Giroud fires five-star Arsenal in Hammers rout

LONDON (AFP) - Olivier Giroud helped Arsenal silence their critics as the France striker's double inspired a much-needed 5-1 victory over West Ham on Wednesday.

Arsene Wenger's side had been subjected to scathing criticism from fans and pundits after successive defeats against Manchester City and Chelsea seriously damaged their bid to finish in the Premier League's top four.

Wenger was reported to have held crisis talks with his players this week and the Gunners looked set to hit a new low when Jack Collison gave West Ham a shock first-half lead at the Emirates Stadium.

But Arsenal bounced back in emphatic fashion, equalising through Lukas Podolski and then taking the points after Giroud sparked an astonishing spree of four goals in 10 second-half minutes, with Santi Cazorla and Theo Walcott on the scoresheet before Giroud completed the rout.

Arsenal remain in sixth place but their first league win in four matches moves them within four points of fourth-placed Tottenham in the race to qualify for the Champions League.

It was a remarkable turnaround after Wenger's team were initially caught cold in the freezing conditions.

The trademark of every Sam Allardyce side is an ability to cause chaos from set-pieces and West Ham are no different. When Carlton Cole's header was only half-cleared, Matt Taylor pounced to fire in a volley that deflected just over.

Arsenal had been warned but, given their defensive frailties this season, it was no surprise they didn't learn the lesson as West Ham took the lead in the 18th minute.

Giroud, attempting to head clear a corner, could only reach the edge of the penalty area, where Collison, left completely unmarked, had time and space to control and lash a fierce strike past Wojciech Szczesny.

Often accused of lacking the character to deal with that kind of momentum-changing moment, Wenger's players for once showed impressive spirit and hit straight back to equalise within four minutes.

Cazorla and Jack Wilshere were the architects, working the ball across midfield to Germany forward Podolski, who advanced unchecked before drilling a long-range strike past Jussi Jaaskelainen for his 11th goal of the season.

Arsenal's back four continued to give West Ham hope with their nervous play and Cole took advantage to flick his shot over Szczesny, only for Aaron Ramsey to clear off the line.

That was a crucial moment as Wenger's men turned the tables on West Ham with a set-piece goal two minutes into the second half when Giroud, stretching to reach Walcott's corner, poked his shot past Jaaskelainen at the near post.

There was no stopping the Gunners as they swept forward with the imagination and determination which has been missing far too often this season.

First, in the 53rd minute, Podolski played a one-two with Giroud that took him into the penalty area in space to clip a cross to Spanish midfielder Cazorla, who showed tremendous skill to back-flick the ball into the net from close range with the inside of his foot.

Then one minute later Podolski raced into the space behind out-of-position Hammers right-back Guy Demel and whipped over a low cross that England winger Walcott met with a clinical finish at the far post.

Arsenal weren't done yet and, in the 57th minute, Podolski, again exploiting Demel's wayward positioning, had space to pick out Giroud, who timed his run perfectly to meet the German's cross with a first-time strike past Jaaskelainen.

To make matters worse for West Ham, they finished with 10 men after young defender Daniel Potts was stretchered off when Allardyce had already used all of his substitutes.

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