in the dramatic style.
44 min: A bit of space for Pepe, who has been Arsenal’s liveliest player, despite Cresswell’s attention. He makes good down the right and crosses low. Martin, who hasn’t had much to do, gathers confidently.
42 min: Torreira attempts a back-heel a couple of yards from his own box. He nearly lets Antonio in on goal, but gets away with it. That was ludicrous, and it’s no wonder Arsenal are shipping goals like they’re going out of fashion.
40 min: This is preposterous. VAR takes nearly two minutes to work out whether Ogbonna had headed the ball onto his outstretched fist, en route to the goal via Maitland-Niles’ back. It was nowhere near, but it took them about 200 replays to decide. Anyway, it’s all good. Whither spontaneous joy?
GOAL! West Ham United 1-0 Arsenal (Ogbonna 38)
Cresswell wins a corner down the left. He hoicks it long. Some pinball. Noble takes a whack. More pinball. Rice flicks the ball towards Fornals, to the right of the six-yard box. He dinks it back in. Ogbonna wants it the most, and his desire wins out. His header, towards the top left, twangs off Maitland-Niles’ back and into the top right, past the wrong-footed Leno.
36 min: Pepe’s down for a while. That was a rare old whack. Cresswell got the ball, but took his man on the follow-through. The landing looked ugly, with Pepe’s leg trapped, his knee twisting. But there’s good news, as Pepe slowly gathers himself and gets back on his feet. He’ll be good to continue … and he glances towards Cresswell with great intensity. This might not be over.
34 min: Antonio swerves his way down the left and has a batter from a tight angle. Leno does extremely well to save. Arsenal make their way up the other end through Pepe, who is unceremoniously stopped by an extremely robust challenge from Cresswell, sliding in from the left.
33 min: Pepe dribbles with purpose down the right but can’t find anyone with his cutback. Aubameyang drops a shoulder out on the left, and stands one up for Ozil, who heads over harmlessly from six yards. He was leaning back to reach that, perhaps Pepe behind him would have been a better bet. I wonder if the flag might have gone up for offside had that flown in. VAR would certainly have taken a look.
31 min: Tierney’s injury has disrupted whatever rhythm this game previously had. It’s all a bit scrappy. “Permit me to launch myself into Operation Showing Your Age.” Jump in, Mike Morris, the water’s lovely. “Everton shall forever be sponsored by NEC while Liverpool have to make do with Candy, for some reason. Man United’s eternal sponsor is Sharp, JVC for Arsenal, and Tottenham are sponsored by Holsten Pils. Now excuse me while I nostalgically yearn for football being four square passes, and then back to the goalie from the halfway line.”
29 min: Tierney walks off, using that lovely yellow-and-black shirt as a sling. The poor lad’s replaced by Saed Kolasinac, who wasn’t even on the bench until Hector Bellerin pulled a hamstring in the warm-up.
28 min: Tierney is down, having tussled with Antonio in the middle of a melee as Leno gathered. Nobody’s fault, just an accident as the pair locked arms. It appears the young full-back has popped his shoulder. That’s a sore one, and he’s not going to be able to continue.
26 min: Snodgrass loops it long. Ogbonna rises to head at the far post, but can only send the ball backwards. It drops to Fornals, who opens his body for a sidefoot volley. His attempt is weak and dribbles into the arms of Leno.
25 min: Snodgrass and Tierney battle down the West Ham right. Tierney clips his Scotland team-mate on the toe, and this is a free kick just to the right of the box. Snodgrass will take this himself.
24 min: Snodgrass is booked for a fairly agricultural slide on Martinelli, who was hoping to skitter off up the left flank. Nope! Not allowed!
22 min: Instead of hoicking the ball into the mixer, Noble plays it down the inside-right channel for Anderson to chase. Anderson can’t control, running the ball out of play. He tangles with Xhaka, coming in from the side, maybe a little behind. West Ham want the penalty, because there’s contact as the pair fall. They’re not getting it. VAR isn’t interested either, but you have seen them awarded. One of those.
21 min: Torreira clatters into Snodgrass, the pair competing for a 50-50 out on the right. It’s a free kick for West Ham in a dangerous position. A chance to load the Arsenal box.
