Friday, 27 December 2013

Arsenal Win 3-1 At West Ham

Arsenal had done very well on Boxing Day with six wins in a row before yesterday's game at West Ham and needed to make it seven to retake top spot in the league. West Ham are struggling at the wrong end of the table and were only one point above the drop zone before the game and they needed something out of it too. It was never going to be an easy task for Arsenal, but it was a game they had to win after taking only two points in their last three games.

Arsene Wenger made only one change from the draw with Chelsea on Monday night when he brought Santi Cazorla in for Tomas Rosicky. Laurent Koscielny missed out with his knee injury again and Lukas Podolski was on the bench again after returning from a four month injury absence. The team chosen looked more than capable of taking the three points and so it was to be but not without it's drama.

West Ham started well enough but Arsenal took over inside the first 10 minutes and gradually pushed further and further forward in search of the opening goal. Chances came and went with Olivier Giroud twice missing when he probably should have scored and Theo Walcott spurning a good chance too. West Ham surrendered possession to Arsenal throughout the first half and it seemed like only a matter of time before they made the breakthrough.

It was still goalless at the break though and things took a turn in West Ham's favour right away in the second half. With less than a minute gone Wojciech Szczesny spilled a Kevin Nolan shot into the path of Carlton Cole and he slotted home to put them 1-0 up. Arsenal picked up the intensity immediately and poured forward, but they left themselves very open at the back. There were chances at both ends and thankfully West Ham missed a few good ones while Arsenal continued to search for a way back into the game.

On 65 minutes Aaron Ramsey went off with an injury to be replaced by Podolski and it was the catalyst the team needed. Within three minutes Arsenal were back in the game and the goal was a little fortunate. Walcott shot from 10 yards out to the right of the goal and his effort went through two defenders before somehow slipping through the hands of the goalkeeper. 

The goal was just what Arsenal needed and they added to it within three minutes through that man Wakcott again. This time he got on the end of a cross from the right from Podolski to head home from close range to put Arsenal 2-1 up. There was only going to be one winner now, but Arsenal needed a third goal to secure the victory just in case of a late West Ham fightback.

That third goal came with just over 10 minutes to go and it was Podolski who got it. Giroud chested the ball down to him in the box and he lashed it home from 12 yards out to make it 3-1. That goal effectively killed the game and Arsenal were able to ease off a little towards the end with Sunday's trip to Newcastle in mind. 

Defensively Arsenal were suspect to say the least, but their attacking flair more than compensated for it. With both Walcott and Podolski in the team there was a lot more balance and it's no surprise they shared the goals between them. Arsenal have got so many good central players that some of them have had to play in wide roles recently, but it's great to have some genuine width back in the team. 

Walcott has started three games since he came back and scored four goals in them. In recent weeks the goals from Ramsey and Ozil have dried up a little and it's good to have Walcott and Podolski back to share the burden. There has been an awful lot of pressure on Giroud to lead the line and score goals and it looks like it has got to him recently. 

He can't do anything right in front of goal at the moment and he needs a goal as soon as possible. I'm not suggesting he should be dropped as Nicklas Bendtner is the only alternative in his role and he still wants out as soon as possible. Giroud is still getting the approach play, the holding up and the defensive sides of his game right, but strikers have to score goals.

The January transfer window is fast approaching and Arsenal need to find a striker who can score consistently. If they're going to have a genuine chance of winning the league they need a striker who can make the difference in a tight game and they are few and far between. Hopefully the boss can target the player he wants and bring him in while the title is still a genuine target.

After City beat Liverpool later in the day Arsenal returned to the top of the table and will stay there if they win at Newcastle on Sunday. It won't be easy against a team who have won seven of their last nine games and beaten Chelsea, Spurs and United in that run. They kept each of those teams goalless too and would move to within three points of Arsenal if they won.

Hopefully Koscielny will return for that game because the Per Mertesacker and Thomas Vermaelen partnership doesn't work for me. Arsenal look far too vulnerable in the centre of their defence and the sooner Koscielny and Mertesacker can play together again the better. 

The injury to Ramsey could possibly see him miss a few games but at least we have plenty of cover for him. Santi Cazorla looks like he's finally finding his form of last season and he's much more suited to a central role than a wide one. He lost the ball in dangerous positions a few times too many for my liking but he had a huge contribution to Arsenal's attacking.

I'm optimistic for the Newcastle game and hopefully six points can be taken from them and Cardiff a few days later. After that it's on to Spurs in the FA Cup and who knows who will be their manager by then if they don't get good results in their next two games. It's great to see Arsenal at the top of the league while our arch rivals are making such a mess of things on and off the field so often.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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