A fantastic day to be a Gooner and we were treated to a classic Arsenal display. Lukas Podolski was fantastic and led the way for Arsenal with a beautiful goal and three assists. Interestingly enough, Arsenal have registered at least five goals in each of the last three Premier League games (prior to today’s match vs. West Ham) in which Lukas Podolski has scored in; and today was no different.
Throughout the entire match, Arsenal dominated possession and dictated the flow of the game. It was necessary to come out of the gates strong and Arsenal were up to the task, immediately settling in as West Ham gave us plenty of time and space to knock the ball around. Unfortunately, Arsenal were to concede first after an unnecessary challenge by Gibbs. The subsequent free-kick led to a string of corners that eventually led to Collison scoring for West Ham.
However, Podolski immediately responded with a cracking finish from his left foot to bring Arsenal back into the game. From that point on, we never looked back and came very close to scoring again with some beautiful build-up play. Unfortunately Gibbs’ final pass was a little too far forward and Podolski missed the open net while lunging forward with his right foot. The first half ended with two free kicks, one of which belonged to Cazorla who curled a beautiful shot around the wall, but was met with an even better diving save by Jaaskelainen.
As the second half loomed, the typical questions began to haunt the loyal Arsenal supporters. Would we become complacent after showing good effort in the first 45 minutes? How long would it take for us to settle into the second half? Would this be another game where we dominated possession but had difficulty finishing our chances?
Those fears were quickly quelled as Theo started off the second half with a blazing run down the right flank. Despite no one getting on the end of his cross, Podolski was able to gain possession off a poor clearance by a West Ham defender and sent a nice ball to Gibbs, whose shot was blocked and cleared out for a corner. Off the ensuing Walcott corner, Giroud moved into open space at the near post and met the kick with a beautiful one-time finish into the back of the net. Jaaskelainen stood in the net rather stunned, as he could not believe Giroud was allowed so much space. This goal set off a flurry of action all in Arsenal’s favour; notably, when all three of Arsenal’s summer signings connected on a beautiful Santi ‘back-heel’ goal. Instead of explaining it, here’s the video in case you missed it:
Arsenal scored four goals in a brilliant start to the second half and Podolski found himself assisting three of them with beautiful balls to Walcott, Giroud and the aforementioned Santi goal. Not to go unmentioned was Jack’s magnificent distribution to find Podolski and set him up for those eventual assists.
A big shout out to Ramsey as well, who proved me wrong and played well today as the deepest midfielder. He looked more effective than he has been all season, with his playmaking from a deep position and his determination in defending.
The only unfortunate blemish on an otherwise amazing second half of football was an injury to Daniel Potts, which left him unconscious on the field and required him to receive immediate medical attention. I wish Daniel all the best and hope he has a speedy recovery. Compared to our last game vs. West Ham, it was evident that they were missing Diame’s presence in their midfield: their offense looked flat, they could not retain ball possession, and our midfield was able to boss them around all game.
Before I begin on the player ratings, I’d like to explain how I arrive at the number a player receives. For me, a 7 represents that a player has sufficiently done what has been asked of him and not much more. An 8 signifies that the player has contributed more than the average player, but that either his performance has room for improvement or I’ve seen better games from him lately. A 9 or higher is reserved for outstanding performances and is usually accompanied by tangible statistics on the score sheet. Ignore previous ratings from past articles, as I’ll look to be consistent from here on out in the new rating system.
Szczesny (7.0) – Once again, Szczesny gave us the stability we needed in goal and was never really tested. He couldn’t have done anything more on Collison’s goal and dealt with all other potential dangers around the goal well.
Gibbs (7.5) – He played solid at both ends of the pitch, contributing with good challenges and runs down the left flank. He conceded two unnecessary free kicks, one of which eventually led to a goal and I’d also like to see him improve his crossing.
Vermaelen (7.0) – He also played well in the first half and cleared the danger when Collison intercepted an errant Ramsey pass and tried to push West Ham forward. Unfortunately, Ramsey clipped Vermaelen as they both went for a goal line clearance. Hopefully he’ll be ok and he was taken off the field for precautionary reasons. Difficult to rate him any higher, since he only played 45 minutes.
Mertesacker (7.5) – He had a couple errant passes in the first half that took away the momentum we were trying to build early in the game. The BFG eventually settled down and cleared away all WHU approaches through the air in the 2nd half. Solid and defensively reliable, he led the line to leave WHU in an offside position on numerous occasions.
Sagna (7.5) – Sagna defended wonderfully throughout most of the contest, and Ramsey fortunately covered his only lapse in defensive coverage. Aside from that, he linked up well with Theo on the right and was involved in the offense from the right side. He took the bulk of the defending down the right since Theo was often nowhere to be seen in his defensive assignments.
Ramsey (8.0) – While I did not find Ramsey to be outstanding, I was still very impressed with his overall performance today, compared to past appearances. He started off with a questionable challenge on Noble and quite a few errant passes that led to quick West Ham counters. Aside from the early blunders, he filled in admirably at the holding midfield role. He was determined and dependable defensively (goal line clearance when the game was tied 1-1 is noteworthy), sprayed the ball all over the field and made nice simple passes in the final third. The beginning just appeared to be him shaking off rust and he certainly built confidence as the match continued. Hopefully he can build on this performance, and I think he more than justified another start at the holding midfield position for this weekend.
