Football: Victory gives breathing space

Olivier Giroud (right) scoring the last goal for the Gunners in the 3-0 victory against West Ham. Five of his nine goals this season have come when Arsenal have been level with their opponents or behind.
Olivier Giroud (right) scoring the last goal for the Gunners in the 3-0 victory against West Ham. Five of his nine goals this season have come when Arsenal have been level with their opponents or behind.PHOTO: REUTERS

Arsenal answer criticism with 3-0 win against West Ham to keep their top-four hopes alive

LONDON • The 3-0 Premier League victory over West Ham United on Wednesday was the result everybody at Arsenal had craved, not least manager Arsene Wenger and, in these fragile times, it was one that the London football club's directors could greet with relief.

For them, it was Exhibit A in the case for continuity.

Arsenal moved back up into fifth place and, after the nervy but fortifying home draw with Manchester City on Sunday, this was a powerhouse performance - albeit against a disappointing West Ham team who have lost five games in a row.

Slaven Bilic was the manager who departed with the weight of the world on his shoulders.

Arsenal are in a fight for a top-four place and, on this evidence, have the appetite for it. It was a victory underpinned by the grace of Mesut Ozil, the tenacity of Theo Walcott and the wizardry of Alexis Sanchez.

"The technical superiority made a difference," said a beaming Wenger. This was like old times, when the goals were always pretty and the confidence would grow with every well-judged pass.

"It's possible of course," Wenger said of his team recovering to overtake City, who have four points more, and reach the top four - something he has achieved in all his 20-plus years at the club and a target he has set himself this time round while insisting it is not a condition of the board's towards signing a new contract.

  • 100

  • Arsenal became the first Premier League side to score 100 goals in all competitions this season

"We have a game in hand on City, players back from injury, strong bench tonight. We have done it before in more difficult conditions, we have to try to do it again," he said.

It was an evening when Ozil made the difference at last. The playmaker scored his first goal since Dec 10 with a curling shot into the far corner and he also laid on the second for Theo Walcott.

The substitute, Olivier Giroud, bent a sweet finish beyond Darren Randolph for the third goal and, following the full-time whistle, a group of Arsenal fans could be heard chanting Wenger's name.

It was an occasion for the "Wenger In" brigade to clear their throats.

Ozil has suffered more than any Arsenal player in recent weeks and Wenger said he had been "hit hard" by the Champions League exit against Bayern Munich.

"It took some time for him to recover mentally," he added.

For Wenger, there was a moment to reflect on the "world of extremes" in which he lives.

"We are always praised too much when it goes well and criticised too much when it doesn't," he said. He was not complaining this time.

West Ham were left to consider a must-win home game against Swansea City tomorrow.

The result - West Ham's fifth loss in a row - also deepened the relegation fears over Bilic's side as they are just five points clear of third-from-bottom Swansea.

"We are in that fight now," Bilic said. "It's not being negative. It's being realistic."

THE TIMES, LONDON, THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 07, 2017, with the headline 'Victory gives breathing space'. Print Edition | Subscribe