Goals: Collison (18), Podolski (22), Giroud (47), Cazorla (53), Walcott (54), Giroud (57)
Arsenal Line-Up (4-3-3). Szczesny (GK), Sagna (RB), Vermaalen (CB), Mertesacker (CB), Gibbs (LB), Wilshere (CM) Ramsey (CM), Cazorla (CM), Walcott (RF), Podolski (LF), Giroud (CF).
Arsenal blew West Ham United out of the water with a sensational display where they scored 4 goals in the first 11 minutes of the second half.
This was a ‘must win’ game for Arsenal to get back in touch with the Champions League places in the league, and they started on top as expected. Due to injuries to Arteta and Coquelin and the need to rest Diaby, Aaron Ramsey was paired with Wilshere as the double central midfield pivot. With Podolski coming back to left forward position, Cazorla was shifted back to the advanced central midfield role.
The Wilshere/Ramsey duo was tidy in possession and drove the team forward in the first 15 minutes, yet despite their dominance Arsenal were not able to create a clear cut chance during the opening exchanges. West Ham were sitting deep and keeping a tight defensive shape. Just before the quarter hour mark, good interplay between Wilshere and Ramsey released Walcott behind on the right, but his cutback was blocked by Tomkins.
It was clear that West Ham, as any Sam Allardyce team, would try to make the best out of the set pieces they would win, regardless of how far away from Arsenal goal the set piece is won. Indeed, in the 18th minute, when Kieran Gibbs fouled Demel deep in the West Ham half, the visitors humped the ball to Arsenal penalty box and forced a corner. Giroud’s headed clearance of this corner fell kindly for Collison on the edge of the box, and he fired an unstoppable shot past Szczesny to give West Ham the lead.
Arsenal did not seem to panic at all, and they equalized shortly after with a brilliant goal of their own. Wilshere exchanged passes with Cazorla, and found Podolski on his left. The German took one touch, steadied himself and sent in an absolute missile from 25 yards.
In the last 15 minutes of the first half, Arsenal increased the tempo considerably and created enough many chances to take the lead. First, a truly sumptuous move from their left involving Podolski and Giroud released Gibbs, but the English left back’s cutback to the goal mouth was missed by Podolski as the ball fell to his weaker right foot. Minutes later, a clever disguised ball by Ramsey almost released Walcott behind, but a last ditch tackle by O’Brien deflected the ball behind the winger. Almost ironically, West Ham also found an even bigger chance themselves when Sagna could not deal with Demel’s deep cross and Cole’s shot was cleared off the line by Ramsey. The last action of the half saw a superb left footed freekick by Cazorla saved by Jaaskelainen.
Arsenal started the second half like a thunderstorm and West Ham saw their defensive line flooded very quickly. Within 2o seconds after the restart, another absolute beauty of a move between Giroud and Cazorla unleashed Walcott on the right, and his cutback almost had Tomkins score an own goal. After winning two successive corners, Arsenal took the lead when Walcott’s delivery from a corner was volleyed home by Giroud at the near post, with Mertesacker’s good movement in the box helping Giroud to lose his marker.
During the first 15 minutes of the second half, some of Arsenal’s passing and movement was simply out of this world and emphasized the fact that Arsenal are most dangerous when they break quickly from their own half. After falling behind, West Ham attempted to send more men to Arsenal’s half and tried to press higher up the pitch. They paid the price of this little ambition they showed by conceding three more goals in 4 minutes, all of them assisted by Podolski. First, Ramsey started an attack from deep and found Wilshere unmarked in the center circle. The beating heart of this Arsenal team quicky fed Podolski on the left. The German, who meant business, cut inside, had a brilliant one-two with Giroud and burst into the box. He could have finished the move himself, but unselfishly put the ball to Cazorla who scored with a backheel.
Only 30 seconds after West Ham restarted, they conceded again. This time, Wilshere received Gibbs’ throw in Arsenal’s half and was surrounded with West Ham players. His turn with the ball left Taylor for dead, his through ball again released Podolski on the left. The German sent in a brilliant ball across the retreating West Ham players for Walcott to finish at the far post. Minutes later, Wilshere again found Podolski on the left with Giroud finishing another sumptuous low cross at the near post. West Ham were dead and buried.
With the scoreline at 5-1, Arsene Wenger replaced Vermaalen (who had taken a knock in the first half) with Koscielny, and Podolski with Oxlade Chamberlain. Arsenal continued to look dangerous and displayed hunger for more goals. With 20 minutes from time, though, West Ham substitute Potts had a serious injury and the game was stopped for 12 minutes. After the restart, West Ham had to continue with 10 men as they have used all their 3 substitutes. With the game comfortably won and perhaps with the upcoming fixtures on their mind, Arsenal visibly slowed the tempo, and the game was transformed into a training exercise with neither side showing any urgency. The home side could have found more goals through Walcott and Cazorla, but the game petered out.
This was Arsenal’s best second half all campaign and underlined how dangerous they are when they counterattack with pace through their left with Podolski. The German, despite being substituted with 20 minutes to go, was the man of the match. Arsenal need his brilliance just to be more consistent. The French striker Giroud also had a great game, and apart from his two goals, showed how he can improve the attack when he economizes on his touches when he drops deep to help the build-up. Ramsey had an almost flawless game in the deep central midfied role which somewhat suggested that he (not Diaby) should have started against Manchester City and Chelsea. After committing his future to the club, Walcott had another lively game down the right wing. Hopefully, the team can build on this display and raise their morale before crucial upcoming league fixtures at home to Liverpool and Stoke City and the FA Cup game at Brighton this Saturday.