Film Focus: Arsenal Stand Up to West Ham Test to Claim Victory

Christopher Atkins@@chris_elasticoContributor IApril 15, 2014

Arsenal's 3-1 victory over West Ham United on Tuesday evening was a potentially important step for the Gunners in their attempts to beat Everton to fourth place in the Premier League.

With the Toffees facing a difficult run-in, Arsenal cannot afford to slip up against their seemingly easier opponents.

West Ham, though, would not be considered an ideal opponent for Arsenal over recent years. The Gunners have a reputation for struggling against more physical sides, and Sam Allardyce's West Ham are certainly not afraid to throw their weight around.

Arsenal, though, are a different side this season and once more showed that, defensively, they can stand up to the tests of a team looking to play direct football.

Indeed, their defensive record against lesser sides this season is excellent; it is rather the sides who attempt to play quick, attacking football who have caused them the most trouble.

The signs in the first half were not good.

West Ham were a match for their opponents, and the left-hand side combination of Mo Diame, Pablo Armero and Matt Jarvis in particular linked well. Playing with pace and power, they were proving difficult for an Arsenal side not renowned for its midfielders' defensive contributions.

Despite the Hammers taking the lead late in the half following a surging run from Antonio Nocerino that was eventually converted by Matt Jarvis, the Gunners did not collapse.

Four minutes later, they were level through Lukas Podolski and, following the interval, were much improved on their first-half showing.

Indeed, it was a day when some of Arsenal's bigger players answered their critics.

Santi Cazorla was as industrious as he has been all season in attacking midfield and helped press high up the pitch. Podolski threatened more than he has on many occasions, while Olivier Giroud made up for a poor first-half miss with a well-taken goal.

It is interesting to note that the Gunners' second-half goals came courtesy of a long ball and a headed knock-down against a side renowned for its aerial presence.

Arsenal showed in the second half that they were not there to be pushed around, and over the course of 90 minutes, they won over half of the game's aerial duels, per Squawka.

What West Ham were unable to do that Everton did so successfully last week was move between the Arsenal lines and cause disarray. The Hammers' early forays managed to unsettle them in the channels, but the second half was a story of Arsenal dominance.

As the game developed, Arsenal were able to enjoy more and more possession, limiting West Ham to scraps of their own. Indeed, the visitors were unable to muster a shot on target in the second half.

It was a dominance built on doing the right things without the ball.

Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny dealt well with West Ham's long-ball threat, but it was the industry of Tomas Rosicky, Kim Kallstrom, Cazorla and Podolski that made a real difference.

Too often this season, Arsenal's midfielders have been lazy; they have failed to track runners or close down opponents and the team has suffered.

While there were moments in the first half when runners were allowed to get away, it was a much better performance in defensive aspects.

Arsenal fans will be delighted with the win and the manner of the second-half performance, but the truth is that we learned little from 90 minutes in which the clearly better team won.

Yes, there have been times when Arsenal have allowed themselves to fall short against bottom-half sides, often by encouraging late pressure. In general, though, they have performed well in such games this season.

The Gunners may well claim a top-four finish this season, and the timing of Podolski's late first-half goal may have been crucial to claiming the points that earn that place in next season's Champions League.

Despite this, manager Arsene Wenger will know that the current league campaign has been one that has seen the Gunners fall towards the following pack rather than push towards the league's top sides.


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