Arsenal 3-1 West Ham: Stirring Second Half Performance

Well, I suppose in retrospect you can sympathize for the first-half showing put on by the men in red and white. Two days ago, they struggled for 120 minutes against game opposition before finally winning on penalties. Today, it was back to the drudgery of the league, and the now-annual Fourth Place Trophy chase.

There were changes to the lineup that knocked out the FA Cup holders 48 short hours ago, as you might expect. Wojciech Szczesny, Kim Kallstrom and Tomas Rosicky were handed starts, with Thomas Vermaelen slotting into the left back slot left vacated by Gaping Chest Wound Nacho Monreal.

Perhaps the changes - along with the tired legs of those that remained - contributed to the lack of fluency that Arsenal showed going forward. Indeed, it was only Kallstrom (who hasn't had the "forward" trained out of him yet) that drove us in the early going - always looking for a positive pass, good energy and tracked back well also. The Swede ended up giving us a solid performance on his first start for the club. It was Yossi Benayoun-esque, which is meant as a compliment.

West Ham soaked up the early pressure though, and eventually made the odd sortie out of their half. Oddly, Vermaelen was among those who did impressively well to keep them at bay, alongside the more typical excellence of Per Mertesacker. The Arsenal, on the other hand, played well enough through the midfield but were guilty of timidness on that one final ball. Most were either under or over-hit, the worst culprits being Tomas Rosicky and Santi Cazorla. It was all sort of encouraging in its own way, though.

Less encouraging was Olivier Giroud badly fluffing his lines when put through clean on goal around the half-hour mark. Cazorla's pass was a shade behind him, but the Frenchman surely could have done better than an odd "flick-this-thing-off-my-shoe" motion with his off foot. Adrian palmed it out at full stretch, but it was going so slow that the Spaniard likely made a bit of a meal of that one (and keep in mind that as a goalkeeper myself, I NEVER say that and typically find it offensive gobshitery from people who know the position in the same way that I know the detailed history of Outer Mongolia).

How important that miss looked when the Hammers snatched the lead soon after. Guy Demel played in Antonio Nocerino, whose shot was parried by Szczesny. Laurent Koscielny, just back from injury in fairness, was badly beaten to the rebound by Matt Jarvis. It might be an exaggeration, but this felt like the 10,000th in a series of goals that looked just like this one conceded to shit teams. It gets maddening after a while.

Kallstrom came right back with a tracer straight at Adrian, but it still looked like Arsenal would head into the interval with a demoralizing deficit. Cometh the hour, cometh Der Hammer though. West Ham went to sleep a bit, and this time Cazorla's through-ball was on the money. Podolski looked up and slid the ball into the far corner. It was a hell of a finish, but I suspect that Adrian got his angle slightly wrong there (he also might have had a shot if he had went for the dive instead of the leg save).

The visitors rebounded well in the early stages of the second half, only to come unstuck from (of all things) a bit of Route One football from the Gunners. A corner kick was cleared almost to the halfway line, where Vermaelen was waiting. He hooked a high, arcing ball back into the mixer. The Hammers defense and Adrian both looked like they thought the other was going to get it. Instead, Giroud came in, muscled his man off the ball in an excellent show of strength, and nutmegged the static Adrian. It was wonderful skill from the HFB, but Adrian was an absolute clown on that one. First, he probably should have come out for it in the first place. Second, Giroud had nowhere else to put that ball - you CAN'T get nutmegged there.

You know what, though? That's the Walrus' problem.

Anyway, the visitors were reeling now. Arsene, in turn, made what I thought was a brilliant substitution. The game but largely ineffective Rosicky came off, replaced by Aaron Ramsey. Any thought West Ham may have had of pouring forward for the equalizer was immediately superseded by having to deal with the new and serious threat heading towards their penalty area. For a guy who is two seconds back from a long injury, Ramsey was absolutely awesome.

The move paid immediate dividends, giving the points to Arsenal and giving Everton something to think about against an all-of-a-sudden feisty Crystal Palace side tomorrow. Giroud ranged out to the left, dragging that side of the defense with him. He put in a cross that was a bit behind Ramsey, but the Welshman brilliantly managed to track back and guide a through-header (yes, you read that right) into the path of the onrushing Podolski. Der Hammer struck again, Adrian lucky enough to not get his hands in front of the shot. He'd be taking them home in a shopping bag otherwise. What a hit, and what a relief to have the points firmly in our possession.

The rest of the match was just playing out time, the visitors a well-beaten side. There are five more must-win matches left in the season, counting the FA Cup. If nothing else, this was a badly-needed reminder that this side is capable of doing exactly that.

Your move, Toffees.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 7, Vermaelen 8, Mertesacker 8, Koscielny 6, Sagna 8, Arteta 7, Kallstrom 8, Podolski 9, Rosicky 6 (Ramsey 8), Cazorla 8 (Jenkinson N/A), Giroud 8

Man of the Match: You can make an argument for Cazorla's excellence in the second half, or even Ramsey's cameo after coming on for the last 20 minutes. For me, though, Lukas Podolski takes the honors. How important was that goal right on the stroke of halftime for our season, let alone this match?