Arsenal overcame a stuttering start to beat West Ham 3-1 and regain fourth place in the Premier League—for 24 hours, at least—on Tuesday.
Matt Jarvis’ 40th-minute header briefly had Gunners fans fearing the worst after a subdued start to the game, but Lukas Podolski’s low finish shortly before half-time seemed to spark Arsene Wenger’s side back into life before Olivier Giroud gave the home side the lead early in the second half.
With just over 10 minutes remaining Podolski then grabbed his second to clinch the three points, rounding off a fine passing move with an emphatic finish.
The result means Arsenal are now a point ahead of Everton in the all-important race for the final Champions League qualification spot, although the Toffees have a game in hand on their rivals. They face Crystal Palace at home Wednesday.
Nevertheless, after a draining FA Cup semi-final experience Saturday, Wenger was glad his side returned to action by securing another win they desperately needed. He told Sky Sports:
In the first half it was difficult, but the vital thing was to come back just before half-time. In the second half we controlled the game.
It is a hard-fought win but a very important one—and a very pleasant one, because after the Saturday game we had to dig deep.
It cannot be said that the Gunners, who made five changes from the weekend’s Wembley win over Wigan Athletic, started the game brightly.
Perhaps that was to be expected, considering it took them extra-time and penalties to finally beat the Latics and that, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Aaron Ramsey not considered fit enough to start, it was an unusually old Arsenal starting XI—with January loan signing Kim Kallstrom making his first start.
29y 188d - This is Arsenal's oldest starting XI in the @premierleague since May 2003 (30y 18d v Leeds United). Experience.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 15, 2014
Either way, Wenger’s side were noticeably lacking in tempo and incision in the first half-hour of the match and created very few chances.
The one they did create seemed to sum up their efforts. Giroud, having got beyond the last man, curiously decided to attempt an ambitious clipped finish with the outside of his left boot rather than simply strike it with his right. Adrian, diving to his right, made the save with relative comfort.
West Ham had hardly taken advantage of their opponents’ lethargy, however, with Jarvis perhaps creating the one moment of tension as he surprisingly declined to go down following a clumsy challenge from Bacary Sagna in the box.
Shortly before half-time the winger would get his reward though, as he was on hand to head into an open net from close range. Guy Demel’s clever through ball had allowed Antonio Nocerino to test Wojciech Szczesny with a low drive, and as the deflected follow-up popped up perfectly for Jarvis, the winger was able to take advantage.
Arsenal had been showing a bit more cohesion in the build-up to the opener. Perhaps further galvanised, they equalised almost immediately—just prior to half-time.
A smart inside pass from Santi Cazorla found Podolski inside the box, and the German got the ball out of his feet before finding the far corner with an unerring left-footed drive.
“I think [that was the turning point],” Hammers boss Sam Allardyce admitted. “We’d done so much up to then. The key was to hold onto that into half-time.”
The goal seemed to come at the right time for the hosts—pre-empting any half-time boos they might have been subjected to—and 10 minutes after the break they were in front.
It was a sublime touch from Giroud that facilitated it, as the Frenchman slipped behind Winston Reid and Andy Carroll to take down Thomas Vermaelen’s high ball brilliantly before firing between Adrian’s legs.
"It was a great goal, a really great goal," Wenger added. "If the first touch in the box is not perfect then there is no chance to score."
With relegation only a faint possibility, suddenly it was West Ham who looked lethargic and lacking in hunger, and Arsenal began to really impose themselves on the contest. Podolski tested Adrian with a powerful free-kick before substitute Aaron Ramsey fired over after working a good sight of goal from the edge of the box.
Thirteen minutes from time Arsenal duly wrapped up the all-important victory. It was the sort of flowing team move that had been so conspicuous by its absence in the first half, as Cazorla, Giroud and Ramsey all played their parts before Podolski found the net with a typically powerful finish.
Santi Cazorla gets fantastic ovation as he's subbed. Run himself ragged. What a terrific display. Feet up, son.— John Cross (@johncrossmirror) April 15, 2014
The remainder of the game saw both sides make substitutions, perhaps aware that the result had been decided. West Ham continued to attempt long balls up to Carroll, but as Per Mertesacker also continued to fend them off with relative ease, Arsenal were able to ease to the final whistle.
In action again at the weekend, the important thing now is for Arsenal's players to recover. The signs that Giroud, Cazorla and Podolski are all in good form at a key point in the campaign will nevertheless be sources of encouragement for Wenger and the club's fans.
“It was important we switch on to the Premier League after Saturday,” Podolski told Sky Sports. “We must fight for the fourth place, we want to play next year in the Champions League.
“Today was the first step, but now let’s focus on the next game. If we win all our matches then I think we will qualify.”
Cazorla added: “We need to win all the games. The most important thing now is recovery for [our next game].”
|Ricardo Vaz Te||6|
Arsenal travel to their FA Cup final opponents, Hull City, on Sunday. West Ham, meanwhile, will be looking for revenge a day earlier against Crystal Palace—having lost to the fellow London club at Selhurst Park earlier in the season.
All quotes transcribed from Sky Sports' live broadcast of the game.