LONDON — Olivier Giroud scored one goal and played a big part in the other two as Arsenal cruised past West Ham 3-0 in Saturday’s Premier League clash. Here are three quick observations from the Emirates.
1. Giroud, Ozil, Ramsey lead the Gunners
There are fewer finer sights in football than a flowing, incisive Arsenal team goal. On Saturday, the Gunners provided three perfect examples in a confident 3-0 victory over West Ham, which strengthens Arsenal’s grip on third place in the Premier League.
The three star performers here were Olivier Giroud, Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey, who all provided different aspects of attacking play required for these type of goals. Giroud offers neat wall passes, Ozil’s penetrative passing cuts through defences and Ramsey charges towards goal determinedly. Together, they formed a triangle that outfoxed West Ham repeatedly.
Arsenal’s first chance of the game came following a fine Ozil through ball to Giroud, who then touched the ball perfectly into Theo Walcott’s path. Walcott was probably fouled by James Collins as he prepared to shoot, although in reality he should have already pulled the trigger by that point — his dawdling was a constant source of frustration and cost him another goal later in the first half. Others weren’t so wasteful.
Ozil pulled the strings. He continually combined nicely with Ramsey, who played an energetic role in charging forward from a right-of-centre midfield position. Ozil’s link play with the Welshman was reminiscent of the way he regularly combined effectively with Sami Khedira for both Germany and Real Madrid. The German playmaker is a languid player and likes drifting laterally, appreciative of a more direct runner storming past him.
Towards the end of the first half, Ramsey’s clever one-two with Ozil down the inside-right channel created a chance for Alexis Sanchez at the far post, and then the Ozil-Ramsey-Giroud combination manufactured Arsenal’s opener. Ozil received a pass and touched it around the corner for Giroud, who played a classic first-time return pass that allowed Ozil to thread a pass through to the onrushing Ramsey. As the Welshman took the ball under control, Giroud took it off his feet and thumped the ball in off the far post with his heavily favoured left. It was a move that nicely summarised Ozil, Ramsey and Giroud’s qualities.
The second goal was equally special. From a throw-in on the right, Giroud dummied the ball, left it for Ramsey and made a run towards goal. Ramsey then used Giroud again, this time with a one-two, before firing into the net and putting the game out of West Ham’s reach.
Amazingly, Giroud’s wall pass featured in Arsenal’s third goal, too. Substitutes were involved this time – Santi Cazorla swapped passes with the big Frenchman, before crossing low across the six-yard box for Mathieu Flamini to tap in.
Ozil and Ramsey shone, but ultimately Giroud was Arsenal’s star performer – not for the first time in recent weeks. With Sanchez’s form dipping, Walcott looking rusty and Danny Welbeck in and out of the side, Giroud is currently Arsenal’s key attacker.
2. Hammers fail to adjust
Sam Allardyce arrived at the Emirates with a highly reactive gameplan: West Ham played 4-1-4-1, sat very deep and counter-attacked sporadically with Matt Jarvis, Stewart Downing and Diafra Sakho. That approach requires a good defensive performance, and West Ham were surprisingly disorganised without possession. They encountered problems with the pace of Walcott and Sanchez in particular, and struggled to pick up Ramsey’s runs from deep.
The defensive frailties, however, meant this was a good opportunity for Spanish goalkeeper Adrian (who actually dislocated his finger during the pre-game warm-ups) to impress.
He was first called into action when diving low to his left to stop a Sanchez header, then made further stops from a Walcott one-on-one, an Ozil chance from point-blank range when typically sent through by Giroud and when Ramsey diverted a Calum Chambers cross towards the top corner with his knee. Only Giroud’s unstoppable thunderbolt got past him in the first half; the travelling West Ham support rightly serenaded him with constant chants of his name.
Ultimately, however, you never want your goalkeeper to be your star performer and you can’t help feeling that they could have been more proactive from the outset. Allardyce has a reputation for overperforming with limited squads but West Ham boast good players this season; they’re also solidly mid-table following a promising opening to the campaign.
Allardyce has often stressed his capacity to manage bigger clubs, but negative performances like this mean he won’t emulate the likes of Brendan Rodgers, Roberto Martinez or Mauricio Pochettino by making the step up. After all, bigger clubs demand more style.
3. Good warm-up for Monaco game?
Theoretically Arsenal shouldn’t have had any problems against West Ham. They’d won their last nine matches against Saturday’s opponents their last seven home league matches and West Ham hadn’t won away on their travels for six games. Yet Arsenal being Arsenal, that’s exactly the type of game they might lose; sandwiched between important trips to Manchester United and Monaco in other competitions, there was a chance they could take their eye off the ball.
Yet they turned in a confident performance, with only poor finishing and fine goalkeeping preventing the Gunners putting the game to bed earlier. Sometimes Arsenal score fine goals but the overall performance is less impressive. Here, they played well for the majority.
The timing of the game was handy, too. Arsenal’s rivals at the top of the table all play later — Manchester United, Southampton and Tottenham tomorrow, and Liverpool on Monday evening. It meant Arsenal put distance between themselves and United, in particular — and with their usual spring surge, qualification for the Champions League doesn’t look in doubt.
It would make more of a statement if they followed this victory with a big win against Monaco in midweek, turning around the first-leg 3-1 defeat. Qualifying for the Champions League every season is impressive, but Arsenal haven’t reached the quarterfinal stage since 2009/10. That must change, and Saturday’s victory served as good preparation.
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