Wilshere (8.0) – Jack was great right from the start, driving our team forward, quickly challenge West Ham players when we lost possession and trying to play dangerous balls in the final third. He made a smart pass to Podolski in the first half that brought us even, and several of his passes in the second half split West Ham’s defense and eventually led to more goals. He also played some beautiful long passes to Theo when he was at full speed, but unfortunately the chances were not converted. The downsides to his game included giving the ball away a few times and occasionally being indecisive on the edge of the opponent’s 18-yard box. Despite playing further back in the midfield, he still had a big influence on the game and perhaps my rating is a bit low, but I’ve come to expect big things from our number 10.
Cazorla (8.0) – Santi gave our offense good shape today and he carried the ball forward more opposed to his typical quick, short passes. He adds good variety to our attack since he’s not afraid to take a shot from distance, yet can also deliver some devastating through balls. His back-heel finish was something to behold, and as stated earlier, he capped off a beautiful build up play between Giroud and Podolski. He’s also very astute defensively and can strip the ball from the opposition because he thoroughly understands the direction they look to move the ball to. However, Santi also fell victim to some errant passes and could have done more with a few opportunities he had at the edge of West Ham’s 18-yard box.
Podolski (9.5) – Prince Podolski started off the game working hard to deny West Ham a free kick; his incredible work rate continued until he was substituted in the 69th minute. His overpowering finish in the 21st minute really gave Arsenal life, as we were down 1-0 after dominating most of the game until then. Podolski got himself into all the right positions today and was the recipient of some beautiful passes from the midfield. He rewarded the midfield’s work by producing equally nice passes to Theo and Giroud (both across the goal for relatively easy goals). Podolski was definitely our best player on the pitch and he even did all the little things right today too – he contributed well defensively, had a surging run in the 1st half, was getting on the end of clearances by the West Ham defenders and was playing smart, yet dangerous passes in the final third. The only minor faults in his game were trying to be too cute with passes in West Ham’s 18-yard box in the first half, and not finishing better on Gibbs’ pass (albeit it was slightly in front of him and on his right foot).
Giroud (9.0) – Every time Giroud steps out on the pitch, we can be confident that he will put in 100% effort and do anything to help his team win. Though his finishing can be questionable and he often rushes his chances, you can never fault him since he’s contributing in some other way. He won countless headers today and knocked the ball to his teammates, held the ball up well, linked up with Podolski on numerous occasions that led to Arsenal completely breaking down West Ham’s defense and he scored two goals. His over the top chip pass to Podolski was fantastic and he’s starting to make those types of passes a regular part of his game.
The only shortcomings in his game today were passing in the 18-yard box a couple times when he should have shot the ball, and not clearing a corner far enough which eventually landed right in front of Collison, which he turned into a goal. Aside from that, he was brilliant and I can certainly see why Bobby P has so much faith in him.
Walcott (7.5) – Despite scoring a goal and adding an assist off a corner kick, I felt Theo was a little wasteful with his chances today. Jack sent Theo in twice on stretch passes where he was on near breakaways at full speed, and he failed to even get a shot on goal. On a couple other occasions, Theo had open opportunities to put away goals in the opponent’s 18-yard box and also failed to convert. If the contest had been tighter this would have been unacceptable, but fortunately we won by a large margin. His defensive contributions left much to be desired and he was often waiting up field for the midfield to send him on breaks.
However, he did track back wonderfully at the end of the second half, going all the way across to the left side of the pitch to cover for Podolski and defend a West Ham counter. Theo also looked more confident with the ball at his feet today and dribbled around Reid and O’Brien several times in the first half. His surging run down the flank got Arsenal into the right frame of mind in the second half and began the onslaught that we were all treated with.
Koscielny (7.0) – Much like Vermaelen, Kos only played 45 minutes and was never really tested. He cleared the ball well when needed and helped the defensive line play West Ham’s forwards offside quite a few times.
Santos and Oxlade-Chamberlain (Incomplete) – Both were decent in their cameo appearances and moved the ball around quite well. Both players lacked the final end product and each could have scored if they had been more composed with their finishing. Still, they did not have enough game time or touches to accurately assess their games.
Overall, it was a fantastic match to witness and Arsenal were by far the better team by a wide margin. The connection between our three new recruits today is very promising, and we started to look like the Arsenal of old; penetrating and breaking down defenses with precise passing and finishing off some fantastic link-up plays in the final third. Ramsey’s work as the holding midfielder gives us more versatility in case of injuries and is perhaps a position that he can grow into (however it remains to be seen how he’d fare at that position against a better side).
We must not fall prey to the continual inconsistency that has plagued us this year and not waste such an outstanding team effort in our next game. For now, we can rest easy knowing we played some beautiful football today and got a much needed three points in style.
Written By: The Gooner