Podolski Keeps Arsenal in Hunt for Fourth Spot - The New Indian Express

Podolski Keeps Arsenal in Hunt for Fourth Spot

Published: 16th April 2014 08:35 AM

Last Updated: 16th April 2014 08:59 AM

Arsenal 3 West Ham United 1

Arsenal reclaimed fourth place in the Premier League from Everton with a brace from Lukas Podolski and a gem from Olivier Giroud, his 20th goal of the season. As their fans sang about Wembley, Arsene Wenger's side recovered from a poor start, and Matt Jarvis's header, to stay on track for the Champions League.

Arsenal appear to have the less daunting run-in, taking on Hull, Newcastle, West Brom and Norwich. Everton play their game in hand against Crystal Palace tonight before facing Manchester United, Southampton, Manchester City and Hull.

Arsenal were also buoyed by some good displays, not least from Per Mertesacker who dealt well with Andy Carroll and from Santi Cazorla, who pressed and passed and went off to a standing ovation. Podolski's lethal finishing did raise questions as to why Wenger had started Yaya Sanogo through the middle recently; the German was terrific when moving centrally. Giroud also looked sharper than of late, leading the line well as Arsenal showed no signs of any exhaustion from their weekend endeavours in the FA Cup semi-final against Wigan at Wembley.

Having reached the final, Arsenal had wanted to re-find some impetus in the duel with Everton for the fourth Champions League place. They had known that they had to win this game. They began and finished the first half well, starting with Podolski crossing into the six-yard box, begging for a touch from Giroud. The Frenchman read the move too late and pushed his effort wide. Giroud's sluggishness was such a contrast to his marvellous goal in the second half.

Podolski was again on the left with the excellent Cazorla scheming behind Giroud and occasionally switching with Tomas Rosicky on the right. Kim Kallstrom assisted Mikel Arteta in deep midfield. With a back-four of Bacary Sagna, Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny and Thomas Vermaelen, Arsenal had an outfield average age of just more than 29 years.

As well as lacking youth, there was a particular paucity of pace. Theo Walcott's absence was again highlighted. Arsenal relied on other qualities, notably industry, in combating West Ham. Sam Allardyce's side were soon into their stride, given strength in central midfield by Mark Noble with Mohamed Diame pushing on in support of Andy Carroll. The England striker was a hard-working target-man, his strength in the air nullified well early on by Vermaelen. Jarvis was a particular threat, constantly eluding Sagna. Arsenal's right-back actually caught Jarvis as the winger was running across the area and was fortunate the stumbling West Ham man decided to stay on his feet. During this spell of West Ham pressure, Carroll crossed low and hard, delivering a superb ball that deserved more than Diame fired wastefully over.

Arsenal's movement was too sluggish for half an hour before they raised the tempo, showing greater intensity and purpose. Cazorla threaded a pass through to Giroud, who was offside but no flag was raised. Giroud controlled Cazorla's pass well and the ball sat up perfectly for a right-footed finish. Giroud, typically, preferred his left foot and wafted a flick that Adrian palmed away.

A few sighs rippled through a stadium that contained a few empty seats. The sighs increased five minutes from the break when West Ham scored through their best player of the half, Jarvis. The goal stemmed from a surging run from Antonio Nocerino, the bearded Italian, racing on to Guy Demel's pass. Nocerino sped down the inside-right channel behind Arsenal's defence, getting ahead of Kallstrom, and drew a save from Wojciech Szczesny at the near post. Again Nocerino was quickest, working the ball in, Koscielny failed to react and Jarvis headed in.

West Ham have made a habit of taking the lead against Arsenal for no eventual reward in recent times. Their lead lasted four minutes here. Stewart Downing erred badly, playing the ball from near the corner flag to the right of West Ham's goal straight to Cazorla. The Spaniard had already demonstrated his passing qualities and again impressed. The target of Podolski was slightly obscured but Cazorla picked him out neatly. Podolski is so often lethal in these positions, powering the ball low past Adrian.

It briefly raised the debate about whether Podolski should be starting centrally. Giroud soon ended that. From 1-0 down, Arsenal were 2-1 up within 10 minutes of the second half. Arsenal suddenly took a more direct route to goal, a long ball forward bringing a wonderfully deft response from Giroud. He controlled the ball perfectly, taming it, teeing it up for his right foot to do the damage. Now he trusted his right foot to give him his 20th goal of the season. Adrian had no chance as the ball flew from right to left past him.

Arsenal now really believed. The nerves had gone. The thoughts of tired legs after Wembley had gone. Cazorla was a constant source of hope. Giroud was livelier. Podolski's free-kick was pushed away by Adrian, who then parried a Cazorla drive.

Cazorla was Arsenal's leading light, a beacon of reassurance. He was soon joined by Aaron Ramsey, who acquired some more welcome game time on his continued return from injury with 20 minutes remaining. He immediately distinguished himself with a fine pass to Giroud.

Arsenal added a third with 12 minutes remaining. Giroud now helped play the creator, cutting the ball back from the left to Ramsey, whose downward header was lashed home by Podolski. If it was another sign of how ruthless the German international can be, it was also another reminder of Ramsey's ability to innovate; it was a clever header to set up Podolski.

West Ham were certainly lacking such cerebral qualities. They seemed over-reliant on long passes to Carroll, whose substitution with six minutes remaining drew much merriment from the Arsenal fans.

Cazorla was then replaced, with a handshake from Podolski and a salute from the Arsenal fans. The game petered out, the points secured and Arsenal looked upwardly mobile again, placing the pressure back on Everton.

Such is the quality of Roberto Martinez's side, they are bound to pick up the gauntlet.

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