Two goals from Theo Walcott and another from Lukas Podolski cancelled out Carlton Cole’s opener as Arsenal came from behind to beat West Ham at Upton Park. It was an entertaining Boxing Day London derby with chances galore for both sides, but Arsenal’s superior quality eventually told and it was enough to send us back to the top of the Premier League following Liverpool’s defeat at Manchester City.
There was just one change from the side that draw 0-0 with Chelsea on Monday night, with Santi Cazorla coming in for Tomas Rosicky who didn’t make the squad. Jack Wilshere served the final game of his two match ban, and Laurent Koscielny again missed out through injury.
West Ham started slightly better than us and applied early pressure mainly from set pieces, Mark Noble striking a free kick from the corner of the area towards our top corner but Wojciech Szczesny pushed it away well.
Arsenal then settled into the game enjoying plenty of neat interchanging around the West Ham area and after a series of corners, Per Mertesacker flicked one on at the near post and the half clearance fell straight to Cazorla whose header forced a good save from Adrian in goal for the home side.
We should have been in front just after the 25 minute mark. Mesut Ozil’s fantastic touch took him away from the West Ham midfield and he found Aaron Ramsey, whose delightful chip over fell first time for Walcott but his side foot shot from close range went wide of the near post when going across goal seemed the better option.
Ozil was again involved as he squared one for Cazorla and the little Spaniard’s shot from the edge of the area went just over the bar. Another great opportunity to take the lead then came for Olivier Giroud, the striker put through on goal but dragged it wide of the far post poorly. Ramsey then broke and attempted to put through Walcott but the ball fell back to him and his snatched shot went straight at Adrian.
Further chances fell for Mikel Arteta, whose super strike went just wide after Cazorla’s free kick hit the wall, and Giroud couldn’t tap home a brilliant Kieran Gibbs cross from the left. West Ham had a late chance with a cheeky free kick chipped over for Nolan, but Szczesny read it well and came out to put the Hammers captain off.
We went into the break with the game goalless, Arsenal somehow not in front despite dominating the half.
The home side flew out of the blocks and went in front inside a minute of the restart. A poor Arteta clearance off a cross from the left fell to Nolan on the edge of the area. Szczesny spilt his shot right into the path of Carlton Cole, who applied the finish from close range.
It was completely against the run of play and Arsenal seemed shell shocked by going behind. Matt Jarvis was put through between our defence and could’ve made it 2-0, if not for a decent save by Szczesny. Joey O’Brien then put wide a free header from six yards out and later on Cole had another glorious chance, meeting Razvan Rat’s cross ahead of Gibbs but he volleyed it wide too.
Arsenal had chances of our own though as the game went on. Mertesacker’s shot inside the area brought out a penalty appeal for handball which wasn’t give, and O’Brien was lucky not to see a second yellow after he carelessly brought down Giroud outside the area, with the free kick being blocked by the wall.
Ramsey the went off injured with an apparent thigh strain which looks set to rule him out for a few weeks, with Podolski coming on in his place for his first appearance since August just after the hour mark.
We were level shortly after this. Cazorla found Walcott just inside the right hand side of the West Ham area. He cut in and a tame left footed shot dribbled past two defenders and the ‘keeper into the net. A scrappy goal that Adrian should’ve stopped, but just rewards for Arsenal who had huffed and puffed at the home goal all game.
Three minutes later we were in front, Walcott again with the goal this time heading home Podolski’s cross from the left. Podolski then had a chance but he was denied at close range by Adrian following Cazorla’s chip through. Cazorla himself fired wide from the edge of the D off a corner in the 75th minute before Podolski wrapped the game up with ten minutes to go.
Walcott had the ball on the right, his cross found Giroud who held the ball up well before teeing up Podolski, who fired it into the bottom corner first time with a fine strike, highlighting the key strengths of both Giroud with his decent hold up play, and Podolski with his excellent finishing ability.
Arsene Wenger made a couple more changes to rest some legs with Mathieu Flamini replacing Ozil and Nicklas Bendtner coming on for Giroud. Bendtner had a chance to score a fourth, but his shot from inside the area went just wide of the far post. Joe Cole pulled one wide at the other end, and that was that. A 3-1 win for the visitors.
We made it hard for ourselves, but the result was a fair one and reflected our dominance that ensued for most of the match, aside from a tricky start to the second half.
It had one of those “we’ve been here before” feels to it as West Ham went 1-0 up after we’d missed a host of goal scoring opportunities, but credit to the side for not giving up and showing real character to come back from a goal behind and end up taking the three points comfortably.
Walcott will get the headlines for his double, but the main man yesterday for me was Cazorla. It was as good as he’s been all season and great to see the creative spark back that saw him named as Arsenal Player of the Year last season.
He’s struggled a touch so far this season, often because it’s been difficult to fit him into the side given he operates in the same position/manner as Ozil. But the pair of them connected superbly yesterday, with Ozil a huge contributor particularly in the first half, and boasted eight key passes in the 80 minutes he was on the pitch.
It was also good to have Podolski back and his impact was immediate with a goal and an assist. Much has been talked about of Giroud lately as he’s struggled in front of goal, reminiscent of his drought when he first joined the Club last year. I’m a fan of Giroud but as I’ve alluded to several times on this blog before, he isn’t the out and out goal scorer that’s going to win us games out of nothing, unlike the Suarez’s and Aguero’s of the world.
Giroud’s strength lies in his ability to hold the ball up and connect the play between midfield and attack, plus his aerial threat and also his fine defensive work at set pieces. He’s missing that natural finishing ability, but that’s something that Podolski does possess.
It’ll be interesting to see how Wenger incorporates Podolski into the team. Will he be purely back up to Giroud, rotate with him as the front man or will he occupy that left channel more frequently? If it’s the latter, it’ll be much harder for the Manager to find a spot for Cazorla, Ozil and Wilshere in the same side (not forgetting Rosicky too, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain when he returns from injury) and we’ve now got some fantastic options in these departments, which isn’t a bad thing.
What is a bad thing is the injury Ramsey picked up that is likely to rule him out for a short while at least . Rambo hasn’t quite been at his best as of late and has failed to replicate his incredible early season form. Maybe he’s fatigued, maybe he’s just out of form at the moment, but either way he’s been our best player of the season so far so we can only hope he recovers quickly and can return and be back to his early season best in the New Year.
Gibbs had another superb game at left back and Sagna’s attacking play (particularly his crossing) has really been top notch as of late. Mertesacker and Thomas Vermaelen have appeared comfortable enough together at the back, and although Szczesny will be disappointed with his spill that led to West Ham’s opener, he made a few decent stops when called upon.
Next up we travel to Newcastle and there we’ll play a side in decent form so it certainly won’t be an easy game to wrap up 2013 with. The bookies make us slight favourites and you can check the odds at 888sport. Podolski and Cazorla have given the Manager plenty to think about with regards to the team selection for that, and with “rotation” on everyone’s lips during this busy festive period it’ll be interesting to see whom he goes with on Sunday.
But if we apply ourselves like we did after going behind yesterday I have no doubt we can end the calendar year in style, hopefully with another three points.