Arsenal 3-1 West Ham
GiveMeSport at the Emirates Stadium
So, Arsenal have returned to the top four. But for how long? Even a win in each of their remaining games may not be enough to guarantee Champions League football, although victory against West Ham represents a start at least. It is a triumph that should provide the confidence they have been lacking, and they will need it for more challenging tests to come.
West Ham, to their credit, did open the scoring here at the Emirates Stadium, but future opponents for the Gunners in this run in, with the likes of West Brom and Norwich fighting for their top-flight existence, will offer far more purpose and desire going forward than this evening's adversaries from east London.
The Hammers, as they so often are away from home, were content to sit behind the ball and hoik it somewhere in Andy Carroll's vicinity when they were able to get possession. This almost worked but for an intervention from Thomas Vermaelen at the far post, but it was Arsenal who really should have taken the lead.
Santi Cazorla offered Olivier Giroud a clear path to goal but, as Adrian advanced, the France international decided to poke with his left when he should really have gone with conviction on his right, and the goalkeeper made the one-handed save. There was little other action to excite until time edged towards the 40 minute mark, before an opener was found. And it was West Ham who got it.
This was the visitors' first clear sight of goal as Antonio Nocerino burrowed into the Arsenal area from the right, the Italian's close range shot then striking Wojciech Szczesny and going skywards in the six yard box. Matt Jarvis was the first and the bravest to react, with the winger evading the boot of Laurent Koscielny to push his header into the net.
"Are you Tottenham in disguise?" the West Ham fans crowed during their brief moments in a position of supremacy before Stewart Downing, often a source of frustration at the opposite end, provided Arsenal with their opportunity to level.
Under no great pressure Downing failed to find significant distance on his clearance, instead finding Cazorla, who was able to slide neatly into the feet of Lukas Podolski. The German then proceeded to swivel onto his left, before driving low past Adrian and into the bottom corner. There's something Podolski rather likes about this opposition.
1-1 it was at the interval and with the Gunners nervy and uncertain, but Giroud provided relative calm for all partisans in attendance. While the build-up to the second Arsenal goal was far more Allardyce than it was Wenger, there was nothing Big Sam about the way it was finished.
Mo Diame swept away an Arsenal corner, which reached Vermaelen who had been stationed in his own half to prevent a counter. The Belgian wound back his left peg and lofted a ball deep into the opposition box, which Giroud got on the end of after squirming through both Winston Reid and Carroll. As Reid dropped to the turf, Giroud softened the plummeting ball before providing the delicate finish. It was a lovely piece of skill from Giroud, who displayed composure more akin to his early season performances in order to convert the chance.
It was Giroud's fourth goal in four appearances against West Ham, and he was able to influence the game further before time was called on proceedings. With Arsenal in the lead there was always the sense that a comeback would be beyond West Ham given the lack of verve with which they operate away from home, and any miniscule hopes were extinguished with 12 minutes remaining.
Giroud found himself occupying space on the left flank, and his cross into the box reached substitute Aaron Ramsey. The Welshman steered his header into the path of the unmarked Podolski, who crashed the ball home. It was nice interchange from Arsenal, and it was the end for West Ham.
After tonight Everton now have a game in hand once again, but rather points on the board some would say. Arsenal now have one more of them than Everton, who face a more imposing list of fixtures over the coming weeks than the top four veterans. The Gunners could win the FA Cup before the season's end, but the direct competition with the Toffees remains their most pressing concern. Game on indeed.