Arsenal 3-0 West Ham
Arsenal followed up their excellent win at Old Trafford in the FA Cup, with another solid performance at home to West Ham on Saturday.
The Gunners have responded extremely well to that soul destroying defeat to Monaco in the Champions League a few weeks ago and have really grown from strength to strength.No Arsenal player encapsulates this growth more than Olivier Giroud.
The Frenchman endured a night to forget against Monaco, missing several gilt edged opportunities which could have turned the tie in Arsenal’s favour. As chance after chance went begging, the crowd became more and more frustrated and Giroud appeared to lose his composure. So much so that despite the Gunners desperately needing a goal to get themselves back in the tie, Wenger decided to substitute his central striker, a move which was met with ironic cheers from some sections of the Emirates Stadium. In such circumstances, a lesser man would have crumbled, but Giroud, it seems, is a man with broad shoulders and much like the team as a whole, has grown since that faithful night.
The Frenchman now has five goals in his last five league games, scoring goals that few previously thought he was capable of, while his already impressive hold up and link up has also improved dramatically. There is no doubt that Giroud is now a pivotal member of this Arsenal side and the team’s attacking play suffers when he is not in the starting eleven.
Against West Ham on Saturday, Giroud showed just how important he has become for the Gunners, with the Frenchman directly involved in all three goals. With the visitors sitting deep in an attempt to frustrate Arsenal and then hit them on the break, in much the same way Monaco did, it was pivotal for the home side to get their striker into the game. Thanks to Giroud’s excellent link up play, the midfielders were able to play the ball into him and then make forward runs in between West Ham’s deep defensive lines to receive the return pass. When playing against a side sitting so deep, such movement is crucial to turn the opposition defence, get in behind them and create goal scoring opportunities.
Despite the West Ham tactics to keep the game as tight as possible, Arsenal were creating plenty of opportunities but were faced with a goalkeeper in Adrian who was in inspired form. The Spanish goalkeeper singlehandedly kept his side in the game for most of the first half with a string of fine saves. The Gunners were creating chances as early as the first five minutes, with Ozil playing the ball into Giroud inside the box, and the Frenchman flicking it on to Walcott, who could have easily been awarded a penalty as Collins bundled him over.
After this early chance, the game became a battle between Arsenal and Adrian, as the Spaniard saved low from Sanchez’s header, pushed Ramsey’s effort over the bar, denied Walcott, then Sanchez again, following a powerful drive to the near post, before saving well from Ozil just before half time. As a result of their goalkeeper’s fine work, West Ham looked destined to enter the break level, but Giroud had other ideas.
A move which involved intricate passing and movement amongst Arsenal’s forward players saw Ramsey receive the ball in the box, before Giroud showed the confidence to take control of the situation, seizing possession and firing an unstoppable left foot shot past Adrian and in off the post. It was a fantastic shot and given the West Ham goalkeeper’s performance, it had to be.
Arsenal’s goal on the stroke of halftime appeared to wake West Ham up as when the two sides returned for the second period, the visitors began to take the game to the Gunners and actually enjoyed more possession during the opening twenty minutes. However Arsenal have added a new steeliness and dogged determination to their game since the emergence of Coquelin as the holding midfielder and never really appeared to be in any danger of conceding.
Having ridden the storm at the beginning of the second half Arsenal began to seize control of the game once again. The introduction of Danny Welbeck from the bench greatly helped, as his speed, power and willingness to embark on forward runs, forced West Ham back once again. The hero of the FA Cup victory over Manchester United was constantly involved as Arsenal worked the ball forward and there was a visible lift in his confidence levels too.
The Gunners sealed the win eight minutes from time following excellent link up play between Ramsey and Giroud. The two combined on numerous occasions last season as Ramsey enjoyed his best campaign in an Arsenal shirt and they were at it again yesterday, exchanging passes amongst each other twice in quick succession, before Ramsey fired home.
Barely two minutes later and the score was 3-0 following another excellent flowing move. This time the ball was played into Giroud on the edge of the box, who held off his defender before laying a pass into the path of Cazorla, who looked up and picked out Flamini, completely unmarked at the back post, to slot home.
This was a crucial win for the Gunners as it not only enabled them to maintain their momentum in the race for a top four finish, but also saw them move to within a point of Manchester City, following their defeat away to Burnley. If the Gunners maintain their excellent form of late, they could even mount a challenge for a second place finish, which would be a vast improvement on previous seasons. The next game of course is the second leg of the Champions League tie away to Monaco, in which the Gunners need to win by three clear goals to progress. Given their recent performances, Arsene Wenger’s side will be full of confidence and despite the unlikelihood of securing victory by the required margin, they will definitely arrive in the principality fully believing that anything is possible.