Five fine goals, free-flowing football and freezing fans fully satisfied.
(Whoops. Sorry about the alliteration. That sentence has more Fs than the ladies’ toilets in an Essex nightclub on Saturday night).
It would be fair to say that many of us were nervous before the game.
Would the Arsenal who dominated Chelsea for the second half at Stamford Bridge turn up? Or the Arsenal that whimpered and wallied its way through the first half of the same game?
Our inconsistency has been consistent this season and we knew that we could not afford to be off our game against a physical, long ball West Ham managed by the Walrus.
Truth to tell, it was the line in BR’s pre-match about the Hammers having put in 56 crosses in their last game that really caused a clenching of the buttocks. Fifty-six crosses? Given our ability to concede a goal roughly to one in every two crosses into our box, we could be on for a 0 – 28 humiliation.
Thankfully it was the good Arsenal that turned up. Podolski and Ramsey were in the starting line-up in place of Diaby (ill) and Coquelin (injured). The back five was unchanged, Ramsey took up the DM position behind Wilshere and Cazorla. Giroud started through the middle with Podolski left and Walcott right.
We looked threatening and up for it right from the off and created several half chances before, inevitably, West Ham took the lead. The goal followed a couple of annoying officiating errors (a clear corner to us given as a goal kick to West Ham, a clear goal kick to us given as a corner to them).
The said corner came in and was headed clear only to fall at the feet of Collison, who slammed it into the net through a crowd of players from just outside the box. It was powerfully struck and Szczesny was probably partially unsighted, but just once I would like to see him save one of those. I had the same feeling about Mata’s goal last week. Difficult to save, but great ‘keepers get some of them.
Anyway, that’s enough carping for one report, because we refused to let our heads drop or feel sorry for ourselves and hit back just a few minutes later. Wilshere set up Podolski with a wonderful little dink of a pass and the German rifled it into the side netting from about 25 yards with all the venom of Big Bertha (the cannon, not the golf club).
At half time it was 1-1. But I don’t think any of us were expecting what happened next.
If we had been pretty good in the first half, we started the second like demons. The lightning-fast, quick-passing, rapid-breaking football that Arsene Wenger patented at Arsenal was suddenly back.
The half had barely started when we were ahead. A corner on our left saw a slick move in which Mertesacker, having taken up a near post position, suddenly sprinted (alright, lumbered) back into the middle of the box and Giroud dashed to replace him. The BFG’s movement confused the Irons’ defence and Giroud was able to reach Walcott’s near post corner first, guiding the ball into the net beautifully off the outside of his boot.
Are we working on corners in training? Or was it just good, intuitive play?
Six minutes later it was 3-1. A neat one-two between Podolski and Giroud led to the German squaring the ball to Cazorla in the six yard box. Santi’s cheeky back heel steered the ball into the net and brought joy and relief to the crowd.
Our attacks were coming in waves now. Fast forward a few minutes and Podolski was provider once again. We broke down the left. Podolski held the ball up intelligently to allow Giroud to stay on side, then fired a low cross right across the penalty area for a flying Walcott to drive home.
And our excellent Number 9 completed his hat trick of assists minutes later when another
low cross was steered into the net adroitly by Giroud (a much harder finish than it first looked).
At 5-1 we continued to attack with panache and probably should have added further to our goal tally. But better than that, we were outstanding on the rare occasions when we did NOT have the ball, pressing West Ham all over the park and forcing them into errors. It was a real template for how we should approach every game.
A serious injury to the Hammers’ Daniel Potts (he appeared to be accidentally caught in the face or head by Sagna) caused a 10 minute delay and although we continued to press hard afterwards, the sight of Potts being stretchered off seemed to suck a bit of the energy out of proceedings. Hopefully the lad is alright. He was applauded off the pitch by both sets of fans (Stoke City Orc Scum fans please take note).
In summary: a brilliant performance and win; the gap on the cave dwellers closed to just four points and, surely, a huge lift to everyone involved with the club moving forward.
Many of us have complained that, too often this season, we have been less than the sum of our parts. Last night our players showed how good they can be and they need to carry this attitude, arrogance and self-belief into the rest of the season.
Szczesney: Good game but I would like to see him stop somebody’s screamer some time soon (I know GiE will immediately post clips of half a dozen breath taking saves he’s already made in this campaign). 7
Sagna: Still not the old Mr Reliable, but had a better game than he has recently. He seems to have lost all confidence in his ability to cross. 7
Mertesacker: Very solid and brought the ball forward well from the back. 7
Vermaelen: Tommy is slowly but steadily getting his game back together and he, too, was good last night. Despite West Ham being a typical Allardyce team more physically suited to basketball than football, they did not cause us too many problems in the air. 7.5
Gibbs: Super game from Kieran. Good at the back and a thorn in the Hammers’ side all night going forward. 8
Ramsey: Fine job in his preferred midfield role. Worked really hard, passed well and did tons of work off the ball. No Hammer enjoyed paying against him last night. 7.5
Santi-Cazorla: A busy bundle of tricks, took his goal stylishly and contributed greatly to the speed and fluidity of our movement. 8
Wilshere: Our new talisman. Drove us forward throughout the game despite, as usual, beng on the end of several fouls. His energy and inspiration is rubbing off on his team mates. 9 (joint MoTM).
Walcott: He signed da ting, now he’s delivering. He was brave and inventive and forced West Ham onto the back foot. Some wrong options on occasion but he never stopped trying. Took his goal well. 8
Podolski: Three assists and a rocket of a goal. When the Pod is up for it like this he must be terrifying to opposition defenders with his size, speed, strength and the sheer power of his shot, which reminds me of Charlie George. 9 (joint MoTM).
Giroud: Took his two goals brilliantly and had a good all round game, even if sometimes his understanding with team mates was a tad off. 7.5
Koscielny: Deputised well for Vermaelen who was removed as a precaution.
Santos: Nice to see Andre get a run out. He’s not as bad as his last outings would have you believe and it can only be good for the squad to have him back and fit.
Oxlade-Chamberlain: Full of running and tricks. Took shots a couple of times when he should have passed, but at 5-1 up who can blame him?