From an Arsenal perspective, it certainly wouldn’t be unfair to say that this was yet another performance that took time to get going. It was probably always going to be the case that the team started slowly following the excursions of Saturday evening, but one might have also been forgiven for hoping that the players would be riding the crest of that cup final wave and take the game to West Ham from the outset. The first half was a tepid, dull affair as Arsenal failed to impose themselves on the game – at least not until they went behind to Matt Jarvis’ brave but somewhat fortuitous headed opener. This finally seemed to spark the players into life. Lukas Podolski’s equaliser meant the teams went in level at the break. The two second half goals made the game safe as Arsenal showed the kind of fortitude that has been lacking in recent weeks to turn a deficit into a match-winning advantage.
Incidentally, this was the first time since Boxing Day that Arsenal have come from behind to win a football match and only the second time this season – funnily enough, in the reverse fixture against the Hammers. What this highlights is how vitally important it is to both start games well and subsequently score the first goal. The team’s failure to do so consistently enough could well be the source of many of our troubles and the inability to come back (to win) from an initial setback is something that needs to be addressed – hopefully ahead of the run-in.
Lukas’ Ham Sandwich
Arsenal’s first and third goals on the night were scored by Lukas Podolski who went some way to showing that the doubts about his overall play can be put to one side when he can finish in such style. His first came as he drifted into the area, latched on to a pass from Santi Cazorla and then fired the ball into the bottom corner. In the second half, Podolski was the quickest thinking man in the Emirates as he sprung the West Ham offside trap to receive Aaron Ramsey’s header before slamming into the roof of the net.
It seems to have become the fashionable thing to slate our German international forward with people almost instinctively throwing around criticisms like “lack of movement” and “lazy” even when it isn’t the case. Podolski has had something of a difficult time of it this campaign. An explosive start was curtailed by a three-month injury set-back. He then struggled to find his place in what was a winning team before being shoehorned onto the left wing when the side went into freefall. While stats don’t tell the full story, his impressive return from what has been limited time on the pitch suggests some of the grief he’s been getting has been somewhat harsh. There are unquestionably worse footballers currently playing for Arsenal and if he can be accommodated correctly (4-4-2?) we just might one day see the best of him.
Oli goes from Ham shank to Ham turnover
A player who has faced similar criticism this season (mostly by me) is Olivier Giroud; less so for lack of application, but rather for a perceived lack of ability. The Frenchman did himself few favours in the first half when he found himself in the clear and attempted that abysmal chip, so laughably feeble one wonders if he was playing in slippers. Adrian in the opposition goal merely swatted a slow-travelling ball away the same way you would an irritating house fly. It was a truly shocking effort only made worse by the fact West Ham soon went on to take the lead.
People often talk about ‘moments’ and it felt at the time that Giroud’s miss was the ‘moment’ Champions League football had slipped from our grasp permanently. However, to persist with that narrative, it was in fact Giroud himself who might be responsible for producing the ‘moment’ that may well swing the pendulum back in our favour. The sublime touch and deadly strike to fire Arsenal into a 2-1 lead was not only as aesthetically beautiful as anything you are likely to see from anybody in red and white this term, but it also seemed to galvanise himself, his teammates and the fans. It may not have been strictly the ‘winning goal’ on the night but it’s impossible to say if the win would have been secured without it. If Arsenal were to finish in the top four, Giroud’s goal will undoubtedly be one of the most crucial towards contributing to that.
Key to the victory was the midfield who went from strength to strength after that sluggish start. Mikel Arteta had one of his better games in recent weeks as he manfully orchestrated play from just in front of the back four. He was ably assisted by Kim Kallstrom making his first start. The Swede, while not spectacular, didn’t look out of place and was fairly assured in what would have been unfamiliar surroundings. Ahead of the two was Santi Cazorla who, like his fellow countryman Arteta, seemingly looked like he had returned to form and was arguably man of the man with an inspirational performance that has rightly earned him plaudits from many quarters. Hard work, some killer passes and almost non-stop running went some way to reminding people how good the diminutive Spaniard can be.
Walking on Aar
Cazorla could be key in the remaining matches this season, as could a certain Aaron Ramsey who continued his rehabilitation after months on the sidelines. Despite showing some obvious and expected ring-rust, ‘Rambo’ showed in his short cameo exactly what Arsenal have missed in his absence. As keen as anyone to get involved in the play, the Welshman managed to create a couple of decent openings and it was his header that allowed Podolski to kill the game as a contest. If only his ‘knock’ had been treated by actual medical professionals rather than chimps in lab coats and stethoscopes, this disappointing second half of the season for Arsenal would have turned out oh, so different.
If his 20 minutes on the pitch are anything to go by then Ramsey’s return could prove invaluable between now and the season’s climax. After the match, the manager also stated that Mesut Özil could be back in contention by the weekend and another must-win game at Hull. Key players are coming back at the right time and if they can hit the ground running, they will surely help build the desperately needed momentum that is essential if the season isn’t going to end in disappointment. Since sleepwalking into the ‘battle for fourth’, Arsenal need to at least make sure it’s a battle they end up winning. The only way that looks feasible right now is to take maximum points from the remaining four fixtures. It’s easy to talk about taking ‘one game at a time’ but in this current predicament, that particular football cliché may not hold much weight.
To attempt go from one league win in the previous six to winning five on the spin is a huge ask but with this victory over West Ham, hopefully we can kick start something of a run to secure that sought after top four finish.
Considering where we were just a few short months ago, typing that last sentence makes me physically sick.