For 90 pulsating minutes, West Ham and Arsenal put on a display worthy of an FA Cup final at Wembley.
Ignore the final 3-3 final outcome, this was as close to ‘total’ football you might ever wish to see. There is very rarely an Arsenal side that could be called second-rate; Saturday was no different, despite a significant injury list.
Both teams approached the match knowing a win was important, if not critical. Arsenal needed the three points to keep their faint hopes of catching a surging Leicester City alive.
Similarly, we needed a maximum return in order to assist in keeping touch with both Manchester sides, and keeping our dreams of a top four finish alive.
My first reflection was that neither side deserved to lose a match of such excellence. It is hard to find sufficient superlatives to express how well our players continued to play themselves to a state of near exhaustion, with a full belief and support for fellow players and sense of duty to the West Ham supporters.
The degree of passion and spirit which was displayed has rarely been seen from a West Ham side. How fitting that some of our past heroes from the 80s and 90s were on hand to see another stunning performance from our current side.
It was Brooking who was part of our great 1980 side that won the FA Cup against Arsenal, following a brilliantly headed goal from the great man himself. Imagine how proud he must have felt seeing his beloved West Ham play like this.
Special mention must surely go to Andy Carroll, who after so much trial and tribulation, with injury after injury, played the game of his life by scoring a hat-trick.
His second – a powerful left-footed volley – got us back on even terms right on the stroke of the half-time whistle.
However, the displays from Payet, Lanzini, Antonio and Cresswell were of equal importance in creating chance upon chance on the Arsenal goal.
In addition, throughout the duration of the game, Mark Noble and Cheikhou Kouyate were once again magnificent in midfield, with their high quality of passing and brave tackling.
So while so much was done well, and while the celebration was so richly deserved, it is just as relevant to reflect on a few features which almost undone all our hard work on the day.
While Slaven Bilic has enjoyed a near-faultless first season as manager, one feels that some of his managerial decisions were questionable in such an important game. Why he chose to play with an apparent 3-5-2/3-5-1-1 formation is questionable.
Playing with three centre-backs did not work out, with Reid, Tomkins and Ogbonna very uncertain about their expected game roles.
Playing so far and in isolation from a muddled and disorganised midfield allowed Arsenal to dominate out wide. It was no surprise to see us fall behind, and I was starting to fear a 4-5 goal defeat. It was only the determined creativity that we showed in putting together some beautiful play in the last 10 minutes of the first-half that led to a 2-2 position at half-time.
The second questionable decision was to start the game with Andy Carroll, but against all expectation, this actually worked out well.
At least Slav was sufficiently insightful to see the folly of his ways by reverting to a more familiar and secure four-man back-line.
Once again, I feel obliged to mention and encourage a modified 4-3-3 starting line-up in order to secure as much point return in our remaining games.
Let us look at a few features of the line-up which may particularly suit our present squad of players.
The first aspect involves moving our staggered back four closer to the midfield trio. The centre-backs has been slightly staggered to ensure that a single through pass does not beat both defenders.
The second aspect involves the employment of a triangulated midfield trio with Noble at the base, and Lanzini pushed up to occupy a position that could create another triangular structure with the winger and striker.
Antonio should be returned to his favoured and most lethal position at right wing, or even a more central, old fashioned inside-forward role.
Again, with Kouyate pushed up-field, we are able to form another triangular structure, behind Carroll/Valencia and Antonio.
I have deliberately left Diafra Sakho out of consideration until his present situation is resolved. Under normal circumstances, he would be my first choice as striker, with Andy Carroll playing in the second half.
A few additional points to note; the use of this modified 4-3-3, with lots of staggering, creates numerous static triangles.
When these triangles move and interact internally and join up with other structures, we have the very basics of fast, attacking football. This formation allows up to seven players running play, all of which have scored goals this season.
If we employ such a formation as suggested here, combined with the passion and drive we witnessed againt Arsenal, we should still be in the mix for a top six finish and potentially even a fourth FA Cup triumph.