0 – 1 Jarvis (40)
1 – 1 Podolski (44)
2 – 1 Giroud (55)
3 – 1 Podolski (78)
It might only last a few more hours but last night’s victory over West Ham sent Arsenal back junto the top four and put pressure on Everton ahead of their meeting with Crystal Palace at Goodison Park tonight.
It was a tale of two halves. If the first was the worst of times, the second was definitely the best. Arsenal coughed and spluttered before half-time and purred into life afterwards. Nobody epitomised that more than Olivier Giroud. Guilty of an appalling miss having been sent clear with the deadlock yet to be broken, he produced a marvellous moment to give Arsenal the lead ten minutes after the interval. It is that inconsistency which caused the squad and the player himself so many problems since Christmas.
Arsène made five changes from Saturday and it showed as passes went astray from the kick-off. West Ham meanwhile were intent on making life difficult and sought to nullify what little creative spark Santi Cazorla could provide. And when the Spaniard sent Giroud clear, it was entirely in keeping with the performance that he should prove he was no Messi, tamely clipping the ball rather than ensuring that he applied the finish both he and the team needed.
inevitably punishment came as Jarvis headed home following the confusion caused on Arsenal’s left by Nocerino. Had West Ham survived the remaining five minutes of the half, the outcome might have been different. As it was, Kallström’s shot minutes after Jarvis’ goal injected life into Arsenal and Podolski changed the complexion of the match with the sort of unerring finish we have come to expect of the German in such situations. It made the half-time talk a little easier for the manager.
The second half saw a more cohesive performance from Arsenal, suitably rewarded by Giroud’s goal ten minutes in. Controlling Vermaelen’s hopeful pass on his chest, the French striker outmuscled and out-thought the West Ham bodies in close attendance, to drill the ball between Adrian’s legs. It was the finish to which we became accustomed when Thierry Henry strode The Emirates turf and perhaps as much of the delight in the goal comes from the fact it so unexpected given Giroud’s own form in front of goal recently. He and Podolski displayed the sort of form last night that you wish they could produce consistently; it might have made all the difference.
One man who was sorely missed was Aaron Ramsey and his energy was a bright spot during the dullness of The opening hour on Saturday. He enlivened the final twenty minutes of last night’s proceedings, cushioning the ball to Podolski for the German to find another unerring finish fir the third. By that time, West Ham had decided to go home, put their wool-lined, check-patterned slippers on and fill the kettle ready for a nice cuppa before they went to bed. The obduracy of their first half performance had given way to a meek acquiescence. It wasn’t hard to see why they are in the bottom half of the table.
There were a number of bright spots as Arsenal head into the final four games of the Premier League campaign. Cazorla had arguably his best night for s while and there was plenty of energy accompanied by endeavour from Kallström and Arteta in midfield. That others such as Sagna who played the gruelling 120 minutes at the weekend, were also able to summon lively performances once the cobwebs had been shaken, underlines the willingness to scrap for the final Champions League place, even if it means their summer holidays may be shorter due to the final qualifying round tie that fourth place brings with it.
Much was made of the fact that it was an ‘old’ Arsenal side with Giroud the whippersnapper of the outfield players at 27. Wenger had some youthful options but was perhaps mindful of the FA Youth Cup semi-final second leg tomorrow night where the youngsters will seek to overturn the 2-1 lead established by Chelsea in the first meeting between the two sides. As much as Arsène needs his experienced heads in the senior team’s Premier League battle for fourth, I wonder if the proximity of that match fuelled his reluctance to call Akpom or Bellerin from the bench last night?
Post-match Wenger was quick to praise Giroud and Podolski, the former for his strength of character in shrugging off the first half miss, the latter generally for his wide play and finishing. He admitted that the German was withdrawn on Saturday due to a sub-par performance; Podolski wasn’t the first and don’t be the last to experience that sense of failure on their fist Wembley appearance. Last night must count as some sort of success for him bringing a rare 90 minute outing. Was he helped by the injury situation? Of course, you sense that had Mesut Özil been available, Podolski would have once more been the lamb sacrificed at the substitute’s altar. With the midfielder likely to be available at the weekend for the trip to Hull, Podolski’s hopes of a second consecutive full 90 minutes appear to have reduced.
As it is, Arsenal did all that was required of them and in taking the three points on offer, they have begun an undefeated run. Granted back-to-back wins is not much to get excited about but winning seems to do so much for the players confidence that you feel they really ought to do it more often. Victories in all the remaining games this season would be a good starting point.