Before the game on Monday the video screen showed, by way of a light appetiser ahead of the main course, a video compilation of the top five goals from recent history against West Ham. They were all in there – the greatest hits, if you will: Mario Stanic indulging in a private session of keepy-uppy before finding the roof of the net from around 30 yards on the opening day of the season in 2000; Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink curling it neatly into the top corner at the Boleyn Ground from a position quite close to Upton Park tube station in 2002; and, of course (arguably the most memorable of them all), Gianfranco Zola taking Julian Dicks for a spin in an invisible car in 1996.
The last of those in particular has probably been pored over more avidly than the Zapruder footage of the Kennedy assassination. But you can never see any of those goals too often.
About 24 minutes later, of course, the video was out of date. Add to the pile Eden Hazard building a private three-lane motorway through the centre of the West Ham defence in early April 2019.
He’d already had a stab at it – applying for planning permission, as it were, by heading towards goal from out on the right, and making headway in a highly promising manner until Angelo Ogbonna stopped the development the only way he could, by tripping him over. This time it wasn’t even possible to trip him.
'Hazard’s is surely the purist’s goal. For what it’s worth, I’m placing it higher.'
— Giles Smith
It happened so quickly that you couldn’t quite believe what you had just witnessed. The speed, the precision, the resourcefulness, not least in contriving to get the shot away at the end of it… it was keyhole surgery under local anaesthetic. Conservationists will argue forever more about how many defending players were harmed in the making of this goal. By my count, it’s definitely five, arguably six, and the goalkeeper makes seven. Roughly 65 percent of the West Ham side, in other words, was unable to prevent that goal from happening.
People like to use the term ‘solo goal’. It was wheeled out quite a lot in the descriptions of what happened on Monday. Strictly speaking, there’s no such thing, of course. Someone else is always doing something else somewhere (pulling other defenders to one side, or whatever) or has just done something which made the ‘solo’ goal possible. Unless we’re talking in isolation about penalty-taking, football doesn’t really work in terms of ‘solo’ contributions.
This one, though – well, you’d have to say the word ‘solo’ does stick to it fairly firmly. It may have been Hazard’s best goal of this type since the famous Stamford Bridge ski-run through the tempting fresh snow of Arsenal’s entire midfield and defence in 2017. That time the run was longer; this time the finish was sharper. You choose.
And as for its position in the future ‘Top goals against West Ham’ pre-match video, would you place it alongside or marginally ahead of or fractionally behind Zola’s plaiting of Julian Dicks’s legs? It’s our fortune and privilege to be burdened with these kinds of decision. I reckon it comes down to what you set greater store by the sight of: seven players beaten once, or one player beaten seven times. The latter has that all-important ‘comedy gold’ element, no question. But Hazard’s is surely the purist’s goal. For what it’s worth, I’m placing it higher.
He scored again in the second half, of course, making it 16 goals and 12 assists this season and meaning that he has been directly involved in more Premier League goals in 2018/19 than any other player. Those goals don’t have to be pretty (the pretty ones count the same as the ugly ones), but, in Hazard’s case, an uncommon number of them are. And none more so than Monday’s.
I’m going to go out on a limb here: he’s quite good, isn’t he?