Arsenal stress the F-word as Wenger demands focus
Victory over West Ham lifts Gunners to fourth and they cannot afford any more slip ups
Arsenal 3 West Ham United 1. A brace of goals from Lukas Podolski and a sweet strike from Olivier Giroud secured Arsenal their first Premier League win for a month. More importantly for the Gunners, the 3-1 win over West Ham lifts them above Everton into fourth place as the race to secure the final Champions League spot enters the home straight.
Everton fans might not be blue for too long. Only a solitary point behind Arsenal, the Toffees host Crystal Palace tonight and a win – or even a draw – would lift them back into fourth. But Everton know the fixture list has conspired against them in the final few weeks of the season. On Sunday they face Manchester United at Goodison Park and a fortnight later it's Manchester City who travel to Merseyside. Arsenal, on the other hand, have the easiest run-in imaginable, facing Hull City (13th), Newcastle (9th), West Brom (16th) and Norwich (17th). If Arsene Wenger's side can't take maximum points from those four matches, then frankly they're not fit to play in the Champions League next season.
Despite the scoreline the first 45 minutes against West Ham made for uncomfortable viewing for Arsenal's long-suffering fans. Three days ago the Gunners needed extra-time and a penalty shootout to see off Championship outfit Wigan Athletic in the semi-final of the FA Cup, and things weren't much better in the first-half against the Hammers.
Matt Jarvis headed the visitors in front after 40 minutes, just as Arsenal were beginning to find some rhythm after a listless opening half-hour in which Giroud spurned two golden opportunities to give the Gunners the lead. The Frenchman was too slow on both occasions, not a criticism that could be levelled at Podolski when he picked up Santi Carzola's pass in the penalty area a minute before the break. The German international fizzed a fierce shot with his left boot past Adrian to draw Arsenal level on the stroke of half-time.
After the break Arsenal began to exert their dominance and from nowhere Giroud conjured a moment of exquisite skill, showing deft control to tame Thomas Vermaelen's long pass while holding off two defenders. This time the Frenchman made no mistake, firing home from inside the six-yard box to give Arsenal the lead. Podolski made it 3-1 with 12 minutes remaining when he prospered from Aaron Ramsey's intelligent header to lash he ball into the visitors' net with his trusty left boot.
By the end of the match Arsenal were in total control and for the first time in weeks playing with their swagger of old. "Yes, we were tested mentally, but I think we were strong," reflected Wenger. "We were united, disciplined, determined, and despite being 1-0 down... we responded well. Overall you could feel that the team was absolutely focused from the first to the last minute."
Judging from Podolski's post-match comments Wenger is very keen to make sure his players focus. "The Champions League is very important and we must focus on the next game to ensure that we can qualify," said the German. "The FA Cup is after the season, we leave it now and we focus on the Premier League because everyone wants to play in the Champions League."
That objective is now out of Arsenal's hands. Wenger admitted they must "hope that Everton will slip up somewhere" while ensuring they adhere to his mantra: "Let's focus on our job and not look too much at Everton," he said. "At the moment we can only do it if we win our games, so let's focus on that."