West Ham musings by Pete May, author of Hammers in the Heart, West Ham:Irons in the Soul and Flying So High:West Ham's Cup Finals.
Tuesday, March 23
Fifty seven thousand Muppets
Arsenal 2 West Ham 0
Saturday begins with a bizarre story in the Guardian that Gianfranco Zola has joined Bob Geldof, Bono and George Clooney in being awarded this year's Man of Peace – an award given by former Nobel Peace Prize winners to someone who has made "an outstanding contribution to international social justice and peace".
Zola does some quiet work for Unicef, but even so, it seems a little unlikely. Perhaps it’s due to his efforts mediating between David Sullivan and the team after that 25 per cent pay-cut furore.
As it’s a 5.30 kick-off there’s time for a cockney knees-up round at my gaff, disturbingly close to the Emirates, with Matt, Nigel and Fraser. Today we’re a West Ham safe house in N4. We hope that Fraser’s pint of Tangle Foot isn’t indicative of our performance and give a big cheer when Pompey get a late winner against Hull. Burnley have lost too and again the results have gone for us.
Inside the Emirates there’s some healthy chants of “My name is Ludek Miklosko!” and “60,000 Muppets!” although as Matt points out it should strictly speaking be “57,000 Muppets”. This week the Guardian mentioned our “Does your butler know you’re here?” chant at Fulham fans. Perhaps it should be “Does your PA know you’re here?” for the Gooners. They’re such a bunch of touchy-feely part-time aromatherapists that the DJ only announces the first names of the Gunners' line-up.
We’ve rotated again. Zola has left Cole out, which is perhaps understandable as he’s apparently using rest and careful management on his knee rather than having an operation. But we’ve rested Parker too, who if he’s booked is suspended for two games. A dangerous game to play, prioritising the Wolves match. West Ham are notoriously erratic and just as likely to get a result here and lose to Wolves. And it sends out the signal to the rest of the side that we’ve already accepted defeat. Plus I've paid £48 for this and a £1.50 booking fee.
After five minutes we’re a goal down. Spector is beaten and Upson heads it clear, but after we fail to win tackles on the edge of box Denilson passes the ball into the net.
”The first goal was scored by Denil!” announces the irritating git on the Arsenal PA. It looks like we’re in for a thrashing. Arshavin is superb, Song dominates the midfield and they pass through us at times. But slowly the Irons come back into it.
Spector starts to play quite well against Arshavin, Tomkins is doing well and Daprela looks solid too in only his second league game. Diamanti puts a dipping free kick just over the bar, Mido just misses Stanislas’s low cross and Diamanti elects to pass to Franco when he could have shot.
Right on half-time Franco outpaces Vermaelen and goes to ground. He’s received a slight nudge although it’s a soft-ish penalty. Even better Vermaelen is sent off and Wenger starts to go mad. And we know Diamanti won’t miss – except he does. Almunia is about eight miles of his line and pulls off a good stop. Sod it.
At half-time Matt’s cheered by a text from Lisa saying that it looked like Wenger was haranguing the Arsenal mascot, the Gunnersaurus, who was standing next to the fourth official. And we always play better against ten men, apart from the endless games when we haven’t.
In the second half we give it a go and make Song, now at centre-back, look the best player on the pitch. Cole replaces Franco after 57 minutes and it’s a full 70 minutes before McCarthy replaces Mido, who at times threatened to break into a walking pace. Noble comes on in place of Kovac while Wenger takes off Bendtner. It’s a clever move as Arsenal have no forward, and we still face the same number of men in midfield.
The closest we come is when Carlton turns when the edge of the box to send a low shot against the foot of the post. At times the Arsenal fans almost create an atmosphere and after 83 minutes they’re waving their red and white scarves and singing “We are top of the league” as the ref awards a penalty. The ball’s hit Upson on the hand, a little unluckily, from about two yards, and Fabregas strokes it past Green.
Still, there's a bonus as we leave the Emirates. We find Ian Bishop and Trevor Morley sitting among us, in their wet-look leather jackets looking tanned and rather like 1980s rock stars. It's tempting to give Morley a tap on the ankle and see if he falls down in the box, but we resist. Nigel rushes up to shake The Bish's hand and promises never to wash it again.
In the end it’s another game we should have got something from, and Parker might have made the difference. The only consolation is that we now face Wolves with Parker, Cole, Faubert, Noble, Ilunga and McCarthy all fit.