Arsenal 3-1 West Ham - Podolski and Giroud relieve Wenger as Gunners reclaim fourth place
Arsenal called upon their character and resolve to move above Everton and into the coveted top four post. They shrugged off suggestions of fatigue and complacency to cancel out Matt Jarvis's opener before Lukas Podolski's two emphatic drives sandwiched a truly magnificent goal from Olivier Giroud. They won't surrender their permanent residency in the Champions League without a fight.
The majestic Santi Cazorla was the architect of this ultimately deserved victory, marvelling with his elegant and nimble creativity. Podolski, who recently expressed his exasperation at frequently falling victim to Wenger's substitutions, played the full ninety here to efficient effect, a menace down the left and calling upon his clinical finishing to help Arsenal past an adventurous West Ham team.
Arsène Wenger's men are favourites to feature amongst Europe's elite next season. They have the easier run-in and the priceless experience, compared to an Everton side deprived of European football for years.
The race for the Champions League will go to the wire in a relentless month. Everton entertain Crystal Palace tomorrow before preparing for the challenge of Manchester United (home) and Manchester City (home). Arsenal face Hull (away), Newcastle (home), West Brom (home) and Norwich (away) before concluding their season at Wembley to compete in the FA Cup final on 17 May. Its outcome, against Premier League rivals Hull, and whether Arsenal qualify for next season's edition of the Champions League could potentially decide Wenger's future in North London, this crucial victory offering the Frenchman some much-needed respite from a recent slump in league form, failing to win in their last four.
This London derby began with a poignant reminder of the Hillsborough tragedy 25 years ago, the minute's silence beautifully-observed by both parties.
West Ham began the brighter, Arsenal unable to cope with the astute, powerful runs of Mohamed Diamé, a player the Gunners had previously expressed an interest in. Arsenal's lack of confidence was later embodied by Kim Kallstrom's horribly wayward pass, with the Swede making only his first start since his farcical January deadline day move from Spartak Moscow.
The visitors were fearless, edging away from the perils of relegation but yet not completely immune from the dreaded fate, only seven points adrift. Jarvis was too honest to go down under Sagna's clumsy challenge. Mertesacker snuffed out the danger well with Carroll lurking. Diamé fired wide when he should have examined Szczesny.
Arsenal responded to cries of "Red Army" with an increase in urgency and tempo but clearly not confidence, Giroud languidly spurning a fantastic opportunity. From Cazorla's excellently threaded pass, Adrian pushed away Giroud's half-hearted deft flick with an out-stretched right-hand.
West Ham continued to pose the greater threat, their wonderful vibrancy and desire paying dividends, punishing Arsenal for their unnecessary apathy. Nocerino sprinted beyond the casual Kallstrom and took aim, his effort blocked by Szczesny. Taking advantage of the hesitance which reigned through the Gunners back-line, Jarvis pounced, guiding his header into an empty net.
The Emirates was a hub of anxiousness. The flat crowd was in dire need of up-lifting. Podolski duly saw to that on the stroke of half-time, emphatically driving home to relieve the gathered 60,000.
Diamé was unplayable at times, drifting past his opponents nonchalantly. After he expressed his desire to play for a "top six" club, Allardyce was not impressed. "Top six? he'll have to perform better than that."
It was a hopeful long ball but Giroud transformed it into a gift from above. He controlled Vermaelen's pass supremely before driving the ball in between Adrian's legs under the attentions of Carroll and Reid. It was a goal which would have graced a Champions League or World Cup final, celebrated in equally classy fashion as the France striker took of his black armband before kissing it and pointing to the sky in tribute of the Hillsborough victims.
Arsenal exuded the belief and confidence they had lacked in the earlier stages of this game. Adrian forced Podolski's powerful free-kick to safety. Cazorla's swerving strike flew whiskers away from the target. Ramsey, on for Rosicky, saw his speculative effort fly over the crossbar.
If there was any doubt over the destination of the points, they were duly extinguished by the lethal Podolski, the Germany international slamming home Ramsey's superbly cushioned header.
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