Mesut Özil sparks Arsenal win over West Ham to boost Arsène Wenger’s cause
Home team scorers Mesut Ozil 58 Theo Walcott 68 Olivier Giroud 83
This was the result that everybody at Arsenal had craved, not least Arsène Wenger and, in these fragile times, it was one that the club’s directors could greet with relief and a degree of elation. For them, it was Exhibit A in the case for continuity.
Arsenal edged back into fifth place in the Premier League and, after the nervy but fortifying draw with Manchester City here on Sunday, it was a powerhouse performance – albeit against a desperately disappointing West Ham United team, who have now lost five games in a row. Slaven Bilic was the manager that departed the Emirates Stadium with the weight of the world on his shoulders.
It was an evening when Mesut Özil made the difference. At last. The playmaker scored his first goal since 10 December with a curling shot into the far corner – West Ham argued that Alexis Sánchez was offside and interfering in the middle – and he laid on the second for Theo Walcott. The substitute, Olivier Giroud, completed the win with a sweet finish into the far corner and, suddenly, Wenger’s claim that the top four looked “perfectly possible” gathered fresh momentum.
Arsenal had battered West Ham 5-1 in the reverse fixture on 3 December and, back then, were second in the table, three points behind Chelsea. It felt like a lifetime ago. For those carefree days, read high stress here – and it was the case for both teams.
Slaven Bilic had received a vote of confidence in the wake of West Ham’s sticky run and it seemed to say everything that it was the travelling supporters who offered one to Wenger in the early running. They chanted that they wanted him to stay.
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Wenger’s team created the chances to have led at half-time and the big one came for Danny Welbeck on 23 minutes. It was teed up for him by Sánchez’s cute free-kick, which was dropped in over the top of the West Ham defence. Welbeck’s movement was sharp and he was required to execute a side-on left-footed volley from eight yards. He fluffed it.
In the absence of the injured Laurent Koscielny, Wenger had given Theo Walcott the captain’s armband – something he had presumably intended to do at half-time against Manchester City on Sunday, only to forget – and the forward felt that he ought to have had a penalty on 18 minutes. Arthur Masuaku had charged in only to pull out of the tackle but there was an upper body check. Wenger raged on the touchline – a sign of the tension.
West Ham massed men behind the ball and they sought to punch on the counter-attack, exploiting the spaces that Arsenal can leave in behind. The visitors were quick into the challenges and they could point to an early Manuel Lanzini free-kick that dipped over the crossbar and a Mark Noble drive that flashed wide.
But it was Arsenal who pressed on to the front foot before the interval. Walcott had a couple of further sightings of goal, blasting one of them at Randolph while there was excitement when Sánchez tricked inside the area to set up Héctor Bellerín. His shot was blocked by José Fonte and Mohamed Elneny’s rebound was blocked by James Collins. West Ham put their bodies on the line. From the resulting corner, Welbeck headed at Randolph.
It became increasingly narky. In the 40th minute the home fans noted Randolph had started to take his time over goal kicks and there was a flashpoint in first-half stoppage time when Shkodran Mustafi felt he was elbowed in the head by Andy Carroll in an aerial challenge. Mustafi was still smarting as he departed for the break and he raged at the fourth official in the tunnel. The Arsenal centre-half was also guilty of a reckless lunge at the West Ham substitute, Robert Snodgrass, just after the hour. He was booked.
Bilic did not leave his technical area and he ran the gamut of emotions, as his team came to look increasingly beleaguered. Collins had leapt into a wonderful saving tackle on Özil inside the box but West Ham’s resistance would not hold.
The first goal was a horrible one for Randolph to concede and, with each replay, the hand that he got to Özil’s curling effort seemed to look weaker. But he was clearly unnerved by Sánchez’s presence in front of him – in an offside position – and the forward did make an attempt to stretch towards the ball. Martin Atkinson, the referee, ruled Sánchez was not interfering. Was he a distraction? Surely, yes. The move had originated in a loose clearance by Fonte.
Randolph denied Welbeck and Elneny went close with a header before Özil’s ran on to Sánchez’s lovely back-heel to cut back for Walcott to score. Bellerin ought to have scored and then Giroud did. Arsenal could even afford to shrug off Atkinson’s non-award of a late penalty for Sam Byram’s blatant foul on Nacho Monreal.