With 44 minutes gone at The Emirates, the Arsenal players appeared set to be treated to a fresh chorus of jeers after Matt Jarvis’s 40th-minute strike put West Ham United ahead. Bearing the brunt of the most of the disapproval would have been Olivier Giroud. He can thank team-mate Lukas Podolski for sparing him of that ordeal. The 27-year-old may have 14 Premier League goals to his name this season, but there is an overriding feeling that the Frenchman simply isn’t good enough for a club that harbours title ambitions. What is Giroud’s biggest flaw? A lack of consistency. The former Montpellier man produced a limp effort with the match goalless that prompted some of his fellow professionals on Twitter to describe it as the “worst” strike – ever! Just over 35 minutes later, and social media’s football fraternity were lavishing praise on the France international. Showing strength to hold off Winston Reid, Giroud elegantly controlled a long punt into the Arsenal area before guiding his finish between the legs of Adrian. That strike completely contrasted his first-half effort; one oozed class, the other was woefully substandard. One positive was Giroud and Podolski working in tandem, the German certainly made life easier for Giroud. Food for thought for Arsene Wenger.
Kim Kallstrom and Antonio Nocerino were two of the more surprising January transfer window purchases. The Swede is best known for his time with Lyon when the French side were dominating Ligue 1 and regularly reaching the latter stages of the Champions League. Nocerino remains part of an AC Milan side in decline, sealing a switch to West Ham United on loan this year. Unfortunately for European football aficionados based in England, we had been treated to a grand total of 17 minutes from the 32-year-old Swede and 159 minutes from the Italy international prior to Tuesday night. The pair started at The Emirates on Tuesday night out of necessity due to injury problems at both Arsenal and West Ham. The on-loan Milan midfielder outshone the ex-Lyon man as he darted past the Swede to create Matt Jarvis’s opener and appeared to edging closer to Premier League fitness, with Kallstrom returning from injury. But judging by their performances on Tuesday night, this short stint in the Premier League is unlikely to go beyond the summer.
Podolski admitted he was “not happy” about being regularly substituted this season earlier in the week. The German had completed 90 minutes just twice this term and was brought off after 70 minutes of the FA Cup semi-final on Saturday. His grievances were understandable considering Giroud’s patchy form and his penchant for scoring important goals (against Swansea, Liverpool, Bayern Munich and twice in their comeback at West Ham) this season. After Giroud had pitifully fluffed a chance to put Arsenal into the lead, the former Cologne man produced a proper striker’s finish. Podolski was alert to Santi Cazorla’s brisk pass and slotted a left-footed strike emphatically past Hammers goalkeeper Adrian. Edging into the final quarter of the match, Podolski would have been forgiven for nervously glancing towards the bench looking for movement on the Arsenal bench with the game still in the balance. But the German ensured that he would, at least for this game, get the full quota as he was alert to collect Aaron Ramsey’s cushioned header and rifle a finish into the roof of the Hammers’s net.
With their FA Cup final tickets booked, albeit thanks to a penalty shootout win against Championship side Wigan Athletic, Tuesday night was all about moving back into fourth spot for Arsenal ahead of the Premier League action this weekend. Wenger’s men got the job done in an almost mirror image of their 3-1 win at Upton Park on Boxing Day. At half-time, former Gunners forward Paul Merson admitted he was fearing Arsenal fourth-place bid was over after Jarvis’s strike. So how crucial could Podolski’s 44th minute goal prove on the final day of the season. The Gunners boast a one-point lead over Everton, having played one game more. Crucially, they have a slight psychological advantage, having qualified for the Champions League 16 years on the trot. The Toffees are the form team having won seven games on the bounce, but much like their neighbours Liverpool, face a potentially decisive clash against Manchester opposition on Sunday. Arsenal have been consistent against sides outside of the top six this season and it is difficult to see Arsenal slipping up in the remaining weeks if United do their bitter rivals a favour.
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