Olivier Giroud
Olivier Giroud reacts after scoring the opening goal for Arsenal against West Ham at the Emirates Stadium. Reuters

Arsenal strengthened their hold on third place in the Premier League thanks to a comfortable 3-0 win over West Ham at the Emirates on Saturday. Just three days before they visit Monaco needing to overturn a 3-1 deficit to reach the Champions League, Arsenal remained on track to at least get back into the competition next season with a dominant display against their London rivals.

Olivier Giroud, the man who missed a glut of chances in the first leg against Monaco three weeks ago, sent Arsenal on their way to victory this time, with an unstoppable strike into the corner of the net on the stroke of halftime. And the French striker then turned provider for Aaron Ramsey to make the points safe with nine minutes remaining, before being involved again as returning substitute Mathieu Flamini added some extra gloss to the scoreline soon after.

The victory moved Arsenal, at least temporarily, a point behind second-placed Manchester City, and crucially four points above fourth-placed Manchester United, who take on Tottenham on Sunday. And it was no less than Arsenal deserved after a comfortable afternoon, in which much of their trademark eye-catching passing play came to the fore. But in truth, a West Ham side, which have now taken just three points from their last six Premier League matches to slide down the table after a strong start to the season, offered precious little resistance.

This was the type of game, against just the sort of opposition at home, in which Arsenal so often flourish. Indeed, there may be some disappointment for Arsene Wenger that the result was not sewn up far earlier than eventually proved the case, which would allowed them to take their foot off the gas ahead of what is sure to be a far sterner test on Tuesday.

Against a West Ham team that sat back and stood off, Arsenal’s silky touches, particularly from Giroud Mesut Ozil, created a host of first-half chances. Only the lack of a clinical edge in front of goal stopped them from taking the lead far earlier. Theo Walcott was the main culprit, failing three times when given a clear opening. The first came in the opening five minutes, when a typically sublime flick from Giroud put him through but he dallied almost interminably before going down under challenge from James Collins. The contact appeared warranting of a penalty, but Walcott’s lack of conviction in the penalty box since returning from long-term injury was again in evidence.

It was shown once more when he shot straight at West Ham goalkeeper Adrian after being slid through by Ramsey. His hat-trick of misses were completed with the most spectacular of the lot, as the England international slipped and blasted wide from the corner of the six-yard box with a gaping goal in his sights after Ozil’s strike had been repelled.

Fortunately for Walcott and Arsenal, Giroud made no mistake a short time later. In the first minute of injury time, a lovely interchange involving Ozil, Ramsey and GIroud culminated in the former Montpellier man firing left-footed into the top corner of the net from just inside the box.

Arsenal proved unable to capitalize on getting the breakthrough early in the second half. In fact West Ham enjoyed their best spell of the match and caused just a few ripples of concern that the early misses might come back to haunt the hosts. But Arsenal reclaimed the initiative and, soon after scuffing a volley wide, Ramsey was on target for his first goal of 2015. Giroud’s linkup play was again superb, quickly returning the ball to Ramsey after running over a throw-in form the right, allowing the midfielder to shoot past Adrian. The job had been done and three minutes later one substitute, Santi Cazorla, played a give-and-go with Giroud, before sliding the ball across the face of goal for another, Flamini, to convert.