Arsenal’s 3-1 home win against West Ham on Tuesday night was a bit more like it from Arsene Wenger’s side.
It wasn’t a revisiting of the swashbuckling days of Thierry Henry and Robert Pires. It was in fact a typically post-Highbury performance from Arsenal, taking a good half hour to forty-five minutes to emerge from the dressing room before kicking into gear.
West Ham’s opener via Matt Jarvis would have further scrambled the minds of those who are yet to belief this Arsenal team have turned a corner following their FA Cup semi-final win on the weekend. Going a goal down was nothing new. The response, however, was a performance that personified what Wenger has been going on about for years: fighting spirit and determination.
Santi Cazorla put in one of his best performances of the season. If Arsenal are to get anything out of their remaining few games – a cup and qualification for the Champions League – they’ll need the Spaniard to be on song and pulling the strings as he did on Tuesday night. Finally the team had someone to draw inspiration from.
It was Cazorla’s willingness to take the game by the scruff of the neck that allowed others to flourish. Confidence was far from at its peak, but players were steadily coming out of the shell and exerting their dominance over an obviously inferior opposition.
Lukas Podolski, allegedly the brunt of some fans’ frustration of late, showed just how valuable he can be in this run-in. No one at the club bar long-term absentee Theo Walcott would have buried the two chances that presented themselves to the German. When you’re low on confidence and in a position where the few chances created need to be taken, Podolski’s clinical finishing more than make up for the half-hearted performances on the flank.
Wenger’s team on the night was one of vast experience, but it wasn’t the battle scars of the team’s thirty-somethings that saw Arsenal to victory. It’s so obvious that a mention of it feels inconsequential. But confidence plays such an enormous part in Arsenal’s good form that it can’t be dismissed.
Whatever is happening behind the scenes in training doesn’t appear to be working. Arsenal started this game in the same way they had done the majority of their games of the past two months. Initiative was lacking then, which, on Tuesday night, Cazorla decided he wasn’t about to allow things to continue.
Like Mesut Ozil, Cazorla, a natural playmaker, has struggled without the pace of Walcott and the movement and drive of Aaron Ramsey. Paul Merson pre-game couldn’t have emphasised that fact any more if he’d tried.
But the Spanish international made things happen. He gave Arsenal’s two forwards, Olivier Giroud and Podolski, the scoring chances that they’ve been without, and with the goals the rest of the team naturally gained confidence. The suggestion may be that West Ham didn’t really pose much of a threat after scoring their goal, but with this Arsenal, you never know how near the next defensive blunder is.
Arsenal will take further confidence from the return of Ozil for the next game. He and Ramsey were the team’s biggest source of inspiration in the first half of the season, for one reason or another. If Cazorla, capable of similar feats, can produce another handful of these performances, Arsenal will be home and dry with what they need come the end of the season.