Arsenal climbed into fifth place with their first Premier League win since February 11 as Mesut Ozil, Theo Walcott and substitute Olivier Giroud struck to give the Gunners a 3-0 victory over West Ham.
Ozil marked his 150th appearance for the club with the opening goal on 58 minutes before Walcott and Giroud made the game safe to move Arsene Wenger’s side above Manchester United on goal difference and to within four points fourth-placed Manchester City.
This was a result to bring Wenger welcome relief after a dreadful run of form in which they had won just three of their last ten games in all competitions amid increasing discontent among supporters urging him to step down at the end of the season.
But pressure will mount on Slaven Bilic after the Hammers were condemned to their fifth straight defeat just days after receiving a vote of confidence from the club’s board.
Goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez made his first League appearance since 2014 with David Ospina joining Petr Cech on Arsenal’s injury list while Gabriel replaced Laurent Koscielny and Mohamed Elneny came in for Francis Coquelin with Walcott taking over the captain’s armband.
West Ham made three changes with Michail Antonio, Mark Noble and Arthur Masuaku replacing Sofiane Feghouli, Robert Snodgrass and Aaron Cresswell while Diafra Sakho was named on the bench having been unavailable with a back injury since November.
The stands were sparsely populated at kick-off and although many filtered in shortly after kick-off on a mild April evening, not many chose to join the planned protest against Wenger for this game – walking in 13 minutes after the start to signify the club’s wait for a League title.
Apathy continues to reign over anger in the red half of north London and it contributed to a flat start from the home side. Manuel Lanzini sent a ninth-minute free-kick just over the crossbar before Noble robbed Elneny and surged towards goal, firing narrowly wide from the edge of the box.
Hector Bellerin made inroads down the right and cut the ball back for Walcott, who could only steer a shot straight at Darren Randolph. The England international felt Arsenal should have had a clearer opportunity moments later when Masuaku made contact with Walcott in the box. Referee Martin Atkinson waved away his appeals.
Danny Welbeck wasted Arsenal’s clearest chance of the half after 24 minutes. Alexis Sanchez sent over a quick free-kick which caught West Ham off guard. Welbeck was left in a central position 12 yards out but he failed to connect properly with a first-time, left-foot volley allowing Randolph to save easily.
Welbeck turned provider a few minutes later, intercepting James Collins’ pass to release Walcott in an inside right position but he could only blaze over.
West Ham defended the width of their 18-yard box well, denying Arsenal space to play but the home side became more threatening as the half wore on.
Sam Byram and Collins were called into desperate blocks to deny Bellerin and Elneny respectively before Welbeck met the resulting corner at the near-post with a sharp effort bur Randolph was equal to it.
Andy Carroll had been relatively anonymous but he was the centre of attention on the stroke of half-time as he appeared to lead with his elbow in an aerial challenge with Shkodran Mustafi.
Wenger and Mustafi remonstrated furiously with the fourth official; the half ended moments later and Walcott walked off in discussion with Atkinson, still apparently bemused at his failure to award a penalty earlier in the half.
Bilic replaced Michail Antonio with Robert Snodgrass at the interval but Arsenal started the better side. Sanchez produced an excellent reverse pass to find Ozil in space inside the box but Collins timed his sliding challenge to perfection and suddenly the chance was gone.
He didn’t have to wait long for another opportunity. Jose Fonte’s rushed clearance fell to Ozil on the edge of the box and the German, implored to shoot by the home crowd, did just that. His curling effort bounced right in front of Randolph but he will expect to do better with a shot lacking anything more than medium pace.
The game opened up thereafter. West Ham began to threaten on the break and Bilic consequently opted to replace Carroll with the more mobile Sakho for the final 24 minutes.
Arsenal pushed for a second to seal it and duly found one with a fine flowing move. Sanchez back-heeled the ball into Ozil’s path and his low cross from the left was met smartly by Walcott with a crisp finish.
The relief around the stadium was palpable. Sanchez clipped a superb cross in for Bellerin, who broke through West Ham’s rearguard but could only slide the ball wide from close range. It didn’t matter.
Confidence was steadily flowing back into the Gunners and Giroud encapsulated that momentum with a marvellous late third, collecting fellow substitute Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s pass before curling a fine left-foot shot past Randolph.
Wenger will look to the task of closing the gap to the top four with renewed optimism.