Arsenal vs. West Ham United: 6 Things We Learned from Gunners' Crucial Win
Arsenal moved back into fourth place in the Premier League and provisionally above Everton after two goals from Lukas Podolski and a third from Olivier Giroud were enough to beat West Ham United 3-1 at the Emirates Stadium on Tuesday.
Arsene Wenger will be more than happy with his team for their work over the past four days. Arsenal secured an FA Cup final appearance after beating Wigan Athletic on 12 April, and after this victory over West Ham, they have moved back into pole position in the race to qualify for the Champions League.
The Gunners had to do it the hard way for the second time against West Ham this season.
Back on 26 December, Arsenal beat the Hammers 3-1 after Sam Allardyce's team had taken the lead. Tonight they repeated that feat.
In a tight and testing first half, Matt Jarvis gave the visitors the lead after latching onto Antonio Nocerino's blocked shot. The lead was short-lived, however, as Podolski accepted Santi Cazorla's excellent slide rule pass to fire home the equalizer.
The goal came on the stroke of half-time and seemed to knock the stuffing out of West Ham.
The second period was a far different affair, with Arsenal forcing the pace. Giroud blasted in from close range after a sublime piece of skill to take the ball down under pressure. The goal was in direct contrast to the Frenchman's tepid attempt in the first half when he really should have scored.
Wenger then introduced Aaron Ramsey to the fray, and the Welshman provided an instant injection to the team. His cushioned header sent Podolski through on goal and he hammered it home with aplomb.
In the end, Arsenal won easily, and they worked hard to earn that right.
Here, Bleacher Report offers six things we learned from Arsenal vs. West Ham...
Player Watch: Kim Kallstrom Is More of the Same
Kim Kallstrom was given the perfect foundation for his first start in an Arsenal jersey against West Ham. The visitors midfield was without Kevin Nolan and that included Mark Noble, Mohamed Diame and Antonio Nocerino.
Unlike Everton and Wigan Athletic, of late, the Hammers decided to take a leaf from Garry Monk's tactical book and lay off Mikel Arteta and Kallstrom in central midfield and catch them on a swift counter-attack. Diame's early powerful runs where Kallstrom and Santi Cazorla looked confused on who to pick up are a perfect example.
Kallstrom, an attack minded midfielder as a younger man, has lost his mobility as he nears the twilight of his career. He is now only suited to the role Arsene Wenger deployed him in central midfield. The 31-year-old lacks any kind of pace and, like Mikel Arteta, could not tackle a good dinner.
The opening goal from Matt Jarvis came from his inability to keep pace with and tackle Antonio Nocerino as the Italian drove towards goal from midfield.
Where he excels, however, just like the Spaniard he partnered against West Ham, is as a continuity player where he keeps the ball moving. The Swedish international was constantly available to pick the ball up from his defenders and by full-time he had had 104 touches of the ball, as per WhoScored.com.
Kallstrom is more of the same as far as Arteta and Mathieu Flamini are concerned.
He is incapable of breaking from midfield in the same manner as Aaron Ramsey and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
One has to question the reasoning behind his signing, especially as he came with an injury that meant his first start came with just five game to go.
Arsenal Will Finish Fourth Ahead of Everton
When Everton hammered Arsenal 3-0 and then followed it up with a 1-0 win over Sunderland to move into fourth place, all the pressure moved onto Arsenal to perform.
The fact that the Gunners were in a semi-final and hoping to beat Wigan Athletic in a bid to claim their first trophy since 2005 only added to the growing pressure.
There is little doubt that Arsenal were the better side against the Latics, but they scraped through to the final thanks to a penalty shootout. The way their players celebrated the victory was derided in many circles, but that was just pure relief showing its face.
Against West Ham, Arsenal played their way into the game. They were always the better side and were the only team asking real questions. To their credit they kept to their convictions after going one-down and deservedly won easily in the end.
The equalizer by Lukas Podolski breathed new life into the Arsenal team and from there, there was only going to be one result.
One can see the veil of pressure being lifted.
Realistically, Arsenal should win each and every one and claim fourth unless the Toffees can manage to go undefeated as well.
West Ham Have Improved as the Season
Sam Allardyce has done a superb job and West Ham in turning their season around. At one stage the former Newcastle United boss was expected to be sacked, but the club showed faith under pressure and now they are all but safe.
The return of Andy Carroll to the starting lineup has made a huge difference to their attacking prowess. It has, however, also made them a much tougher team to beat. It is worth nothing that before tonight, the Hammers had kept 13 clean sheets this term.
The ex-Liverpool's strikers form is so good, he is now being mentioned as a viable option for Roy Hodgson's England team for the World Cup in Brazil this summer. The Hammers, however, unlike England, are set up with two out-and-out wide-men in Matt Jarvis and Stewart Downing who constantly look to supply the striker.
Their running, in particular, caused huge problems for Arsenal's full-backs.
At the back, Guy Demel has been an unsung hero at right-back and Winston Reid now looks ready to make the next step in his career. It would be no surprise to see the likes of Everton, Tottenham Hotspur or even Arsenal, for that matter, become interested in the New Zealander should he become available.
