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Paul Chronnell at Upton Park
Saturday, October 6, 2012
French striker delivers first league goal as Arsenal pass tough test to win 3-1 at Upton Park
At 1-0 behind at Upton Park it felt like Arsenal’s positive start to the season was on the verge of evaporating.
The five-game unbeaten start, miserly defending and highly impressive draw at Manchester City had been undermined with the defeat to Chelsea last weekend, and this last game before the international break represented something of a crossroads.
This time a year ago, the Gunners had lost 2-1 at Spurs and entered the October break in 16th place in the Premier League table. While this season has not plumbed those depths, a defeat at West Ham would have left them closer to the bottom than top, and with plenty of questions to be answered over the coming weeks.
Arsenal’s response to Mohamed Diame’s 21st-minute goal for the hosts was as impressive as it was surprising. With the home fans fired up, Sam Allardyce his usual bombastic self on the touchline and Arsenal’s defence rocking, the omens were not good.
The player that came to their salvation was Olivier Giroud and perhaps this was the day when the Frenchman finally arrived as an Arsenal player. The striker scored his first Premier League goal of the season to equalise and and then set up the second goal for Theo Walcott to complete a superb display of the striker’s art in what was a British bearpit of an atmosphere at Upton Park.
Giroud knew from the first moment James Collins clattered into him inside the opening moments in east London that this was going to be a test of his mettle in a week that has seen more conjecture over whether he had been worth the £12m Arsenal paid to Montpellier in the summer for his services.
The mumblings of discontent about Giroud in the past weeks have been a little baffling. While the Frenchman has had a couple of glaring misses, he has only started a handful of games, one of which he scored in, albeit in the Capital One Cup and against Coventry City.
It seems that these days new signings will be judged a failure or success almost instantly, and there is nothing the salivating media and online community love more than a big money foreign arrival proving a flop.
Wenger had made some interesting comments about Giroud in the last couple of weeks, and it was clear that the former Montpellier man was struggling with not just his lack of a league goal, but also all the attention that came along with a big-money move to the Premier League.
He has not started that badly. The opening-day miss against Sunderland was a bad one, and Wenger’s reaction to it could possibly have been a little better considered.
He certainly added some muscle to Arsenal’s attack at Upton Park, where he was preferred to Gervinho up front, the Ivorian pushed out wide to the right flank despite his recent goalscoring exploits.
Arsenal’s front four fizzed with intent in the early stages, but, as has as often been the Arsenal way in recent seasons, possession and chances did not bring any tangible reward and West Ham duly scored with their first chance of the match after Diame’s sharp turn and fierce finish past Vito Mannone from a tight angle.
Giroud then saw his goalbound drive cannon off a defender for a corner, but he persevered and got his reward and that cherished first goal three minutes before the break
Diame, who did not seem to have calmed down ever since scoring, surrendered possession and Arsenal worked the ball to Podolksi on the left flank, whose cross was met with a predatory near-post finish from Giroud. He celebrated with all the relief of a man who has rid himself of a considerable, if unwarranted burden.
Arsenal had not really deserved to go in at half-time behind, but they received another real test of their resolve in the second half and it would have been interesting to see if they could come from behind again if Andy Carroll’s header after a rash move from Mannone had ended up in the net rather than bouncing harmlessly wide.
It didn’t, and the way that the Gunners then went on to win the game was highly impressive, bearing in mind their Champions League exertions in midweek.
Giroud had looked a different player since his goal, and his slide-rule pass sent in Walcott for an excellently taken second. Perhaps that is another story – Walcott’s disaffection at the start of the season – that could be coming to a close. He has still managed to score four goals despite the lack of movement on his new contract.
One thing that has been in no doubt during the opening seven weeks of the season has been the brilliance of Santi Cazorla. The Spaniard provided the icing on the cake here with a quite sublime third goal that will warm Arsenal hearts heading into the break for World Cup qualifiers. There does appear to be life after Robin van Persie after all.