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Arsenal fightback sends West Ham into bottom three

Theo Walcott of Arsenal (second left) celebrates with Kieran Gibbs (left) as West Ham keeper Adrian looks on dejected. Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images Theo Walcott of Arsenal (second left) celebrates with Kieran Gibbs (left) as West Ham keeper Adrian looks on dejected. Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images

Thursday, December 26, 2013
5:54 PM

Premier League: West Ham United 1 Arsenal 3

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Arsenal came from behind to return to the top of the table at Upton Park and send the free-falling Hammers plummeting down into 19th place.

Although Carlton Cole gave West Ham the lead just after half-time, goalkeeper Adrian handed Theo Walcott a gift-wrapped equaliser, before the England star then bagged a quick-fire second and substitute Lukas Podolski sealed victory for Arsene Wenger’s high-flyers.

And while the Gunners look to go onwards and upwards, Sam Allardyce’s side now face crucial six pointers with wobbling West Bromwich Albion on Saturday and a Craven Cottage cruncher at Fulham on New Year’s Day.

The Hammers kicked off just one point clear of the drop-zone but, following his not so sweet arrest at Brentwood’s Sugar Hut, James Tomkins retained his place, while Sam Allardyce made a quartet of changes, welcoming back Carlton Cole, Kevin Nolan, Joe Cole and Joey O’Brien in place of the injured Ravel Morrison (groin) and substitutes Matt Taylor, Guy Demel and Modibo Maiga.

And that quartet of new faces certainly gave the Hammers some early festive fire as Matt Jarvis sent over some purposeful left wing crosses in the opening exchanges, while Mark Noble saw his curling free-kick clawed out from under the right-hand angle by Wojciech Szczesny.

The Gunners’ goalless draw against Chelsea on Monday evening had brought them into this Boxing Day derby in second spot, level on points with leaders, Liverpool.

And with festive fixtures against Newcastle United and Cardiff City still to contend with, Arsene Wenger made just one change from that Emirates stalemate as Santi Cazorla replaced Tomas Rosicky.

Indeed, on the quarter-hour mark, it was the supporting Spaniard, who forced compatriot Adrian to produce this first save of the afternoon with an 18-yard header that was clawed away by the Hammers keeper.

Midway through the half, marauding Mohamed Diame let fly with a 25-yard thunderbolt that Szczesny palmed into the chilly East End sky before gathering at the second attempt.

With this derby now ebbing and flowing from end-to-end, after O’Brien had been booked for tugging Kieran Gibbs, the casual Walcott then side-footed behind from a tight angle, when he really should have hit the target at the very least.

Cazorla also struck a 20-yarder inches over the top and then, 10 minutes before the interval, Olivier Giroud got behind the home defence before firing an angled shot across the face of the exposed Adrian and his far post, while Aaron Ramsey also forced the Hammers ‘keeper into a low save.

On 38 minutes, Big Sam was forced to make an enforced change as James Collins hobbled away to be replaced by Razvan Rat, who slotted in at left-back, while George McCartney shuffled across into central defence.

Up until now Mesut Ozil had been anonymous but as the interval neared, his low right-wing ball into the six-yard box only needed a touch, however the Hammers somehow survived just as they did when Gibbs sent in a carbon-copy centre from the left a few minutes later.

Mikel Arteta also drilled inches wide from distance before Nolan almost broke the deadlock in the dying seconds but when the alert Noble cleverly flicked his free-kick over the Gunners wall, the flying Nolan - just as he did at Spurs and Crystal Palace - could not execute the required volley.

But just seconds after the restart, West Ham did find the net, when Szczesny failed to hold Nolan’s steaming 18-yarder as it scorched across the damp Boleyn Ground grass and, despite Arteta’s best efforts to get there first, Carlton Cole gleefully gobbled up the rebound to net from three yards.

Joe Cole also went wide from the edge of the area and Jarvis tried his luck from similar range but this time the ball stuck to Szczesny’s gloves and then O’Brien, of all people, inexplicably arrived in the danger zone to meet Diame’s low cross with a diving header that flew inches wide.

On 56 minutes, the bounce into the six-yard box just deceived the stretching Carlton Cole and this time he could only prod Rat’s left-wing cross wide under pressure from Szczesny.

The anxious West Ham fans sensed that their side needed to capitalise on those chances to double the claret and blue advantage and, indeed, as the hour-mark approached, Adrian pulled off a tremendous double save to deny Ozil and then Ramsey.

With the already booked O’Brien living dangerously Big Sam sensible introduced Demel at right-back, while the crocked Ramsey was replaced by Podolski, whose arrival proved the catalyst for the Gunners comeback.

On 68 minutes, Walcott strolled onto Cazorla’s inviting pass and weaving into the area he fired a low shot across the shins of McCartney and Tomkins, before Adrian gave him a belated Christmas present, allowing the ball to squirm through his hands.

Having gratefully accepted that gift, the England winger took just three minutes to give the visiting supporters yet more festive joy when he arrived in the six-yard box to nod Arsenal ahead after Podolski’s left-wing cross skimmed off Tomkins’ head.

With the confidence now visibly draining from Big Sam’s under-siege strugglers, Podolski was denied by the knees of Adrian, while Cazorla also curled inches wide

But the Gunners substitute was not to be denied and on 79 minutes, Podolski collected Giroud’s lay-off before threading a low 18-yarder between Adrian’s outstretched left-glove and the right-hand post to cement a victory that restored Arsenal to the Premier League summit.

West Ham Utd: Adrian; O’Brien (Demel 63), McCartney, Tomkins, Collins (Rat 38); J. Cole, Jarvis, Nolan (Taylor 75), Noble, Diame; C. Cole. Unused subs: Jaaskelainen, Collison, Maiga, Diarra

Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Gibbs, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Walcott, Cazorla, Arteta, Ramsay (Podolski 65), Ozil (Flamini 81), Giroud (Bendtner 84). Unused subs: Fabianski, Monreal, Jenkinson, Gnabry.

Bookings: O’Brien (20)

Referee: Phil Dowd

Attendance: 34,977

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