Monday, 1 October 2007

Reflections On Arsenal

From the moment that Robin Van Persie nodded Arsene Wenger's side into a 13th-minute lead, Alan Curbishley knew that his team faced an uphill struggle against the Premiership pace-setters. "The start was always going to be very important because Arsenal are all set up to be a very difficult side to play against if they go one-nil ahead away from home," acknowledged the Hammers' boss following the 0-1 defeat at Upton Park. "And once they got their noses in front, it was obvious that they'd defend from the back and use their pace to try and hit us on the break. Van Persie's goal had made it doubly difficult for us. We were disappointed by the goal. The ball’s gone up to Deano and we’re coming out to support him and it looks like he is going to retain the ball but we lose it. Then it’s flicked in. Van Persie's got up at the far post. It wasn’t the best challenge on him but we had a problem last week where we didn’t stop the cross. This was another one we could have done a bit better on. When you play Arsenal you need a few things to go for you."

A clearly disappointed Curbishley said his side gave Arsenal too much respect. "My half-time talk I told them we were giving Arsenal too much respect," he said. "We were allowing them yards on the ball to take quick free-kicks and throw ins. If you let them pass and move you’re going be chasing. It’s a tough old game. We’ve managed to get the goal and beat people on the break a number of times ourselves. We’re disappointed we didn’t get back in it especially as we know Freddie’s goal wasn’t offside. I’m not sure if it would have stayed 1-1 but at least we would have been in with a chance. All in all, we worked as hard as we could and we tried to get ourselves back into the game in the second half but you need to take your chances against a team like Arsenal. The two chances – well one we took but was taken away from us and the other we didn’t take. Ashton’s was a great ball from Bowyer and we saw him setting himself up to get some power on it yeah we’re all disappointed it didn’t go in."

The game was a fiercely contested London derby. "The Noble challenge? Well although it was near us I thought we’d lost the ball so I was looking to the back four to see what was going to happen there so I’ve not seen any replays or anything," claimed Curbishley. "You might want to have a look at the tackle on Parker as well. He’s tweaked his knee again I think. It’s the same knee as he’s been having trouble with. Anton’s done his hamstring. The squad’s just gonna have to cope with it. Bellamy pulled out after training yesterday – we thought he was in for the last two days. The injuries are a bit disappointing for us at the moment." The Mail says West Ham will discover today whether midfielder Scott Parker faces another spell on the sidelines after he limped out of Saturday's game. Anton Ferdinand also hobbled off with a hamstring injury and could miss the trip to Aston Villa on Saturday. The struggling defender insists the Gunners have found the edge which could lead them to Champions League glory this season. "Arsenal look more clinical to me than last year. They got that vital first goal from Robin van Persie and they were very good at keeping that advantage."

Robert Green was the consensus pick as West Ham's player of the match, just as he was against Arsenal towards the end of last season. "For the goal I just couldn't quite get enough on it," he said. "It was a good header, a downward header. After that with Van Persie's effort in the second half, I got less of a hand on it and managed to touch it onto the post and it's bounced out rather than in. That's just the way that football goes sometimes. I've done pretty much all I can do for the team and it's just a shame that when our chance came along and we took it and it was disallowed. Maybe it went Arsenal's way because they're creating their own luck and being top of the league."

Reflecting on the Hammers' performance, Rob said: "You'd rather see your team play like that and lose one-nil than play like we did last week and lose to Newcastle. In that respect, it's an improvement but still no points. I think the first half was all a little bit too easy for them but in the second half we gave it a real go. As we've seen from Premier League games throughout the years that whoever gets the first goal, it's very hard for the other side to get back into it. It was a disappointing game, but it was one where we showed what we can do in the second half and if we'd done that in the first, then maybe we'd have come out with a positive result. We've lost a couple of games, but we're still in a good position in the league. This week gives us another chance to put it right. Everyone will be working towards that this week and then we can go into the international break looking forward rather than back."

Finally, his manager has pleaded for him to be given more time but Dean Ashton insisted today that he is ready to answer England's call. Speaking in the Mail, the West Ham striker, who has scored three goals in four games following his comeback from a year out with a badly broken ankle, believes the "sky is the limit" for him. "I feel ready to play for England if I am picked," he said. "If I didn't feel ready I wouldn't be playing. I'm improving in every game and all I can do is maintain that improvement and do my best for West Ham in every game. Hopefully that will be enough to impress Steve McClaren. Whether it's Aston Villa next Saturday for West Ham or England against Estonia in a couple of weeks time, I am ready. I feel brilliant and excited about moving forward. I believe the sky is the limit now and no one is going to stand in my way because I'm going to work harder than anyone else and I want it more than anyone else."

On most days, before reporting for training at West Ham, Ashton and physiotherapist John Green meet at the Esporta fitness club in Romford at around 8am for a work session which includes manipulation on the ankle. Green, who was West Ham's club physio for 15 years, now acts in a freelance capacity and has worked with Michael Owen, Kieron Dyer, Damien Duff and David James. Green said: "I would compare him to Michael Owen in his dedication. I've been fortunate enough to work with Michael recently and he's so competitive by nature. Every little task, every small exercise, he has to win. Dean is different but it's the commitment to the level of work he does that is really impressive. He's a really driven person."

Ashton himself explains that single-mindedness which could bring him the reward of an England cap in the near future. "John assessed me and told me what was possible with my physique," he said. "We then worked tirelessly on making that a reality and I feel so much better for all that work. I'm still big and strong but at the same time I'm leaner and quicker. Football wise, it takes time to get your touch back but because I've worked so hard, it just doesn't seem like I was out for a year. I've been pigeon-holed in the past as a big, slow target man who can't really run and probably carrying a bit too much weight. If people actually watched me train, though, they would see that's not true. I haven't got a big belly under my shirt and I feel fairly athletic. It's hard to change peoples' opinions but that's what I'm trying to do now. I've even moved down a size in shirts because I wanted to show people what good shape I'm in."

With other striking candidates like Peter Crouch, Jermain Defoe and Andy Johnson not playing regularly, Ashton could soon have his chance to demonstrate to England fans at Wembley just what they've missed over the last year. "Going through that whole process of recovering from a long-term injury makes you tougher mentally," he said. "It's depressing at times but now I appreciate every day's training, every game. It makes me more determined to do as much as I can with what I have and to fitness. It's difficult mentally as well and physically coming back from a serious injury like the one I had, but he has given me that confidence which has been vital. He's been there to reassure me every step of the way and without a doubt I wouldn't be back if it hadn't been for John. I have a hell of a lot to thank him for because he's been there every day and put in as much effort as I have. I first met John when I had a hamstring injury just before our FA Cup Final against Liverpool and West Ham team-mate Christian Dailly advised me to go to him. Again, without his input I probably would not have played in that game so from then on I knew that, if I was injured, I would go to him."

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