After slogging through and stumbling a series of difficult matches (Chelsea, Man City, Napoli, Everton), a vital three points came through a 3-1 win over plucky but overmanned West Ham. The returns of Walcott and Podolsk sparked the win; Walcott’s brace was enough to win it, and Podolski’s first goal since September put the game on ice. Here, then, is a quick run-down of each player’s performance (all scores and statistics come courtesy of whoscored.com, who start each player at a 6.0 and move them up or down over the course of the match):
- Santiago Cazorla—8.84: Though he didn’t score, this was a classic Cazorla performance as he buzzed all about the field, leading the team in touches (109) and shots (8) while adding in six key passes, second only to Özil’s eight. He tested keeper Adrian time and again with strong shots and looked as lively as he has all season.
- Theo Walcott—8.84: His brace showed a few sides to him that we’re not accustomed to, but so be it. His first goal saw him cut to his left through the box and sluice a low shot through a thicket of defenders; his second came through a sharply driven header from a Podolski cross. Beyond that, Walcott menaced the West Ham defense all day, repeatedly getting behind his man.
- Bacary Sagna—7.94: Please resign this man and let him retire an Arsenal man. Sagna simply dominated. contributing ten effective clearances and three tackles while leading all players with eight aerial duels won. He may no longer merit a place among the league’s top five best right backs, but a performance like this one reminds us that he’s still very much a force to be reckoned with.
- Mesut Özil—7.64: Without tallying a goal or an assist, Özil nonetheless delivered a strong performance, perhaps not quite strong enough to quiet his critics. Eight key passes is more than you can shake a stick at, though some will anyway. Give him more time on the pitch with Walcott, and the assists will come.
- Mikel Arteta—7.46: Controlled the midfield calmly and disrupted what few threats West Ham could muster, leading the team with four tackles while chipping in six clearances and launching counters with six well-placed long balls. Maybe he could have done better on Cole’s goal, but he did earn a spot-kick that should have earned a penalty-kick after Mertesacker’s shot clearly struck a defender’s arm.
- Kieran Gibbs—7.31: Nine clearances and a number of goal-scoring opportunities mask the fact that Gibbs was beaten repeatedly by Cole, such as byletting his man slip through instead of staying between him and goal. It’s not Gibb’s fault that Szczesny spilled the rebound, but he could have done better to keep Cole away with better positioning.
- Olivier Giroud—7.25: Another frustrating performance from Giroud, at least in terms of finishing, as he missed several clear opportunities, prompting the announcer at one point to say “how many ways are there to miss?” and “Lukas Podolski must be going ‘please give me a chance like that!'” However, he did contribute very well to the build-up and connected with his BFF to claim an assist. A goal, however, would be a welcome contribution, and sooner rather than later.
- Thomas Vermaelen—7.24: A quiet, calm performance from the man, who showed little sign of rust while leading the team with eleven clearances and six aerial duels won (second behind Sagna). He’s handled his demotion while dignity and class, but performances like this one remind us that he has the skill to challenge Koscielny for more time on the pitch. The two may not pair well, but Vermaelen suggested through this match that he and Per might.
- Per Mertesacker—7.14: wasn’t bothered most of the afternoon but still found time for eight clearances and five aerial duels won. As mentioned above, he should have earned us a spot-kick when his shot clearly struck the arm of a West Ham defender in the box. Still, a comfortable display for the German. It might have been interesting to see how he’d have handled Andy Carroll. Maybe next time ’round.
- Aaron Ramsey—6.58: A bit of a lukewarm showing from Ramsey, whose 65th minute thigh strain might come at an opportune time as he’s slowed down since his scintillating start to the season. Not much to say on the day, to be honest, so we’ll leave him to rest up for a match or two.
- Wojciech Szczesny—6.03: His first real stinker of the season, if memory serves, as he coughed up several rebounds, one that Cole alertly pounced on to open the scoring. He had to make five saves but two of these offered West Ham follow-ups. Still, it’s perhaps the kind of performance that gets the man to recommit himself going forward.
- Lukas Podolski (65′ for Ramsey)—7.6: Welcome back, Poldi! Is it a coincidence that the scoring commenced once he took to the pitch? Perhaps. He purred like a panther down that left flank, whipping in some dangerous crosses such as the one that Walcott headed home, and chipped in two on-target shots, more in his 25 minutes than Giroud in 90. His goal iced the game and suggests that he’s ready to pick up where he left off from September.
- Matthieu Flamini (81′ for Özil)—6.2: Barely on long enough to rate, to be honest, but did what he had to do without fanfare or fuss. He did manage 100% accuracy from 14 passes, so there’s that.
- Nicklas Bendter (85′ for Giroud)—5.99: Truly not on long enough to rate, as the outcome was all but settled and people were picking up the prayer-books and heading for the exits. He did manage to squeeze off a shot, forcing Adrian to save, but that’s about all there was time for.
There. Some of these numbers reflect a certain gap in form between the two sides, but it’s a welcome-reminder that these were sometimes that matches that would see us drop points that we couldn’t afford to drop, and rebounding from that conceded goal shows that we’re not as fragile as we were last year, when such an error might have seen us go to pieces. It’s good enough to send us top of the table for at least a few days as we prepare for Newcastle on Saturday.