West Ham 0 Arsenal 2
It’s always a risk bringing my daughters to games against Arsenal. They go to school opposite the Emirates and are at permanent risk of attraction to the Wengerian supermen. So I opt to take Lola, who at ten might be able to take a home defeat better than seven-year-old Nell. Precursing our trip in pessimistic style with “Now you won’t be upset if we lose 4-0, will you?”.
Egg chips and beans and two white slices in Ken’s Café fortifies us for the afternoon. Arry’s gone to Spurs, which is a shame as I was hoping they’d go down under Ramos. We know things are looking up for Spurs when we see mockney rebel Chas Hodges, of Chas and Dave fame, doing a book signing at the Newham Bookshop. Bet 'Arry knows all the words to Gertcha and Rabbit too.
Jo arrives at the bookshop with a broken arm after a cycling accident. “You can be listed with the West Ham players injured in the Saturday Guardian team sheets now,” I suggest.
Zola has made changes after two defeats. Neill, Behrami and Noble are injured so in come Bowyer, Mullins and Collins, while Etherington is on the bench, overlooked for Di Michele.
The new formation appears to work. The midfield hussle Arsenal incessantly and Di Michele goes close with a rising drive tipped over by Alumnia. Then Walcott skins our defence and hits the bar, and another fine passing move from the Arse ends with Green masking a fantastic one-handed stop from Walcott again.
Green saves well from Bendtner too. But we’re giving as good as we get. Collins is dominating the back four, Cole is causing problems with his strength and Parker, falling over, plays the best ball of the game through to Bellamy, whose finish is tipped over the bar by Alumnia’s leg.
In the second half the crowd begin to sense a result and there’s a wafting chorus of Bubbles from all sides of the ground. Lola notices that Alumnia is cuffing himself around the head in a bid to maintain his concentration.
Green appears to tip Van Persie’s shot onto the post (he didn’t when I watch the replay) and I remark that he’s playing as well as he did at the Emirates when we won 1-0. Nigel and Matt immediately curse me, saying I should be saying he’s playing like he did against Bolton, and now we’ll lose.
We have several appeals for handball after Bellamy bursts down the left, and then, sure enough, Arsenal break, substitute Adebayor crosses, and Faubert, under no real pressure, inexplicably turns the ball into his own net. I hold my hands up and accept all blame.
“That’s 21 games since we kept a clean sheet,” sighs Nigel.
“We haven’t kept a clean sheet since I stayed in the West Ham Quality Hotel,” I suggest.
“You’re f***ed and you’re one-nil down!” chant the Gooners fans, with their usual library wit.
We keep trying, bringing on Boa Morte, Etherington and Sears. After We have several appeals for handball after Bellamy bursts down the left and suddenly Bendtner plays a great ball to the unmarked Adebayor slots home a cool second.
Then in the last minute Cole makes a silly late challenge and is shown a straight red. It looks harsh, but really, what was the point with the game lost?
“Stinking stinking Arsenal!” chants Lola, causing a frisson of paternal pride.
The DJ plays Let’s Stick Together. Matt’s very aptly off to see General Fiasco at the Electric Proms. I pacify Lola with crisps in the Black Lion and claim we’ll win at the Emirates. Matt talks us through his days as a ballooning correspondent.
We’ve played well, and given Arsenal a tough game. If we knew what was happening in the January transfer window there might even be room for some optimism. Was it only 2005 when Pards was saying we could be bigger than Arsenal?
Now all we have to do is win at Old Trafford on Wednesday night.
Essex gets a GQ makeover from Andy Coulson
5 days ago