Arsenal: Cech, Debuchy, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ozil, Cazorla, Giroud.
Subs: Ospina, Gibbs, Gabriel, Arteta, Walcott, Alexis, Chambers
West Ham: Adrian, Tomkins, Reid, Ogbonna, Cresswell, Oxford, Noble, Kouyate, Payet, Zarate, Sakho
Subs: Randolph , Collins, Poyet, Nolan, Jarvis, Lanzini, Maiga
This was supposed to be the day that Arsenal laid down a marker, especially with Chelsea’s “slow” start yesterday.
And an Arsenal team that was supposed to be able to find goals from throughout the team proved not to be able to find a goal anywhere.
Expectations for the 2015/16 campaign were high, following a successful pre-season campaign as well as taking their second Community Shield on the trot, off the back of their second FA Cup on the trot.
Arsenal started with Giroud getting the nod ahead of Walcott, while Ox was rewarded for his hot form by a start on the right, and put in one of the better performances of the day.
Santi played on the left. Ozil played as the 10, while Coquelin and Ramsey handled the central midfield but with Ramsey a very attacking partner in the pair.
At right back, Debuchy started as Bellerin was believed to have a niggle.
Incredibly, Alexis Sanchez arrived with the Marines, stormed the beach, took out a machine gun nest, and made the bench. But obviously, that was just to keep him calmed down. He was never going to play any minutes today.
The debut of Petr Cech had many Arsenal supporters more confident about our defence than they had felt for many seasons. The era of conceding soft goals was now finally over.
West Ham came into this match giddy with their new signing of Dimitri Payet from Marseille, a creator of chances, and under new manager, Slaven Bilić, in from Beşiktaş.
The game started as a scrappy, end to end contest, with Chamberlain looking lively, and making a couple of quick bursts early on. So much so that between his efforts and a burst by Coquelin, West Ham picked up 2 quick yellows, and allowed us to apply some early pressure from freekicks and ensuing corners.
Around the 11 minute mark, a volley falls to Ox in the center at the edge of the box, who whistles it inches over. And shortly after a free kick sees Koscielny head just wide, but also from just offside.
Sakho then replies with a powerful run down the middle, after Ozil gave it away near the halfway, but Per tidies it up.
Coquelin has a couple of wayward crossfield passes but otherwise looks at his sharp and combative best while the Hammers threat is not to be ignored as Payet warns the Gunners with some trickery over on the left wing to conjure up a dangerous cross into the 6-yard box, which a grateful Cech was able to snaffle up
Arsenal look lively if a bit disjointed.
Giroud, with a superb touch on a high ball over by the left touch line pulls in the defender who brings him down for a freekick which Santi takes, but all for nought.
On 25′, Coquelin, off a West Ham throw, pops up as a left winger to put in superb cross to Giroud who traps it with his chest but can’t get it down quick enough to get the shot off.
A brilliant slaloming run which beat 14 Hammers took Ox from deep into Arsenal territory all the way to the by-line for a cross which Santi met at the far side of the goal. A first-time dinked volley from the Spaniard went inches over,
On 30′, Ramsey takes a 1st time shot which gets a bit of a deflection as it clips the crossbar for a corner.
Payet again threatened with a mazy run from the right through a couple of our players before getting off a deflected shot which went over our goal for a corner.
Down the other end and Coquelin angles a lob out to the right to set up Debuchy to head it into the center of the box which just eludes the noggin of a threatening Giroud. West Ham cleared the danger for a moment only for Monreal and Santi to immediately mount a second attack up through the middle to set up Ramsey just outside the box who probably should have teed up Debuchy to his right but took it on himself to put it just wide.
Shortly after Ramsey put in a clever ball which Santi met through the middle and managed to smuggle forward to Giroud who is called offside. We were turning the screws.
You sensed something was coming. Could we get the rewards? (No.)
A goal was coming alright…but not for Arsenal. A freekick halfway into our half and from the right was met by Kouyate who caught Arsenal’s defence out to get an unchallenged header into the net. A very high line left acres of space to attack. Cech came for it but never got there and 4 offside Hammers were played on by 1 Arsenal player holding his own line. You don’t need to be a defensive coach to know it all looked wrong.
One goal down.
“Your mission, should you decide to accept…”
Moments later, Ozil cut across their penalty area and only an outstretched leg prevented what seemed like a goal-bound shot to their near post.
Halftime arrived and found the crowd a bit shell-shocked as Arsenal continued the trend of last season with vulnerability to crosses and set-pieces. which accounted for a third of our goals conceded.
The second half seemed to promise a re-match of Arsenal versus the counter-attacking bus. Not only would we need to breach the bus but we would need to do it twice, as it turned out.
Giroud with a great early run down the left wing put in a good cross to the box which the outstretched keeper fumbles but with no Gunner around to pounce.
Early in the second half, Walcott appeared on the sidelines to warm up. He would soon be on.
Chamberlain did great to set up Giroud in a good location in front of goal but again to no avail.
Things were about to get worse. Arsenal failed to clear cleanly from their own area as Ox looked to dribble the ball out only for Zarate to pounce on the ball. With little pressure on him, Zarate turned to face our rooted defence and slotted it in at our near post. Cech was gambling to go the other way and left a massive gap at his near side.
With 30 minutes to go, Walcott enters the fray for Coquelin. Now our front 3 is Giroud with Ox on his right and Walcott on his left.
A freekick from the left by Santi reaches Giroud but lands in the arms of their keeper.
Throughout West Ham continued to look threatening on the break which perhaps was a brilliant gambit by Arsenal to draw the Hammers out and give us some space to attack.
Amazingly, with 27 minutes to go, Alexis Sanchez comes off the bench for Debuchy to attempt to save Arsenal.
A run on the counter by Walcott leads to a corner which Ozil takes. It breaks for Arsenal in the middle but is deflected wide.
At this point the formation was pretty much “all hands to the pump.”
Then alarmingly, Giroud rose for a cross only to get knocked unconscious by a clash of heads in the box and it became a cause of some major concern for his team mates who had the play stopped. Minutes later he rejoined the play. (They need to look at these rules.)
A great opportunity for Sakho follows from a counter and then it’s back to their box, as Theo hits a volley at the keeper and, off the recycled save, Ox blasts it close into the side netting.
Even with all of this, it’s hard to see where two goals are coming from for Arsenal with less than 10 minutes of normal time left.
Santi lined up a left foot fizzer but hit it a little too close to the keeper
Late on, Chamberlain who had been our most effective player going forward all day, banged in another cross which was met near-post by Giroud’s right foot but he failed to get it on target.
5 minutes of added time gave the tired Gunners a lifeline. And with 2 minutes of play left, Arsenal attacked on the counter. Ozil set up Alexis on the left wing who cut inside to shoot with his right foot but his rustiness shows with a tame shot.
The inevitable seemed inevitably inevitable now.
But wait! It’s Alexis again. And again. In the box, he is foiled by an outstretched keeper’s foot followed by a slightly too high cross over his head. And so once again we leave their box empty handed.
Moments later the whistle goes.
It’s back to the drawing board for Arsenal as they start a 37 game season with the opener against Crystal Palace next Sunday. Lots of questions from today. Not so many answers. Let the debates begin.