The key moment of the game was Arsenal's equalizer at half-time and it seemed to damage West Ham in a massive way psychologically.
Big Sam needs to work on this side of his team's game. If he can achieve this and hold onto key players, the Hammers could push far further up the league next season.
If Only Arsenal Had Signed Another Striker in January
When the 2013-14 Premier League season is analyzed, one of the biggest questions to emerge will be: Why didn't Arsene Wenger sign a striker in the January transfer window?
Arsenal were top of the table heading into and out of the transfer window. It was just one week into February when their season began to unravel.
Olivier Giroud scored his 20th goal of the season against West Ham. It was only his sixth goal since 28 January.
It is no secret that the big Frenchman is tired. His contribution over the last month has been negligible at best.
The 27-year-old has been used in virtually every single game this season and has made 51 appearances for club and country since August. Notably, this is only his second season in the English top-flight and his body is still acclimatizing to the hustle and bustle of the league.
Giroud summed up that all-important first year in the Premier League to Arsenal's official club website. He gave a clear indication of what every new import has to go through in what can prove to be a trialling year in more ways than one.
This season, has in many ways, been even tougher for the Frenchman because he has had absolutely no support.
This is Wenger's fault for not buying a striker.
Before Christmas, he had scored 11 goals and provided seven assists. After Christmas he has scored eight goals and provided two assists, as per Who Scored.
Just imagine how a fresh Giroud would be playing now.
Fatigue Played a Part in Arsenal's Play
West Ham United and Sam Allardyce had a full 11 days to prepare for this game. Arsenal, on the other hand, had just two-and-a-half and that came on the back of a stamina sapping 120 minutes and a penalty shootout at Wembley in the FA Cup semi-final against Wigan Athletic.
It is little wonder, therefore, that Big Sam set his team up to try and take advantage of a presumably tired Arsenal. The Hammers boss told a Premier League press conference, as per Sky Sports, that he felt the Gunners would tire.
Allardyce also commented that Arsenal were at least £120 million off a realistic title tilt, as per Mirror Sport.
To combat fatigue, Arsene Wenger made five changes to the team that faced the Latics.
Bacary Sagna, a hugely important player for Arsenal, looked dead on his feet and rather unwilling to commit past the game-line. Forty percent of the Gunners' attacks are initiated from the right-hand-side, as per Who Scored. This affected Arsenal considerably.
The same could be said of Olivier Giroud, who made several questionable decisions before his goal, Per Mertesacker and Thomas Vermaelen.
Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla, both did nothing against Wigan, looked fresh and they were easily Arsenal's most energetic, creative and most dangerous players.
The psychology of goals should not be discounted.
Once Arsenal got into the lead, they looked the fresher team, particularly when Ramsey and Carl Jenkinson were introduced. West Ham, on the other hand, looked disinterested once they had gone behind.
Arsene Wenger Must Take the Blame for Arsenal's Injury List
Before the game, Martin Keown told BBC 5Live that he has never been more frustrated watching Arsenal.
This is something that all Arsenal cans can understand.
The Gunners were top of the table as recently as 3 February, as per Statto. Amazingly, they are now fighting to stay in the top four. Granted, their remaining fixtures look easier on paper that Everton's and, rank outside bet, Tottenham Hotspur, but their confidence is so low that West Ham came to the Emirates intent on being more than just an inconvenient speed bump.
The big problem that Wenger has at the moment is the pool of players available to him. He has had to contend with injuries all season and this has come back to roost in a big way. In 2012, Roberto Martinez, then of Wigan Athletic and now of Everton fame, told Matt Lawton in the Daily Mail that soft-tissue injuries should be avoided at all costs.
Martinez, a qualified physiotherapist, said:
I always believe every injury can be avoided. That's my starting point and my staff believe the same.
You get accidents in football, collisions that cause injuries that can't be avoided. But even then if your body is right, it will react quicker to the treatment and recover faster. I don't believe in soft-tissue injuries. If you get a soft-tissue injury in football, a mistake has been made.
It could be the training program, a lifestyle problem. Whatever it is, it will be a mistake.
At this club we are below the average for injuries in the Premier League. It's important. It helps.
However, Le Prof, instead of blaming outside forces, should look inward and accept his portion of the blame, even for injuries like Theo Walcott's ACL.
Walcott was not eased back into first-team football after his initial injury. There is a very good argument to be made that tiredness and poor decision making played a major part in his receiving the injury.
This lack of injury insight at Arsenal has ended their title ambitions because it has reduced their attacking prowess.
Aaron Ramsey made a huge contribution when he was on the pitch. It is conceivable that Arsenal would be better off had they had the Welshman available over the last 22 games. During that period they lost four and drew four games. Ten extra points would have them on top of the table above Liverpool.
There is a complete lack of penetration in the Arsenal team at the moment. The Gunners' injury list can no longer be looked upon as a mere coincidence and Wenger has to act.