After a run of four winless games, when Arsenal went 1-0 down at West Ham, a more fragile Gunners side might have struggled to rally and win at Upton Park. After squandering chances, there was a fear that this match would be the start of a decline, undoing all the good work done in the first half of the season. Draws with Everton and Chelsea and a defeat to Manchester City are understandable, but a defeat to West Ham would have been harder to explain and would have been more much more worrying.
Whilst the home defence regularly appeared to have holes in it despite Sam Allardyce trying to get them to sit deep, Arsenal were relentless in their attack after recovering from the initial shock of conceding at the start of the second half.
The catalyst for Arsenal was the introduction of Lukas Podolski when Aaron Ramsey went off injured. The Welshman had been looking more effective than against Chelsea so hopefully his thigh strain won’t be serious, but the injury meant Arsene Wenger could switch to a more attacking line-up earlier than he might otherwise have done. With Podolski making his first appearance since getting injured in August, Santi Cazorla was able to drop into central midfield with Walcott, Ozil, Podolski and Giroud making up the front four. With an array of attacking talent in the team, it was no surprise that the Gunners scored three goals in the short time they were on the pitch together.
Not all of the players were involved in all of the goals, but the attack looked balanced with Walcott and Podolski providing width and Giroud, Ozil and Cazorla pulling players around in the centre. When the ball went down the right, Podolski appeared at the back post, and Walcott did the same when the ball was on the left. Arsenal got players in the box and weren’t shy to have a shot from outside the area as well. After the bore draw with Chelsea, this open, fluid and attacking performance from Arsenal was the perfect antidote.
For all the good chances created, it did take a goalkeeping error for the Gunners to equalise after Carlton Cole scored for the hosts. Walcott was found by Cazorla, cut back onto his left foot and shot through defenders and under the goalkeeper Adrian. Sometimes shooting into a crowd of players can be futile as the shot will just get blocked, however on this occasion the players blocked the goalkeeper’s view, bringing the error.
Arsenal kept attacking and second goal came from the unusual source of Theo Walcott’s head. Podolski’s whipped ball in from the left got a flick from defender James Tomkins, and found Walcott following in at the back post to head past the goalkeeper.
Arsenal still looked like the more likely team to score and didn’t give West Ham a sniff of getting back into the game when 2-1 up. The third, clinching, goal came when Podolski similarly moved inside when the attack moved down the right. When the pass from Walcott reached Giroud in the area, the Frenchman was able to lay the ball off for Podolski to lash the ball in from the edge of the area.
Even though Arsenal have done well playing three central midfielders in the positions behind Giroud, the last two goals showed the value of having more natural, attacking, wingers in the team. Rather than looking for a pass or to retain possession, both Walcott and Podolski were looking to go forward and find a quick way of creating a chance or having a shot themselves. The German’s return makes the team more balanced and more efficient when attacking.
There were negatives with Szczesny’s mistake and Giroud’s missed chances but otherwise it was a great response from the team. The Polish goalkeeper has been in good form so will recover. Giroud just needs a goal, but his build-up play and physical presence is still a vital part of the way the team plays. Even though he hasn’t scored since November, Arsenal are still top of the league, and with the returns of Walcott and Podolski, the goal scoring burden is being shared around the team. The criticism about relying on Giroud as a focal point up front might be true, but Arsenal have goal scoring options throughout the team and across the pitch.
After a dodgy run of results, Kieran Gibbs, Santi Cazorla, Theo Walcott and Mikel Arteta all stood out, whilst Lukas Podolski made the difference and made the team balanced. Arsenal will have to rotate for the trip to Newcastle on Sunday, but with the likes of Flamini, Monreal and Podolski, there are some options. The confidence is returning, Arsenal are back to winning ways and back at the top of the league. Even if Giroud isn’t finding the net, Arsenal have attacking options and are capable of scoring plenty of goals.