EPL Sunday: Hammers Come to Life, Arsenal Trophy Agony Continues

A short menu of English football today means that much more focus on what we’re given.  Two Premier League match-ups lead into the Carling Cup final between two teams that would laugh at anyone who considers the league cup a meaningless competition.

West Ham 3-1 Liverpool

Easily putting on the best Premier League performance of a dire season (the 4-0 defeat of Manchester United being in the Carling Cup), West Ham weathered a quick storm from Liverpool, only for Scott Parker to bury what looked like a fluke volley past a seconds-late Pepe Reina.  Upon closer inspection, the shot had far more pace on it than many gave credit, and the give-and-go setup was sublime from debuting Thomas Hitzlsperger.  A second from Demba Ba before the half stunned Liverpool, who clawed back with a Glen Johnson tap in via Luis Suarez with seven minutes to play.  But the push for the equalizer left Carlton Cole available to rush in and bury a rocket past Reina for a win that moved West Ham out of last place, and temporarily stalled a surging Liverpool side.

As a side note: If what I’ve read is correct, and the nickname for West Ham’s German midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger is actually going to be “Der Hammer”, I fully support this.  It makes him sound like a Rocky opponent.

Manchester City 1-1 Fulham

You could tell this would be a dogfight from the very start.  The first goal, a superb strike from Mario Balotelli from outside the box just slid past Mark Schwarzer, and was necessary to open the game up into the scrappy affair it was.  Fulham responded well, as City reverted back into their typical style of searching for counter-attack goals after gaining the lead.  It really doesn’t suit the team, even if it does result in a wider lead.  Sitting on a lead is proving to be less and less effective against other Premier League clubs, and that’s a true testament to the depth of the league.

You could see the goal coming, as Fulham kept attacking in the first half.  Three minutes into the second half, Brede Hangeland, a true unsung hero for both Fulham and Norway, placed a fantastic floating all wide to Andrew Johnson, who found Damien Duff, tapping it in for the tying goal.  From there, City looked a step behind, playing the ball far too carelessly, and apart from a short burst of attack towards the end of the game, seemed mentally outplayed the entire second half.

And then there’s Clint Dempsey.  The American midfielder having his best scoring season yet for Fulham made it a point to take on the entire Manchester City team.  It started with a dodgy challenge by Gareth Barry, and led to spats with Yaya Toure and Zabaleta, before captain Danny Murphy calmed him down.  The true story that will linger from this match, however, will be the quarter-hearted handshake between Roberto Mancini and former City boss Mark Hughes.  It left a real sour aftertaste on an already sub-par performance for City, but Fulham will gladly take the result, and continue their respectable away form.

Arsenal 1-2 Birmingham City (Carling Cup Final)

Arsenal have not won a trophy in six years, and are feeling the pressure.  For Birmingham City, that number is sixteen if you count lower division league trophies (they won what is currently League One in 1995), and forty-eight (the 1963 League Cup) if you don’t.  These are the stats that add an aura of excitement to a final in a competition most consider an afterthought.  But you’re not reading this for the history.

The first half was everything you could hope for in a cup final.  In fact, the halftime whistle was the first chance for anyone watching to take a breath and analyze.  It was back and forth attacking, with Arsenal’s smooth passing game matched with Birmingham’s gritty workmanship.  Nikola Zigic netted the first goal in the 28th after poor set piece defending, and nearly hit again six minutes later, with a potential foul not called.  But Arsenal are Arsenal, and Jack Wilshere’s laser off the crossbar fell to Arshavin, who found Robin Van Persie in the smallest of spaces to beat Ben Foster.

The only real frantic moment of the second half was Keith Fahey’s 58th minute strike, hitting the post after pinballing around in the penalty area, with Szczesny easily beaten.  The game then slowed down for the next twenty minutes or so, with each built attack getting increasingly cautious and calculating, until a panicky counter from Arsenal, catching the Blues far too forward, but a pass or two too many led to a clearance of only moderate difficulty.  That seemed to be what kept Arsenal from making it 2-1 or even 3-1, with players in the box like Rosicky not playing the easy ball.

It almost made the finish unfair for such a spirited match.  In the 89th, defender Laurent Koscielny runs in to clear a ball that Szczesny appeared to have called, only to have the ball spike off the keeper’s knee, falling to Nigerian veteran Obafemi Martins, scoring the easiest goal he may have ever put in.  Martins nearly blew past the keeper and two defenders to put in another in the last minute of injury time, but it was inconsequential, as disappointment for Arsenal trudges on.  However, credit to Birmingham City for sticking with their strategy and executing so well, deserving of this hard-earned result.

blog comments powered by Disqus