19 min: Arsenal knock it around a bit. Aubameyang thinks he’s been blocked off illegally while pelting down the right, but the referee’s not having any of it, much to the home support’s amusement.
17 min: West Ham are clearly minded to give Maitland-Niles, a late replacement for Bellerin, a workout. Most of their work is out on the left. Cresswell probes, and nearly breaks clear, but the defender sticks to his task and eventually wins out, with a little help from Pepe.
15 min: Pepe tries to flick his way out of a tight spot out on the West Ham left. Cresswell’s not having it, blocks him, and wins a throw. From that, Anderson jigs into the box looking dangerous, but there’s one too many yellow shirt to beat, and eventually he dribbles into trouble.
14 min: West Ham string together a few passes for the first time. It’s very easy on the eye, and the move ends with Cresswell nearly releasing Fornals down the left. Nearly, but not quite.
12 min: Arsenal have enjoyed 85 percent of possession so far. West Ham seem fairly happy to sit back and keep their shape, hoping to nick the ball and hit the visitors on the break.
10 min: A positive early touch by young Martinelli, who drops a shoulder and wins a corner on the left. Nothing comes of the set piece, but both teams look well up for attack.
8 min: A decent run by Fornals down the left, though it comes to nought. West Ham look to be in a fairly positive mood. “For Everton, it has to be Hafnia,” argues Stephen Carr. “They made tinned meat.” Such a shame that wasn’t on their shirt during the Dogs of War era.
6 min: West Ham spring to life, Noble and Anderson driving down the middle and setting up Antonio, who lashes high over the bar. Then they come again and force a corner down the right. Torreira is smacked upside the head and it’s a free kick, though Cresswell takes a shot anyway. Did he hit the post?! The camera didn’t track the ball, but there was an almighty thud. He gave it some welly. Anyway, it wouldn’t have counted so the point is moot.
4 min: It’s a quiet start, the crowd noise notwithstanding. “In reference to JVC being the Arsenal sponsor, as a younger football fan I always think of O2 as the quintessential Arsenal kit, when Thierry Henry used to tear teams apart,” writes Pat Smith Willocks. “Similarly, I think Carlsberg as the Liverpool kit, and Capital One for Sheffield United under Neil Warnock, featuring a young Phil Jagielka who has been my idol ever since.” It’s a good game, this. I’d plump for Hitachi for Liverpool, Crown Paints at a push, with Laver the timber merchant for the Blades. But then I’m getting on a bit.
2 min: Arsenal stroke it around the back awhile, getting a feel of the ball. They go nowhere, but that’s not really the point, as they play the patient game, hoping to take some of the heat out of the stadium.
Here we go, then! Arsenal get the ball rolling. “I am a Scot living in Canada and it’s the first I’d heard of a shoogly peg. I had to look it up. Love it. But surely the English have their own term for living precariously? Or they sure will pretty damn soon.” Topical satire’s Brian Cruickshank, there, ladies and gentlemen, with a little bit of politics. Speaking of which … VOTE LABOUR. Or Green, SNP, Plaid, Lib Dem, etc.
The teams are out! A derby atmosphere at the London Stadium. We’ll be off in a couple of minutes, and a rousing rendition of Bubbles. But before we begin, Hammers fan Ian Sargeant wishes to address the aforementioned old Too Good To Go Down saw. “They said that in 2002/3 when we had some real young stars (Cole, Carrick, Defoe, Johnson) along side the likes of James, Kanoute, di Canio and Sinclair. We also said it at a pre-season friendly v Wycombe the following term – all those bar Paolo were on the pitch and we went 2-0 down in 15 minutes.”
A late change to the Arsenal team. Hector Bellerin tweaked a hamstring in the warm-up, and he’ll be replaced by Ainsley Maitland-Niles at right-back. Sead Kolasinac takes Maitland-Niles’ place on the bench.
Manuel Pellegrini talks. “When Antonio played the last game against Chelsea, he was a very important striker for us with his power and speed. Unfortunately for him he had more pain and couldn’t play against Wolverhampton but now he is 100 percent fit. Here at home we have had one point from the last four, so we will try to win. I hope we can add three points. We can play better against big teams. We must look for the future.”
