Arsene Wenger took a risk by picking Arsenal’s old guard against West Ham United on Tuesday but it paid off with a 3-1 win as his weary side regained fourth place in the Premier League.
The Frenchman fielded a team with an average age of 29 at the Emirates, with Olivier Giroud their youngest outfield player at 27, as he banked on his golden oldies to get a result.
Wenger, renowned for developing young players, opted for a wealth of experience to overcome stubborn West Ham and wrestle back fourth place, and the last Champions League qualification spot, from Everton who are a point behind with a game in hand.
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“It was a gamble,” Wenger told a news conference. “I said before the game it was the oldest team that I have ever played at Arsenal since I’ve been here.”
In fact he fielded an Arsenal team with an average age of 30 against Leeds United in 2003 but his point was valid.
“I trusted the experience of the players,” said Wenger. “Tonight it was an unusual around 30 (years of age) team and that experience helps when your backs are against the wall.”
Arsenal reached the FA Cup final on Saturday on penalties against second-tier holders Wigan Athletic but, without a win in four league games and with the semi-final having taken its toll, Wenger decided older heads were needed.
Goals from Lukas Podolski either side of a sublime Olivier Giroud finish secured the win for Arsenal, who fell behind to a Matt Jarvis header five minutes before halftime.
It was Giroud’s strike, his 14th league goal this season, that especially pleased Wenger, who hailed the France striker’s mental toughness after a tame finish in the first half when played through on goal caused uproar amongst the home fans.
“Olivier is a great guy with a great mentality,” Wenger said. “At halftime he came in and was very down because he missed a great chance but he responded well in the second.”
Giroud, who was dropped from the starting lineup against Wigan, held off the challenge of two defenders to deftly bring down Thomas Vermaelen’s long ball and strike his shot between West Ham’s goalkeeper Adrian’s legs.
“It was a perfect first touch,” the Arsenal manager said. “What I like is that he used his upper body first to make some space and despite that he managed to have a great first touch, and he finished well. He’s come through a difficult period. I think it affected his game for a while and his confidence. Tonight you could see that he was refreshed and up for it,” Wenger said after the game.
Arsenal now have 67 points and four games left, one ahead of Everton who host Crystal Palace on Wednesday.
Dortmund make German Cup final
BERLIN: In-form Borussia Dortmund kept up their hopes of a trophy this season, easing past VfL Wolfsburg 2-0 on Tuesday with goals from Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Robert Lewandowski to reach the German Cup final.
Three-times winners Dortmund, who last lifted the trophy in 2012, could face holders and rivals Bayern Munich, who play second division’s Kaiserslautern in the last four on Wednesday, in the final on May 17 in Berlin.
Fired up by a ear-splittingly loud 80,000 strong crowd, the hosts, who beat champions Bayern 3-0 in the league on Saturday, grabbed a well-deserved 13th minute lead when Armenian Mkhitaryan, who joined the club in July last year, rifled accurately after a brilliant solo effort.
It took a long time for Wolfsburg to recover but they came agonisingly close four minutes before the break with Junior Malanda’s header hitting the base of the post and fellow Belgium international Kevin De Bruyne’s shot whizzing narrowly wide.
But it was Dortmund who scored again two minutes later with Poland international Lewandowski, left unmarked in the box, drilling in a Marco Reus cutback for his 100th goal for the club in all competitions.
It will be his last chance to win another title with Dortmund, who also beat Real Madrid 2-0 last week but were eliminated 3-2 on aggregate in the Champions League quarter-finals, before joining Bayern next season.