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West Ham vs. Arsenal: Lukas Podolski Announces His Return in Style

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James McNicholasFeatured ColumnistDecember 26, 2013

Lukas Podolski is back. From Arsenal and Arsene Wenger's perspective, he has returned just in time.

When Podolski was introduced as a second-half substitute, Arsenal were trailing 1-0 to West Ham and staring down the barrel of a fifth consecutive game without a win. Defeat would have left Arsenal trailing in fourth place.

However, thanks to Arsenal's resolve and Podolski's vital contribution, Arsenal have now jumped back to the top of the table—for the time being, at least.

Truth be told, Arsenal should never have found themselves behind in this game. They dominated in the first half but were unable to convert any of the opportunities they carved out.

Olivier Giroud was particularly culpable. The Frenchman is now without a goal in his last six games, and he looked unlikely to end that drought at Upton Park. His movement was sluggish and his finishing slack. Giroud's first-half performance was almost a cry for help. 

He needn't have worried: assistance was on the way in the form of Podolski.

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 26:  Lukas Podolski of Arsenal (L) celebrates with Olivier Giroud (12) as he scores their third goal during the Barclays Premier League match between West Ham United and Arsenal at Boleyn Ground on December 26, 2013 in London, E
Ian Walton/Getty Images

However, before the German was introduced, Arsenal fell behind. Theo Walcott gave the ball away, and West Ham moved swiftly to punish him, breaking up the other end of the field and firing a powerful shot on the Arsenal goal.

It should have been simple for Wojciech Szczesny to deal with, but the Pole spilt the ball into the path of Carlton Cole, who was left with a simple tap-in.

Arsenal were plainly shocked to be behind. For the next five minutes, they were reeling, and the Hammers should arguably have punished them by adding a second or third goal.

Arsene Wenger can sometimes be slow to introduce substitutes, but when Aaron Ramsey pulled up with a suspected thigh strain, the Arsenal boss was forced to act.

Wenger turned to Podolski. Speaking in the post-match press conference after the Chelsea game, Wenger had suggested he was wary to use the German as he was severely lacking in match practice. This was, after all, his first appearance since August.

However, there was little sign of rustiness.

The German immediately threw himself in to the thick of the action, and within two minutes Arsenal were level. Santi Cazorla, having his best game of the season thus far, found Walcott on the right. Eager to make amends for his earlier error, Walcott swerved inside before taking a shot at goal that trickled between a clutch of West Ham defenders and past the bemused Adrian.

After a further three minutes, the Gunners were ahead. Podolski whipped in an outstanding cross from the left wing that took a nick off a defender before Walcott expertly nodded it home. It was a turnaround befitting of potential champions.

Podolski set the seal on the victory himself. The maligned Giroud demonstrated his worth by collecting a cross, holding it up and laying it off in to the German's path. From the edge of the box, Podolski hammered home a shot across Adrian and into the far corner. Few players in the Premier League are quite so devastatingly effective from that position.

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 26:  Lukas Podolski of Arsenal (L) celebrates with Theo Walcott as he scores their third goal during the Barclays Premier League match between West Ham United and Arsenal at Boleyn Ground on December 26, 2013 in London, England.
Ian Walton/Getty Images

The return to fitness of Podolski and Walcott has come at a superb time for Arsenal. The Gunners' lack of options in attack has been well documented. However, the fact that Arsenal have done extremely well to remain at the top of the Premier League in the pair's prolonged absence has been less prominently covered.

Giroud may be off-form, and Aaron Ramsey looking a little more mortal than he has for most of 2013/14, but the availability of Podolski and Walcott will help alleviate those issues.

It's a well-worn cliche, but ahead of the transfer window, the return of the German feels just like a new signing.

James McNicholas is Bleacher Report's lead Arsenal correspondent and will be following the club from a London base throughout the 2013/14 season. Follow him on Twitter here.

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