Arsenal 5 – 1 West Ham United
0 – 1 Collison (18)
1 – 1 Podolski (22)
2 – 1 Giroud (47)
3 – 1 Cazorla (53)
4 – 1 Walcott (54)
5 – 1 Giroud (57)
Is this a case of history repeating itself? Just shy of twelve months ago, Arsenal went into a London derby needing a win to get their season back on course, to give themselves a real chance of finishing in the top four. That afternoon, Tottenham were cast asunder, three goals in eighteen second half minutes turned the match and campaign around. Last night, West Ham had no answer to four second half goals in a ten minute spell. After the disappointments of previous matches, it was a match to enjoy, one which brought just rewards for attacking verve.
From the outset, Arsenal were determined to put recent poor first half performances behind them. Walcott and Giroud both had early opportunities which came to nought. At the other end, it went wrong for the hosts. West Ham exerted their first real pressure of the night and Arsenal succumbed, Olivier Giroud got his first assist of the evening when his header found Collison on the edge of the area; his powerful drive found the net. Arsenal were undeservedly trailing. It was no surprise that a set-piece provided the breakthrough, this is an Allardyce side after all; the disappointment in the goal was the space afforded on the edge of the area.
It didn’t matter; four minutes later Jack Wilshere flicked the ball to Podolski who rasping shot flew into the side of the goal with Jaaskelainen grasping at thin air. Arsenal nerves were settled with the swift response, they had it and were able to begin to find the unrelenting rhythm of the evening. The forward line of Podolski, Giroud and Walcott was menacing but few genuine chances were created. The best was fell to the Frenchman but he could not reward the hard work of Kieran Gibbs, the finish applied lacked punch. Similarly though, the visitors could not threaten as the Arsenal midfield, Ramsey in particularly, set about their work conscientiously and an accuracy of passing which has been missing all too frequently in recent first halves. Put the Welshman into his favoured and more natural role in the side and he will produce the form that brought him to Arsène’s attention in the first place.
As it was the imminence of the interval brought a flurry of activity. Sagna’s header deflected to Carlton Cole, the forward lifted the ball past Szczesny but Ramsey and Vermaelen raced back to prevent the goal, the Arsenal captain’s efforts ending for the night with mission accomplished in this instance and an ankle injury which is likely to keep him out for a fortnight. At the other end, Jaaskelainen saved Cazorla’s excellent freekick and Giroud could not convert the rebound.
It was an appetiser for what followed. Barely had the second half begun when Arsenal showed that they work on corners in training, Walcott’s centre met by Giroud at the near post, the shot too powerful to be stopped. It meant the visitors had to open their game up in search of an equaliser and Arsenal rapidly exposed the spatial delinquency offered. The third came when Giroud and Podolski combined, the Frenchman’s lofted pass gave an opportunity which was quickly snuffed out; it didn’t matter, Podolski had seen the support arriving in the middle and instead of hacking at goal, squared for Cazorla to apply a deft backheeled finish. Barely had Arsenal’s returned to seats when Podolski broke clear on the left and sent a deliciously curled cross into Theo Walcott’s path, the first time finish unerring. Three goals in six minutes had ended the contest and left the visitors reeling. The fifth came from the same source, this time Giroud providing the end product.
The attacking was breathtakingly quick. Arsenal were rampant, punishing the slightest slip. Giroud was on a hat-trick as well as an assist (albeit at the wrong end), Podolski a hat-trick of assists; they were involved in all of the goals in the match. Understandably Arsenal assessed their work and decided that the job was complete. The German made way (as usual) for Andre Santos, Giroud for Oxlade-Chamberlain; the ill and walking wounded were being rested and rehabilitated. As a match, it petered out; Potts collided with Sagna and required lengthy treatment, adding twelve minutes to the game.
It was a match to enjoy, to celebrate a feast of football. It does not mean that the shortcomings are forgotten or ignored, just a performance appreciated which should happen given the inconsistencies of recent matches. Afterwards, Arsène observed that press conferences were being curtailed as he needed to work on transfer deals. I don’t know why, his scouting network is the one scrutinising him on such occasions. David Villa is back in the spotlight as Ashley Williams role in Swansea’s ascent has not gone unnoticed. A week to go before the madness dies down but for today, let’s just enjoy last night.