Arsenal returned to winning ways with a solid victory over West Ham as a fifth straight defeat plunged Slaven Bilic's visitors deeper into the fight for Premier League survival.
Both sides went into this London derby in dire form but it was the Gunners who addressed that and ultimately ran out comfortable 3-0 victors, marking their first league win since February 11.
After a dull first half, Mesut Ozil marked his 150th Arsenal appearance with a tame opening goal before laying on the second for Theo Walcott. Olivier Giroud came off the bench to score the goal of the night.
James Benge was at the Emirates Stadium to assess the key talking points...
Has apathy overtaken the Wenger Out movement?
For the first time in four games there was little sign of grievance from Arsenal supporters against Arsene Wenger. Surely a 2-2 draw with Manchester City cannot have radically changed the mood at the Emirates?
It hasn’t. But a planned protested that would see fans not take their seat until the 13th minute, a protest against Arsenal’s league title ‘drought’, didn’t quite take off. Certainly the Emirates was undermanned at kick-off but there were no massed ranks on the concourses.
Supporters took their seats in drips and drabs and there was no great arrival on 13 minutes. That would suggest that rather than growing more hostile, Arsenal fans are simply becoming more disenfranchised. In the West Stand seats the outline of the white seats of a cannon were visible throughout the match. If there was a protest tonight, it was by those who stayed away.
Ozil the chief beneficiary as Arsenal’s front four clicks
If Sunday’s game saw Mesut Ozil struggle to feel his way back into the Premier League tempo after five games away from Arsenal’s starting lineup, tonight was the night where he started the long climb back towards his pinnacle.
West Ham were supplicant but sufficiently organised in defence that Arsenal needed someone to prise them apart. Ozil provided that with a delicately taking curling strike and fine assist for Theo Walcott.
More than anyone else he benefitted from a frontline of Walcott, Alexis Sanchez and Danny Welbeck that moved intelligently and at pace. It is only the second game where these four have lined up together, but on tonight’s evidence it should be Wenger’s preferred frontline for the remainder of the season.
Hammers offer Bilic hope despite sorry second half
West Ham fans chanting “Super Slaven Bilic” from kick-off made it abundantly clear that they were standing by their man as the Hammers slip closer to the relegation zone, and tonight’s performance offered enough indications to suggest they will collect the half-dozen points needed to be confident their Premier League status will be assured.
After a run of games in which their defence might have fairly been labelled ‘inviting’, Bilic abandoned any pretence of the ‘West Ham Way’ as the visitors set camp around the 18-yard box. It was not pretty and it caused a few nervy jangles but it was effective, at least for the first half.
That he also seems to have found the inner left-back in Arthur Masuaku, who had not featured since being eviscerated in the corresponding fixture - a 5-1 loss in November - only adds to the sense that Bilic can drill West Ham’s defence back into shape.
It may not have lasted into the second half, but then West Ham will face few attacks on the form Arsenal were in tonight during the remainder of their run-in. It may be several more added to the goals against column but the Hammers defence is at least heading in the right direction.
Elneny unshackles Xhaka
No-one at Arsenal needs reminding of how much Santi Cazorla is missed, nor do they need much prompting to suggest that last season’s title race could have been very different were it not for the Spaniard’s Achilles troubles.
In Cazorla’s absence Wenger has tried every midfield duo – and trio – imaginable to little consistent success. He has, however, found plenty of combinations that don’t work, most notably Francis Coquelin and Granit Xhaka, a pairing that proved a liability in the draw with Manchester City on Saturday.
Coquelin’s injury handed Mohamed Elneny a rare start alongside Xhaka and, though West Ham’s deep line and refusal to press meant they were rarely under much pressure, there was cause for optimism in a combination that seemed to mask each player’s flaws.
Elneny’s rather pedestrian passing gave Xhaka licence to try the ambitious long balls that are his forte. Meanwhile the Swiss midfielder managed to avoid a yellow card, perhaps because of the calming influence of his team-mate. This pairing is worth another look.
Tame Carroll fails to provide Hammers’ focal point
Wenger set out his simple plan to tame Andy Carroll before kick-off: stop West Ham getting the ball to their giant wrecking ball, scorer of a magnificent hat-trick against the Gunners at the Boleyn Ground last season. In reality they didn’t, and gave away too many free-kicks in their own half for comfort.
But Carroll was so subdued it mattered not. He may have won four aerial battles but they weren’t where they counted, and indeed Shkodran Mustafi won five and Gabriel three. The West Ham striker was unable to subdue Arsenal’s defenders, and without that, the visitors supporting trio had little to work off.