West Ham United will be playing in their famous claret and blue. Plus the addition of some Rainbow Laces, in support of Stonewall’s campaign to make the game more inclusive for LGBT people.
Arsenal will play in yellow, with bruised-banana zig-zags. A delightful homage to this bonny sweater from the early 1990s. Arsenal should never have changed that badge. The Arsenal sponsor for those of a certain vintage, too.
The pre-match thoughts of Freddie Ljungberg, who is talking a good attack-minded game. “There are a lot of games going on in December, so there is fatigue and stuff. We want to get a little energy into the team and shake things up a little bit. Martinelli has done really well in the Europa League, scoring goals for us. He works hard and is very quick, I think he will do really well. Pepe did really well in the second half in the last game. I want him to be who he is, go one against one, and be difficult to read. At the same time I want him to do his defensive work, that’s important playing away from home.”
West Ham make one change to the team named for the defeat at Wolverhampton Wanderers. Sebastien Haller drops to the bench, having scored just four times so far this season, and only one in his last 12. Michail Antonio returns to take his place.
The 18-year-old striker Gabriel Martinelli starts his first Premier League game for Arsenal. He replaces Alexandre Lacazette. That’s one of four changes to the side that went down at home to Brighton & Hove Albion. Calum Chambers and Kieran Tierney replace David Luiz and Sead Kolasinac at the back, while Nicolas Pepe takes Joe Willock’s spot.
West Ham United: Martin, Fredericks, Balbuena, Ogbonna, Cresswell, Snodgrass, Noble, Rice, Fornals, Felipe Anderson, Antonio.
Subs: Zabaleta, Roberto, Sanchez, Haller, Diop, Masuaku, Holland.
Arsenal: Leno, Bellerin, Chambers, Papastathopoulos, Tierney, Torreira, Xhaka, Pepe, Ozil, Martinelli, Aubameyang.
Subs: Lacazette, Maitland-Niles, Luiz, Nelson, Martinez, Guendouzi, Saka.
Referee: Mike Dean (Wirral).
Welcome to the re-run of the 1980 FA Cup final. That’s how all the kids are styling this, right? Ah memories! Trevor Brooking’s header, Willie Young on Paul Allen, a nice big riff in Fever Pitch, all that. Nearly 40 years on, that remains West Ham’s last trophy. Since then, they’ve mainly spent their time packing their teams with top talent and finding themselves inexplicably involved in relegation battles.
The Hammers are in bother again. They’ve won just one of their last nine league matches, an eyebrow-raising victory at Chelsea a couple of Saturdays ago. It’s a dismal run that’s seen them plummet down the table. They’ve gone 3-0 down in their last two home fixtures. They’re just a single point better off than Southampton in the relegation spots, and look what a mess they’ve been.
You’d definitely file West Ham under Too Good To Go Down … but then the club has been here before, too many times, so nobody will be taking anything for granted. They could desperately do with three points that’d whizz them up to 13th place at least, a result that would change the picture and the mood totally. It might also be what’s required to save Manuel Pellegrini’s job, which is hanging from a shoogly peg.
Oh look! Here come Arsenal. The Gunners are in turmoil, having sacked off Unai Emery, then failed to get a honeymoon bounce under caretaker Freddie Ljungberg. They’re on a nine-game winless streak in all competitions, and can’t defend for toffee right now, having shipped two goals in their last five matches, and failed to keep a clean sheet in their last 11. It’s their worst run since 1977, and their worst start to a season since 1994-95. They’re only four clear of the dropzone themselves. A win here would buy the club some precious time and space in which to do some calm thinking.
Two teams not currently in best of nick, then. Which could either make for some shoddy viewing, or glorious entertainment! We’re plumping for the latter. Can the Hammers replicate their Declan Rice-inpsired 1-0 win of last season? Or could the Gunners revisit their 5-1 victory here in 2016? Anything could happen, and it should be fun finding out. It’s on!
Kick off: 8pm BST.