Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Arsenal begin to build momentum for the run-in

To say Arsenal’s recent form has been stuttering would be an understatement. Had Arsenal lost to Wigan on Saturday and gone out of the FA Cup, the season wouldn’t have just hit a stumbling block, it would have full-on fallen off a cliff and hit rock bottom. Instead, Arsenal somehow salvaged a draw before winning on penalties, and built on the confidence gained from the win at Wembley to see off West Ham with a 3-1 win at the Emirates.
In the top four fight with Everton, the Toffees undoubtedly have a lot of momentum considering the good run of form they’ve been on, but Arsenal can begin to build some of their own ahead of the final four games. The Gunners have been in this situation (too often in recent seasons!) and know how to get results in the final few games to secure Champions League football. Whilst Everton have been incredibly impressive to go on the run of form they’ve been on, they don’t have the experience of the more pressured games at this crunch time of the season. With Arsenal momentarily back above them, it will be interesting to see Everton’s response against Crystal Palace on Wednesday night.
Even though Arsenal looked slightly sluggish at times in the first half against West Ham, and went a goal down, the team looked remarkably fresh considering quite a few of the players had put in mammoth shifts of 120 minutes at Wembley three days earlier. For all the criticism of Arsenal lacking squad depth, being able to bring in players of the quality of Koscielny, Rosicky, Giroud, Szczesny and Kallstrom into the starting XI shows that with players coming back from injury, there is still a lot to like about the current squad.
Along with Santi Cazorla, Tomas Rosicky added more zip and urgency to the Arsenal performance, something that had been distinctly lacking against Everton in the last league game. Mikel Arteta quietly had a very effective game in midfield, whilst the defence were largely able to deal with West Ham’s unsurprising one-dimensional tactic of lumping the ball up to Andy Carroll.
There were periods of the game where Arsenal were still trying to find some fluency and form, but when it mattered, they produced three goals that all something excellent to commend about them.
The first came from a good ball from Santi Cazorla, who found Lukas Podolski in his most dangerous position, in the inside left channel inside the full back. He got the ball out his feet and fired well into the bottom corner.
Olivier Giroud’s goal to give Arsenal the lead was unexpectedly awesome. After fluffing a much better chance in the first half, it was great to see that the Frenchman had the confidence to execute a superb piece of skill to score in the second period. With the ball dropping over his head, Giroud found his inner-Bergkamp to kill the ball with his left foot and smash a finish in with his right. That could have been the best first touch of Giroud’s career. A great goal.
Finally, to seal the victory, Aaron Ramsey’s neat headed assist from the edge of the box allowed Podolski to use his hammer of a left foot to blast the ball in.
After being grumpy at getting subbed on Saturday, two goals were the perfect response from Lukas Podolski. I can understand why he doesn’t always play the full 90 minutes as his defensive work isn’t the most useful, and he can disappear from games for long periods, however give him a chance on that left foot, and the German will more than likely produce an uncompromising finish. A firing Podolski can be a great asset for Arsenal for the remainder of the season.
It was also great to see Aaron Ramsey back at the Emirates. His arrival in the second half added a different dimension to the team as he still looks keen to get forward. Despite being out for a long time, the Welshman doesn’t appear to have lost any of his confidence, which is a testament to how much he has improved in the last 18 months, as it shouldn’t take him a long time to be fully up to speed again.
Arsenal know they can’t afford any slip-ups to the end of the season, so with the fatigue that some of the players must have had after Saturday, the win over West Ham should be considered a job very well done. It might not feel like much, but it just gives Arsenal a hint of momentum to feed off for the rest of the run-in.