ARSENAL: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Koscielny, Rosicky, Arteta, Podolski, Cazorla, Kallstrom, Giroud
SUBSTITUTES: Fabianski, Jenkinson, Bellerin, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ramsey, Sanogo, Akpom
WHAM UNITED: Adrián, Reid, Tomkins, Armero, Demel, Jarvis, Noble, Diame, Downing, Nocerino, Carroll
SUBSTITUTES: Jaaskelainen, McCartney, Johnson, Taylor, Cole, Vaz Te, Cole
Arsenal needed all three points to overtake Everton for fourth place and despite conceding an early goal overcame a rather weak West Ham resistance to get the win and add two goals padding on the Arsenal goal difference.
Extra time in the FA Cup took a toll and Arsene Wenger was forced to make five changes from the team that won on Saturday. Kim Kallstrom got his first start and looked good in midfield shielding the back four when needed and distributing to the more creative players up front. Vermaelen started at left back given injuries to both Monreal and Gibbs and played solidly even remonstrating Podolski on several occasions for slack defending. And Rosicky added pace and directness in midfield.
Podolski and Giroud nearly hooked up for the opening goal in the 14th minute when the German’s wicked cross flashed across the goal but the Frenchman just couldn’t get on the end of the shot and the cross went harmlessly wide. Arsenal had the best chance of the game in the 31st minute when Cazorla played in Giroud one-on-one with the keeper. Giroud struggled a bit to collect the ball but was wide open and tried an audacious left footed chip which was saved by Adrián at full stretch.
Meanwhile, West Ham were exactly as advertised, playing Jarvis wide down the left and bombing in crosses to Andy Carroll coming in on the right. The Hammers blew an early chance off a corner when Jarvis crossed for Diame who was left alone right in front of goal. The West Ham man scooped his shot well over when any shot on target would have probably scored.
The lively Jarvis would prove to be the danger man for West Ham. Nocerino broke into space while Kallstrom was sleeping and took a shot from a very tight angle. Szczesny parried and the ball looped up over Koscielny’s outstretched boot and Jarvis headed bravely home.
Arsenal haven’t been very good at come back victories this season having gone behind 11 times in Premier League play but only notching one win and four draws in those matches. Arsenal’s only win from a losing position this season came against West Ham on Boxing Day. In that match, Podolski came on in the 65th minute and scored the third goal.
Operation Save Our Season kicked in after the Hammers goal and Arsenal seemed to find another gear, linking passes effortlessly and keeping the ball deep in the Hammers area. After a failed clearance fell to Cazorla the Spaniard played a splitting ball to Podolski who simply took a touch, turned and fired in to the far corner. A much needed goal at an important time in the game.
The rest of the half saw Arsenal the more creative of the two teams but unable to find an opening. As a result, the two teams went in to half time all tied at 1-1.
Arsenal came out in the second half livelier than the first and immediately took the game to West Ham. A series of corners tested the Hammers’ set play defense with Cazorla playing in dangerous crosses that were only just dealt with. When West Ham did finally clear their lines the ball went to Vermaelen who was playing as last defender for Arsenal. The Arsenal captain played in a huge long ball to Giroud and the Frenchman, despite Andy Carroll shoving him in the back, plucked the ball out of the air as if it were a dandelion seed and powered a shot between Adrián’s legs.
Arsenal were now well stuck into this game and started countering with real pace. In the 64th minute, Arsenal cleared a West Ham attack and Rosicky played a lovely one touch ball to Cazorla wide on the right. The Spaniard nearly capped his man of the match performance with a goal as he jinked in from the right to set up a venomous left footer that just sliced wide of the post.
Arsene made his customary 70th minute sub in the 72nd minute and put Aaron Ramsey in for Tomas Rosicky. Ramsey took three minutes to show what he’s all about and after a few well worked passes got himself into space 20 yards out and had a crack at goal. The ball sailed harmlessly into the stands but it was a signal of intent. Two minutes later he was in the same position when a Giroud cross was played behind him but the Welsh wizard stepped back and headed the ball softly to Podolski. The end result was never in doubt as the German simply smashed the ball over the keeper and into the roof of the net.
As the game wore down, West Ham brought on their two lumps of Cole, Carlton and Joe. Carlton immediately got into the act and took a dive on the ball in order to set up a free kick from a long diagonal. If you’ll indulge me, this type of dive is perhaps the most pervasive in the Premier League but is the one that is never talked about. Teams like West Ham and Stoke have big players like Cole who tend to fall over onto the ball at the slightest touch from a defender. It’s clearly a tactic on the part of these hoofball teams and why there hasn’t been a coordinated effort to stamp out this stultifying form of football is one of the great mysteries of the sport.
Despite the Hammers falling all over the place to get free kicks Arsenal closed out the game with a flourish and could have scored at least another goal but for some bad luck. But in the end Arsenal did exactly what they needed to do to win the game, they overcame an early deficit (something they haven’t done since December), and kept the Hammers quiet for 60 minutes to climb back into fourth place.