Cole sparks early but Walcott catches fire as Hammers fizzle out

Lukas Podolski (left) celebrates with Theo Walcott after scoring Arsenal’s third goal during the Premier League match against West Ham United at Upton Park. Photograph: Ian Walton/Getty Images.

Lukas Podolski (left) celebrates with Theo Walcott after scoring Arsenal’s third goal during the Premier League match against West Ham United at Upton Park. Photograph: Ian Walton/Getty Images.


Arsenal are back on track. There was a period early in the second half, after Carlton Cole had put West Ham United in front and the home team suddenly tore into their opponents, when it was possible to fear the worst for Arsene Wenger and his players.

The demons of those dropped points against Everton, Manchester City and then Chelsea, not to mention the Champions League defeat at Napoli, had begun to circle in London’s East End.

West Ham have now dropped into the relegation places and are labouring sorely. But Arsenal are not only a more talented group this season, they are more resilient.

The bad news was they lost Aaron Ramsey to a thigh strain on 63 minutes. The midfielder knew immediately what he had done and Wenger reported he would certainly not play at Newcastle United on Sunday or against Cardiff at home on New Year’s Day. “It looks serious,” Wenger said.

Arsenal absorbed the setback. They soaked up what West Ham had, steadied themselves and, in Theo Walcott, they had the hero of the final half-hour.

Restored parity
The forward had missed a gilt-edged chance in the first half, one of several Arsenal squandered, but he restored parity at a crucial juncture with a jink and a drive that was spilled by goalkeeper Adrian.

Walcott’s second was a wonderfully reactive header after substitute Lukas Podolski’s cross had changed direction slightly at late notice off the head of James Tomkins.

Walcott adjusted in a flash to direct a firm header beyond Adrian. West Ham were finally broken. Walcott now has four goals in three matches, after his pair in the 6-3 defeat at City.

There was even the added bonus, from an Arsenal perspective, of Podolski gilding his first appearance since August 27th and a serious hamstring injury with a trademark left-footed thump, after Olivier Giroud had expertly laid off Walcott’s cross.

Given Giroud’s prodigious lone-striker workload, Podolski’s return seemed timely.

Wenger felt his team had answered big questions about their mentality and, also, their title credentials.

“Yes, I agree with that,” the manager said. “If we hadn’t won, we would have had to answer many questions. We’ve had a difficult period but, honestly, mainly down to the schedule that we’ve had. “

It was West Ham who suffered and not only because their injury list swelled when James Collins was forced off with a calf strain; Ravel Morrison had reported a groin problem on Christmas Eve and did not play.

Hope had sprung for West Ham when Cole’s goal was the prompt for three further chances. With Mark Noble to the fore, Arsenal were hanging on.

Headed wide
Noble put Matt Jarvis through only for Wojciech Szczesny to block; Joey O’Brien, completely unmarked, headed wide from Mohamed Diame’s cross and Cole could not finish from the substitute Razvan Rat’s centre.

Cole’s goal came when Jarvis checked inside Bacary Sagna to cross and, after Mikel Arteta could only half-clear, Kevin Nolan fizzed a shot at goal. Szczesny was partially unsighted but he could only parry and Cole shot home.

Wenger admitted he was worried. His team had the better of the first half but could not score. Walcott fluffed his volley from Ramsey’s brilliant ball and Giroud dragged badly wide from another Ramsey pass. Santi Cazorla was a persistent menace and Arsenal got in behind the West Ham full backs. The home team flickered, with Noble’s curling free-kick drawing an early save from Szczesny.

Arsenal left spaces as they chased the equaliser and Wenger went for broke, with Walcott and Podolski on the wings; Cazorla and Mesut Ozil in behind Giroud.

Adrian made a double save to thwart Cazorla and Ozil but he was overpowered by Walcott. Podolski would be denied at close quarters by Adrian, from Cazorla’s pass, before he enjoyed his moment in front of goal. West Ham must find answers. –
Guardian Service