Wenger joy as Arsenal close on familiar spot

West Ham 1 Arsenal 2

Wenger joy as Arsenal close on familiar spot

Arsenal were just about deserving winners of their second London derby in two days as first half goals from Santi Cazorla and Danny Welbeck proved too much for a spirited West Ham side who seemed set to get something from the match after pulling a goal back through Cheikhou Kouyate shortly after half-time.

Arsenal now replace West Ham in fifth and are behind Southampton only on goal difference, even though they have been far from impressive for much of this season.

“It is vital we finish in the top four,” Wenger admitted. “The job is not done and we have to focus on the next match and being consistent, but we are entitled to believe we can do it as we have achieved it for the past 17 years.”

Wenger fielded an uncharacteristically cautious line-up with Mathieu Flamini partnering fellow French countryman Francis Coquelin, making his first Premier League start in two years.

Coquelin had an uninspiring loan spell at Charlton earlier this season, yet injuries to key players such as Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, Mikel Arteta and Tomas Rosicky forced Wenger’s hand. He admitted afterwards it had been a gamble to counter West Ham’s aerial threat and that paid off.

West Ham manager Sam Allardyce made five changes from the St Stephen’s Day defeat at Chelsea with Diafra Sakho back to lead the attack and Alex Song returning to captain the side against his former club.

But it was the keen eye of a linesman who kept Arsenal on level terms early on as he spotted a clutch of West Ham fans in offside positions as Song rifled in a sweet 30 yard volley in only the sixth minute.

Allardyce was fuming with the decision afterwards, claiming the referee did not understand the rules and it would have been awarded a goal in any other match.

He was later gracious enough to concede it had been an entertaining match in which his goalkeeper had been one of their best players and praised his own men, predicting they will bounce back from two defeats with a win over West Brom on Thursday.

“I am disappointed for the players,” he said, “but not with their performance and I thought they could and would get at least a draw at the end.”

West Ham played with the confidence borne of six wins and a draw in their last seven home games and refused to let Arsenal settle.

The chance and miss of the match came as James Tomkins marked his 200th West Ham game by lifting an easy volley over the bar from six yards out following a Stewart Downing cross.

It was almost immediately followed by Arsenal taking the lead through Cazorla’s 41st minute penalty. The locals went wild and the West Ham players were also furious by Cazorla’s tumble in the box, but referee Swarbrick was spot on with his decision as Winston Reid deliberately tripped the Spaniard and was fortunate not to be sent off.

There was no disputing Arsenal’s second goal, scored by Welbeck fewer than three minutes later.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain ran free down the right and his low centre was gobbled up by his England team-mate from a few yards out.

The indignant West Ham players were reeling on the ropes now and fortunate not to fall further behind before the half-time break.

Galvanised, no doubt, by a few words of wisdom from Allardyce, West Ham were stronger in the second half and almost scored in the 52nd minute when Wojciech Szczesny lost a cross and was saved a certain Carroll goal by a desperate Per Mertesacker clearance.

Arsenal failed to clear the ensuing corner and when the ball was knocked back in by Tomkins the impressive Cheikhou Kouyate headed in with the help of a Debuchy deflection. Upton Park was bouncing to the beat of more optimistic fans now and they seemed destined to get another.

It took stunning saves, however, from Adrian to prevent Cazorla, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sanchez from putting the match out of West Ham’s reach on the break.

But the fact Arsenal finished the game with every available defender on the pitch, scrambling away a succession of free-kicks and corners also tells a story.

WEST HAM: Adrian 9, Reid 6, Cresswell 7, Tomkins 5, Kouyate 8 (Nolan 78, 6) Carroll 6, Downing 6, Sakho 5 (Valencia 62, 5) O’Brien 6 (Demel 78, 6), Amalfitano 5, Song 6.

ARSENAL: Szczesny 7, Debuchy 7, Mertesacker 7, Koscielny 7, Monreal 6, Flamini 6, Coquelin 7, Oxlade-Chamberlain 8 (Chambers 89), Cazorla 7, Alexis 7, Welbeck 7 (Gibbs 83, 6).

Referee: Neil Swarbrick 6/10.

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