At last, something to smile about. West Ham were blown away by a wonderful flurry of early second half goals, and it showed what this side is capable of when they click.
The first half was a fairly even affair, both sides could have led at the break, 1-1 seemed fair. They took the lead after Jack Collison’s shot from the edge of the box flew past Szczesny, but if we were supposed to go into our shells and let heads go down there was no sign of that. Jack Wilshere’s cute pass sat up perfectly for Lukas Podolski, and anything Collison could do he could do better, lashing a shot from close to 30 yards which just screamed past Jussi Jaaskelainen to level the scores.
Aaron Ramsey saved our bacon, clearing a Carlton Cole effort before it could go in, while the incredible Santi Cazorla took a free kick with his supposedly weaker left foot which forced a good save from the keeper. But second halves have been our thing in recent times, we came out fired up against both Chelsea and Man City and it was the same against last night.
Theo Walcott almost forced a Tomkins own goal after a run down the right, and after sustained pressure we took the lead from a corner. At first I thought it was another poorly hit set-piece from Walcott but if you watch it again you see Mertesacker start at the near post, he runs back into the area, taking his marker with him, allowing Olivier Giroud to make a run to the near post. And when the ball arrived there he stabbed it home to put us ahead. That was clearly a training ground move, and it came off too.
A couple of minutes later it was 3-1, Santi Cazorla’s sublime back-flick rounding off a brilliant Arsenal move, and shortly after that Theo Walcott tucked away Lukas Podolski’s cross at the back post after a great pass from Jack Wilshere had put the German free down the left. And before anyone could catch their breath, it was 5-1, Podolski again the provider, Giroud’s run and close range finish were both absolutely perfect.
At that point the game was well and truly over, Arsenal knew it, West Ham knew it, and although there was a lengthy stoppage for what looked a worrying injury to Daniel Potts, the 12 minutes of added time at the end of the game were fairly pointless. They were down to 10 men, Arsenal’s players decided it was time for a bit of shooting practice, none of it troubled Jaaskelainen unduly and in the end the scoreline remained the same until the final whistle. Any kind of comeback was too difficult a tusk for Walrus’s men.
Afterwards, Arsene said:
We got a good response. In the second half from the start on we created chance after chance and played at a very high pace. From there on it was great movement, great quality in our final balls and in our combination play.
And on star man Lukas Podolski:
He had an outstanding game tonight. He scored a very important goal. He has an unbelievable shot because the keeper had no chance. After he gave of course two great balls as well.
Two great balls indeed, but three assists and a goal is a very healthy return from the German, who certainly had his best game in an Arsenal shirt last night. The goal was brilliant, it’s been a while since we’ve had anyone who can leather a ball the way he does, but the passes for the Walcott and Giroud goals in particular were excellent too. And while I’m still very much of the opinion that we could use more firepower, 11 goals and 10 assists for him, alongside 12 goals and 9 assists for Giroud are not bad numbers for players in their first season in English football.
With Walcott netting his 15th and Cazorla his 8th of the season, there are goals in that group. Not as many as we would like, or have needed in recent times, but it was good to see them click last night. It was also the first time in quite a while that I’ve seen Arsenal move the ball that quickly. There were moves that went from our back four to the front in no time, and the precision of some of the first-time passing created the space which we exploited to make the goals. It’s long been a trademark of Wenger’s sides but sadly absent too often during this campaign. It’s a bit early to say it’s a corner turned but I’m happy to be encouraged by it.
A word too for Aaron Ramsey, a player whose mere presence on the team-sheet can send thousands into fits of wailing, self-harming apoplexy. Played as a deep lying midfielder, I thought he had an outstanding game. Statistically, he completed 117 of 123 passes (95%) and he kept the midfield ticking just as well as Arteta has this season. He was switched on defensively, as we saw when he raced back to clear Cole’s chip before it went in, and what was most noticeable is that he added some discipline to his game.
The main problem has been his insistence on taking too many touches, slowing things down, and then trying outrageously ambitious Hollywood passes when there’s an easier option on. He simplified his game and it worked – he was much, much better. Hopefully this is something he’ll take stock of going forward, because if he does he might just reach the potential Arsene Wenger sees him a lot sooner.
The only negative was an injury to Thomas Vermaelen (funnily enough in the incident when Ramsey cleared the ball) which will probably rule him out of Saturday’s trip to Brighton, but the manager says it’s nothing too serious. Fingers crossed on that, and while questions obviously still remain, it’s nice to write something about how well we played to earn the three points we so badly needed.
Onwards and upwards. Till tomorrow.