Arsenal bounced back from their back to back defeats in the league by producing a scintillating attacking display against West Ham to record the first win in the Premier League in 2013 in emphatic fashion. It was the sort of display which they so desperately needed having looked lacklustre and below par against Chelsea and Man City. The game started with a high tempo with both teams creating early chances which suggested it would be a close game. Arsenal started brightly and signalled their intent with an early opportunity created by Walcott dashing run inside West Ham full back, Joey O’Brien, but his low centre through ball pass was behind the on rushing Giroud. Walcott looked bright again on 15 minutes when he was almost away on the right-wing, but Winston Reid read his run and did just enough to get across to ensure his shot went into the side netting. In the early exchanges Theo Walcott showed glimpses of why Arsenal were so intent on penning him to a new contract.
West Ham were also showing glimpses of threat on the other end as Matthew Taylor’s 20 yard shot was deflected harmlessly up and onto the roof of the net by Thomas Vermaelen. West Ham were beginning to look dangerous as Arsenal failed to clear their lines from a second corner on 18 minutes, the ball fell nicely on the edge of the box for Collison who took one touch to set himself up before firing a clean and superb strike through the crowd of players and into the bottom of Arsenal’s net. West Ham pressure had paid off and Arsenal frailties at the back on set pieces were exposed again. It was the third successive game which Arsenal had conceded first.
Arsenal didn’t let their heads fall and produced the perfect response to conceding the early goal and were level again within just four minutes. The ball was fed perfectly from Wilshere out wide to Podolski on his left, 25 yards out from goal, the German stepped inside before unleashing a blistering bullet with his left foot straight into the far corner of the net. It was a sublime finish by the German. It calmed Arsenal’s nerves and they soon settled back into their rhythm again with their trademark passing. A quick one two down the left through Giroud and Gibbs played the German in on goal again, but this time his weaker shot was cleared away by O’Brien.
As half time approached Arsenal were caught out again by West Ham when a long ball slit the defence open and fell kindly to Carlton Cole feet, whose chip was partly blocked by Wojciech Szczesny and the rushing Aaron Ramsey had to scramble back to clear the ball of the line. Arsenal were beginning to live dangerously again. In the final moments of first half stoppage time Arsenal won a cheap free kick which was perfectly placed just on the outside of the box. Cazorla’s curled shot was heading to the top corner before Irons keeper Jussi Jaaskelainen clawed it away. The Gunners went into half time level but the team back in the driving seat.
The second half began in style for Arsenal, as they won a corner which was whipped in well to the near post by Theo Walcott, where Giroud was placed perfectly to drill it back past the advancing Jaaskelainen for his first goal since Arsenal’s thrashing of Newcastle 7-3 on December 29th. The corner looked like something which had been practised on the training ground and it worked effectively to provide the gunners with the lead.
Before West Ham even had chance to catch their breath after the corner, it was 3-1 on 53 minutes. Walcott got away down the right, before the ball was played back to the flank, where Podolski played a one-two with Giroud before squaring for Cazorla, who rolled in a clever back heel. There was no stopping Arsenal now they were in top gear and within sixty seconds of Cazorla goal, Arsenal scored a fourth. Podolski was set away down the left and charged clear of a stretched West Ham defence before clipping a perfectly weighted pass across into the path of Walcott, who smashed the shot home, at the far post to score Arsenal’s fourth goal. Arsenal had not finished there when the fifth goal was scored by Giroud on 57 minutes, with Podolski again the provider following another surging run down the left.
Wilshere was handed the captains armband for the first time when the injured Thomas Vermealen was substituted in the second half. Wilshere, lead as a captain and was once again the teams engine in the middle. Podolski was “man of the match” and had stolen the show with a sublime goal and three assists. The second half was the sort of complete performance that Arsenal have been striving for all season, they were in control and showed why they can finish once again in the top 4 this season, lying just one point behind Everton in fifth and four adrift of Tottenham, occupiers of the final Champions League spot.
However this was not just three points and five goals for the gunners. It was a return to fine, fluent fettle at the start of one of the busiest periods of the season, it was the return of the “Old Arsenal”. Four goals in ten minutes had won the game. It was understandable that Arsenal could not sustain that intensity but when Arsenal click as they did for 10 whirlwind minutes at the beginning of the second half, they really are sublime and play some beautiful football on the eye. It raises the question amongst many supporters; why don’t they play like this every week?
The thrashing of West Ham was the perfect response, which Arsenal needed after the disappointing defeats of late, it may only just paper over cracks but it will provide the much-needed confidence for Wenger’s men as they have two important games with a potential “banana skin” against Brighton in the FA Cup on Saturday and a big game at home in the league against Liverpool.
Before the game in the pre match interview Arsene Wenger had talked of being ” backs to the wall,” of his worry at the lack of consistency. “Was I worried at 1-0 down? I thought it was an interesting test,” Wenger said. “But we kept going, even though I could not have predicted we would have scored five. What was vital was that we equalised before half-time.” Arsenal responded in the manner and style which Wenger will be pleased with and it could very well act as the perfect tonic in changing their season around.