Arsenal returned to form by smashing five goals past West Ham at Emirates Stadium on Wednesday night.
The damage was inflicted in a ten-minute spell after half-time when the excellent Lukas Podolski laid on quickfire goals for Santi Cazorla, Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud. In the midst of that barrage, the Frenchman also grabbed another from the Englishman’s corner.
It was a surprising salvo as the first half had been an even affair. Jack Collison had fired West Ham in front in the 18th minute but Podolski rifled home the equaliser from 25 yards midway through the half.
The German, who was returning from sickness, would turn out to be Arsenal’s pivotal player as this romping victory banished the memories of back-to-back defeats against Manchester City and Chelsea.
West Ham substitute Dan Potts needed lengthy treatment for a head injury late on and ended the night in hospital care.
Winning their game in hand did not elevate Arsenal’s Premier League position but it did close the gap on the Champions League places. Wenger’s side remain sixth, one point behind Everton and four adrift of Tottenham, occupiers of the final Champions League spot.
However this was not just three points and five goals. It was a return to fine, fluent fettle at the start of one of the busiest periods of the season.
For that reason, this was a massive victory for Arsenal.
Wenger promised to apply a little rotation to the side beaten 2-1 at Chelsea on Sunday. As a result, Podolski and Aaron Ramsey returned. Francis Coquelin, who had collected a hamstring injury at Stamford Bridge, and Abou Diaby were the players to drop out.
This game had been originally scheduled for Boxing Day but the weather remained rather Christmasy. The snow that had enveloped the south-east of England was now thankfully subsiding but it remained bitterly cold.
The first half began at a lively pace and never really relented.
In the opening minutes, Jack Wilshere’s raking ball into the right-hand channel split the West Ham defence. Walcott collected in his stride but the presence of a sliding Winston Reid made the striker screw his shot wide.
It was a decent enough start for Arsenal but, once again, they would be caught. It all started when Matt Taylor’s shot was deflected over the bar with Wojciech Szczesny scrambling back.
A couple of corners later, Giroud’s clearance fell to Collison on the edge of the area. His thunderous drive pierced the crowded area and found the net.
It was a goal with the potential to sap Arsenal’s confidence. An early reply was crucial and, thankfully, they found it quickly.
Wilshere nudged the ball into the path of Podolski with little on and over 25 yards out. With defenders closing in, the German unfurled his left foot and unleashed a venomous strike that was past Jussi Jaaskelainen in a flash. It was his 11th strike in the 27th game of his first season in England. A decent return.
"With defenders closing in, the German unfurled his left foot and unleashed a venomous strike that was past Jussi Jaaskelainen in a flash"
The game was even and open. Walcott cut a dangerous ball across the box, Taylor’s free-kick flew across the Arsenal area.
Ten minutes before half-time, Giroud’s touch saw Gibbs burst through on the left of the area but he squared to Podolski rather than try himself. The striker was off balance and slid in a weak shot.
It seemed like Arsenal were starting to dominate but it was West Ham who nearly took the lead. Bacary Sagna’s clearing header hit Taylor and Carlton Cole flicked the ball past Szczesny. Vermaelen and Ramsey raced back to clear the ball off the line with the Belgian winning the race but injuring himself in the process.
In added time, Arsenal nearly completed the turnround when Cazorla bent an angled free-kick toward the top corner of the net. Jaaskelainen stretched to make fine save and Giroud could not turn in the rebound.
Arsenal began the second half with a siege that led to a flurry of goals. Seconds in, Walcott’s low cross was nearly turned into his own net by James Tomkins. Then, on the other side of the area, Gibbs’ cross was cleared for a corner.
Walcott fired it into the near post and Giroud timed his run perfectly to touch the ball home. The strike put the Frenchman in double figures for the season.
In the 53rd minute, it was 3-1. Podolski exchanged pass Giroud on the edge of the area and the German set up Cazorla, who cleverly held off his marker and backflicked the ball into the empty.
A minute later, Podolski roared down the left and fired a low cross to Walcott to slot home at the far post.
Wenger had talked about the potential coming out in the Arsenal side and the side being “nearly there”.
Tonight they seemed to be reaching their destination.
In the 57th minute, Giroud converted another low cross from Poldolski. The Frenchman was now on a hat-trick while the German had made three assists and hit the net himself.
Four goals in ten minutes had won the game. It was understandable that Arsenal could not sustain that intensity.
Vermaelen was replaced by Laurent Koscielny, Podolski was replaced by Andre Santos and Sam Allardyce also freshened his flagging XI.
One those changes, Potts, had to be stretchered off. He needed lengthy treatment before leaving the field to warm applause.
The stoppage sucked the remaining life out of the game. Arsenal still threatened through Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain but they seemed satisfied with their work for the night.
As did the home crowd on a heartening night at Emirates Stadium.
Referee: Andre Marriner
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