A piece of brilliance from Olivier Giroud and two emphatic finishes from Lukas Podolski saw Arsenal come from behind to secure a potentially vital three points courtesy of a 3-1 victory over West Ham United at the Emirates.
Podolski’s first goal right before half-time proved the turning point in a game Arsenal simply had to win to keep the pressure on Everton in the battle for the final Champions League place. Up to that point the effects of having gone four Premier League matches without a win and having played a draining 120 minutes at Wembley on Saturday had been all-too evident.
A labored, sloppy display had allowed a West Ham side almost assured of their safety to take the lead five minutes before the interval when Matt Jarvis bravely headed in from close range after some less than impressive Arsenal defending. But crucially Podolski fired in minutes later to save an under pressure Arsene Wenger and his struggling team from what would surely have been a hostile reception on their walk to the tunnel. Giroud’s sublime first touch and finish for only his second goal in eight appearances was then decisive with West Ham predictably fading having gone behind and Arsenal clawing back some of their shattered belief. Podolski’s goal, his fourth in four appearances against West Ham, sealed Arsenal’s third 3-1 win in their last four meetings with their London rivals.
The victory means Arsenal go back above Everton by a single point, although Everton have five games still to play compared to Arsenal’s four. With Santi Cazorla impressing and Aaron Ramsey providing another encouraging showing on his return from injury, there is reason for some optimism again at the Emirates. Few would bet against Wenger’s men continuing their fine record against lesser sides and winning out this season. Yet their failure to produce performances in games against teams in the upper echelons of the table means that their fate remains out of their hands.
It looked like the situation could be far worse in the early going on Tuesday night. West Ham, while not doing an awful lot, still had the better of things. Mohamed Diame’s dynamism stood out among the malaise and threatened on a couple of occasions, first with a blocked shot and then with a deep cross that saw Antonio Nocerino’s effort denied. He also wasted a glorious chance when smashing over from Andy Carroll’s low cross. West Ham should have had an even better opportunity to go in front when Bacary Sagna clearly and clumsily fouled Jarvis in the box, but the winger instead opted to stay on his feet and referee Kevin Friend failed to come to the correct decision without the prodding of Jarvis going to the ground.
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Arsenal, meanwhile, were looking completely bereft of confidence as well as any pace when in possession. Cazorla was the one player looking capable of making something happen and one of his many fine passes should have seen Arsenal go in front. Instead, Giroud continued his poor run in front of goal when woefully attempting a dink with the outside of his left foot and allowing Adrian to make a comfortable save.
Kim Kallstrom, making his first start since a back injury following his January loan move, grew into the game but initially showed signs of having barely played in more than four. And the Swede was exposed as the visitors went in front. The left side of Arsenal’s defense was again caught out to allow Nocerino to run off Kallstrom and into far too much space. The Italian loanee’s shot was blocked by Wojciech Szczesny, but the ball bounced across the box and Jarvis bravely stuck his head ahead of Laurent Koscielny’s boot to take the ball into the unguarded net.
From that point on the pressure and tension was only going to mount. Podolski’s goal then just three minutes after going behind was hugely important. Stewart Downing enabled the goal with a poor clearance straight to Cazorla, but the Spaniard deserves much credit for a superb pass to fizz the ball into Podolski in the box and the forward produced a customary drilled low finish into the far corner of the net.
Arsenal carried the momentum from that goal into the second half. A tired Giroud has cut a forlorn figure up front of late, but his first touch from Thomas Vermaelen’s long ball back into the box following a corner took the breath away before he finished through Adrian’s legs on his weaker right foot.
That goal triggered Arsenal to play with increasing assurance, while West Ham faded, likely in the knowledge that they have better chances ahead to get the small number of points they may still need to ensure their survival. Cazorla went close with a fine strike, before, from a wonderfully deft header from Ramsey, Podolski thumped the ball into the roof of the net to put the exclamation point on a much-needed win.