Podolski return gives Gunners extra spark to maintain title charge
West Ham Utd 1 Arsenal 3
When Carlton Cole prodded in the opening goal after a mistake from Wojciech Szczesny, everything started to look so familiar for Arsenal and their travelling fans.
Without a win in three Premier League games and having squandered numerous chances, it seemed the obituaries to Arsenal's title hopes were ready to be penned at Upton Park.
Arsenal have been masters at shooting themselves in the foot and failing to cope with high-pressure situations over recent seasons.
Goalkeeping errors, missed opportunities and injuries to key players have all been par for the course for Arsene Wenger's men. The hard luck story has been somewhat repetitive.
With 25 minutes remaining and a goal behind, top scorer Aaron Ramsey limped off the pitch with a thigh strain. The Welshman's replacement, Lukas Podolski, was warmly applauded by the Arsenal supporters, but few would have predicted that a man who had not played for four months would make such an impact.
Three minutes after his arrival on to the pitch, Arsenal were celebrating getting themselves back into the game when West Ham 'keeper Adrian allowed a Theo Walcott shot to go straight through him.
Podolski may not have played a part in the equaliser, but the German produced a wonderful cross for Walcott to power home a header and give the visitors the lead. The winger later claimed it was the first headed goal of his professional club career.
Arsenal needed a third to be sure of securing their first win in four league games and getting their title push on track, and Podolski duly obliged by lashing the ball past Adrian with 11 minutes remaining.
Wenger has been short of options from the bench for long periods of this season and has largely relied on the players he has started with to come up with the goods.
There has been an over-reliance on Ramsey, and Olivier Giroud is now showing signs of finding the burden of being Arsenal's only striker difficult to keep carrying.
Giroud could easily have won the game for Arsenal in the first half, but dragged a shot wide with just Adrian to beat, failed to connect with an attempted header to Bacary Sagna's cross and could not turn in a brilliant centre from Kieran Gibbs.
The Frenchman has not scored since November 23, which makes Podolski's contribution even more significant. He will need to create and score more goals for Arsenal to maintain a realistic challenge, particularly if Wenger cannot sign a new goalscorer in the January transfer window.
Asked if the turnaround against West Ham proves Arsenal are genuine title contenders, Wenger replied: "Yes. The team wants to do well and the character is great.
"We answered some big questions. If we had not won, then we would have had to answer many more questions. There would have been even more if we had lost.
"I am proud of the character of the team because they are always focused and try to do well and respond, and they did it. Podolski can have a huge impact for us because he scores goals and makes assists. He has been out and had not played one game for four months, so we get him slowly back.
"Once Podolski was on the pitch, we had two real wingers and that created many problems for West Ham. We responded well to going behind and eventually won the game in a convincing way."
Wenger was less optimistic over Ramsey's injury, saying: "It looks like a thigh strain and it looks serious. I don't know how serious it is, but the Christmas period is certainly over for him. It was his 23rd birthday today."
In between Carlton Cole capitalising on Szczesny spilling Kevin Nolan's shot and Podolski inspiring Arsenal's comeback, West Ham squandered three good chances to double their lead.
Szczesny saved from Matt Jarvis, Joey O'Brien sent a header off target and Cole prodded wide when he looked set to score.
"We were under a shock a little bit because we felt that we should have been two or three up," said Wenger.
"The positive is we created chances and the negative is we didn't take them. There is sometimes the guilt flying around the team, when you don't take your chances. You basically think, 'We deserve to be punished', and we were. Overall, I feel we controlled the game, but we had a difficult period where the game could have changed."
Goalscorer Walcott added: "When you go 1-0 down, you need to have a positive reaction. I missed a chance in the first half I should have buried. But you need to put those things out of your mind and we managed to fight on." (© Daily Telegraph, London)