Two For Tuesday And a Goal For The Ages
Arsenal beat West Ham United 3-1 at the Emirates on Tuesday night.
It was a must win match that looked at risk early on.
Kim Kallstrom got his first Barclay’s Premier League start and deputized as a holding midfielder with Mikel Arteta.
Kallstrom, signed back in January on deadline day, was brought in with a back injury that kept him out for weeks. The world-round had heckled Arsene Wenger and the egg on his face during the transfer window.
Kallstrom was indeed a strange signing: another attack-minded midfielder, an ageing player at that, on the cheap per normal, and a bit of an after-thought at the close of the period.
In the last week, Kallstrom has vindicated Wenger’s decision making. The Professor has once again proved a keen understanding of his own squad and the suspensions and injuries they would face during the course of the season.
Kallstrom converted a crucial penalty in the FA Cup semi-final shootout against Wigan Athletic and was called upon, and answered, with a well-tempered performance verse the Hammers on Tuesday night.
Credit the French manager for a signing that was universally criticized but he alone knew would be important to his team's success.
Kallstrom played simple, in-control football, covered the back four, and did the job on a night when defeat would have killed off hope for the top four and given the impetus to Everton.
Lukas Podolski also stepped up and got two on Tuesday night to share the plaudits with Olivier Giroud in keeping Arsenal from losing the plot.
After receiving a well-thought pass from Santi Cazorla, Podolski swiveled and buried the finish into the side netting. A goal scorer’s goal: Poldi knew exactly where his target was and never hesitated in dispatching. One touch to get it out of his feet and another saw it buried home to the ovation of the less-than full Emirates.
Less than full. A sad sight when so much was on the line. Where were the supporters, the 12th man, and the extra lift that the players needed? Pity the so-called fans that did not turn up on such a pivotal night.
Arsenal drew level near the stroke of half time.
Yet it was a very poor first half, the Gunners appeared instructed to play a bit more direct, launching mostly aimless long balls into the Hammers area; they were nervy, and timid, physically and mentally tired in those first 45 minutes.
Per Mertesacker was off the boil. Heavy legs meant miserable distribution from the big German. Bacary Sagna, for maybe the first time all season, looked battle weary and the Hammer’s got in behind the right-back from simple throw-ins. Mikel Arteta continued to play like a man past his prime, as cutesy touches in his own penalty box nearly gifted West Ham a penalty when Matt Jarvis was brought down inside the area.
Credit the winger for staying on his feet. Honesty, however, meant no penalty for the visitors.
There was the same recently recurring pattern of no cutting edge to the Arsenal attack. Ideas gone missing never looking likely to be found.
Podolski had a poor showing up until his equalizer. His best moment early on was a well measured cross to the front post that that Giroud didn’t have the commitment to latch on to.
I have been critical of the Die Mannschaft striker all season and his play up until the goal was all too familiar. Easily defended, poor work rate, predictably trying to get on to the fabled left foot, not hard to mark. You know what is coming from Podolski but sometimes you still can’t stop it.
That’s what happened on Tuesday night.
Podolski’s pure-finisher instincts helped rescue Wenger from gnawing off his fingernails as he huddled in the womb of the jacket whose zipper he has so long fought with.
I would be remiss to forgo mentioning the quality of Olivier Giroud’s goal. It was a goal that proved to be the game winner. It was a goal of quality that should serve to silence (myself included) many of his critics.
The world-class first-touch by Giroud, as he was sandwiched between two West Ham defenders, was utter brilliance. They way he shrugged off both, caressed the ball, and then smashed it home with his right foot was a moment that will forever live in the hearts and minds of Arsenal supporters.
It will be canonized with the magical pirouette of Dennis Bergkamp verse Newcastle United, the otherworldly half-volleyed-turn of Theiry Henry against Manchester United, and the condor-esque flying finish of Robin Van Persie verse Charlton Athletic.
You are in fine company Mr. Giroud - you must live up to your new found Sainthood.
The value of the win verse West Ham was immense.
The pressure on Everton was telling as they fell at home to Crystal Palace.
Arsenal once again control their destiny in the race for Champions League football.
A race that in the final stretch will surely bring about more twists and turns on the world’s greatest stage.
The Barclay’s Premier League…