Podolski delights Wenger by leading Arsenal's rampant response
Arsenal 5 West Ham United 1: Arsène Wenger got what he wanted, a performance of substance and verve to disperse the gloom at the Emirates and re-ignite the fight for fourth place in the Premier League. An episodic flowering of brilliance is unlikely to discomfit the dressing rooms at Spurs and Everton just yet, but if Arsenal do as Wenger demands, and carry this form into the business end of the season, it might.
This was a night when Lukas Podolski remembered what it was to be an international footballer, giving a display of power and poise that took the game beyond West Ham. Arsenal still fell behind, but only for four minutes early in the opening half, and once on terms the inhibitions that had gripped them against elite opposition suddenly melted away.
The match was ripped from West Ham's grasp in a blistering 12-minute spell at the start of the second half when Arsenal ran in four. At the heart of that devastating change of pace was Podolski, whose performance was rated by Wenger as his best in an Arsenal shirt. Not only did he bring them on terms with a scintillating strike in the 22nd minute, he was the architect behind the final three goals that utterly gutted West Ham.
As well as a chastening defeat the visitors also lost substitute Danny Potts with concussion. The injury was serious enough to stop the game for 10 minutes late in the second half while medics brought Potts around and carefully transported him from the field on a stretcher. He was rushed straight to hospital where he was expected to spend the night under observation.
"He could not give correct answers to questions asked by doctor," said the West Ham manager, Sam Allardyce. "They put him on oxygen and strapped him in the stretcher properly. He will be monitored through the night and we hope he recovers quickly."
West Ham are no Chelsea or Manchester City. A run of five points from seven games coming into this fixture forced Allardyce to line them up in a formation designed not to buckle. They had enough about them to take the lead and when Jack Collison volleyed home from a corner, Arsenal were a balloon deflating rapidly.
Wenger's call for greater belief was always an abstract plea in the absence of a run of victories to hang it on. Though they enjoyed the greater possession there was too little conviction underpinning it. It took a stirring piece of derring-do to rouse them, Podolski detonating that left foot of his from 20 yards. It was an instinctive response to a looming crisis. Arsenal were in a frantic rush but nothing looked on when he received the ball via an exchange of passes between Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla. The West Ham defence stepped off and the space opened invitingly for Podolski to let fly at pace. Once level the missing swagger returned and suddenly the visitors were stretched.
Arsenal swept ahead via the nimble left foot of Olivier Giroud, a lightweight presence throughout the first half but quickly on to Theo Walcott's corner to poke his side in front in the 47th minute. Walcott might have made it three five minutes later only to see Winston Reid hook his shot off the line. The sluice was about to open, with Podolski opening the gates on each occasion.
Cazorla finished off a fine exchange of passes with his heel after Podolski played him in. Next on Podolski's list was Walcott, who, arriving at speed at the far post drilled his shot past Jussi Jaaskelainen. Podolski completed his hat-trick of assists by feeding Giroud, who scrambled the ball past a goalkeeper utterly befuddled. When Podolski made way with 20 minutes remaining he did so to resounding applause, which continued afterwards with this salute from Wenger.
"Podolski scored an important goal," the Arsenal manager said. "He has an unbelievable shot. The keeper had no chance. He played well. He played well at West Ham as well, but certainly this was his most efficient game for us. He took responsibility when he needed to and for a player of his experience you expect that."
Next week Liverpool are the visitors at the Emirates. The confidence gained here will be tested against a team that has kept possession more than any other in the division. Wenger is well aware of the demand. "We got a response. We controlled the game but West ham looked dangerous in the first half. In the second we created chance after chance and played at a high pace. There was great continuity until Potts was injured. After that we were 11 against 10 and it was not as entertaining. This team has a fantastic mentality and good quality. That is what we have to show until end of the season."
For West Ham the imperative remains the same. Defeats like this are tolerable if the home form is sustained. This was their first goal on the road since November, across North London at Spurs. With a record as poor as that, results like this come as no surprise. "It was a horrible 12 minutes from us and brilliant for Arsenal," Allardyce said.
"Sometimes you can't live with the opposition when they hit top form. We scored a fantastic goal and at half- time I said let's try to keep it going. But when you concede as early as we did and they get into top gear you can't live with that. They tore us apart in that period."
Man of the match Podolski.
Match rating 8/10.
Referee A Marriner (West Midlands).