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 Posted by PA Sport
Apr 15, 2014

Podolski targets Champions League

ESPN FC's Steve Nicol gives his take on the race between Everton and Arsenal for the final Champions League spot.

Lukas Podolski was delighted as FA Cup finalists Arsenal moved back into the top four of the Premier League for the next 24 hours at least following a 3-1 comeback victory over West Ham at the Emirates Stadium.

Lukas Podolski celebrates after scoring his second against West Ham.
Lukas Podolski scored two goals in the win against West Ham.

• Delaney: Back to winning ways

West Ham took the lead five minutes before the break as Matt Jarvis headed home from close range, but Podolski equalised four minutes later after picking up Santi Cazorla's cross in the penalty box. Olivier Giroud put the Gunners ahead 10 minutes after the break as he collected Thomas Vermaelen's fine ball and sent it through Adrian's legs to make it 2-1, and Podolski made the points safe with just over 10 minutes to go.

Podolski told Sky Sports 1: "After the FA Cup it was important that we switch on to the Premier League. We must fight for fourth place. We want to play next year in the Champions League -- it is very important and we must watch from game to game.

"Today was the first step which was very important, now let's focus on our next game."

Arsene Wenger's side, who reached the FA Cup final after a penalty shootout win over holders Wigan on Saturday, moved one point above fifth-placed Everton, who take on Crystal Palace on Wednesday night as the battle for the last Champions League spot intensifies.

Man of the match Cazorla knows how important their next match is, as they look to finish in the top four. Arsenal next take on Hull away on Sunday before facing Newcastle, West Brom and Norwich, and Cazorla said: "The most important thing tonight was the win, we need to win all the games."

On the link up with Podolski for the opener, he added: "It's easy when I have an understanding with Lukas, always in training every day. The most important thing was the win and now we freshen up for Sunday."

Wenger hailed the "perfect touch" of Giroud after his sublime finish after the striker's superb control and close-range finish putting them in front on 55 minutes.

Wenger was impressed with the composure of Giroud's finish, when he held off both Winston Reid and Andy Carroll to take down a high ball from Thomas Vermaelen on his left foot before rolling it between the goalkeeper's legs with his right.

"It was a perfect first touch," said Wenger. "You need that if you want to score the goal. 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 after that he finished well."

Giroud paid his own tribute to the victims of Hillsborough when he kissed the black armband and looked to the heavens as the Arsenal players celebrated.

"Olivier is a great guy with a great mentality," said Wenger of the France forward whose personal life put him under media scrutiny earlier in the season. He has gone through a difficult period, as you know, and I think it affected his game for a while and his confidence. You could see that he was refreshed tonight and that he was up for it.

"At halftime he came in, he was very, very down because he missed a great chance in the first half, but he responded very well in the second half because he's mentally a strong guy."

Wenger hopes the manner of the performance can lift his squad for the run-in.

He said: "Saturday and tonight improves the confidence of the team, but we know we have one advantage -- the picture is very clear in front of us. We know we have to win our games and hope that Everton will slip up somewhere, but let's focus on our job and not look too much at Everton.

"If we need that we will see when we need it, but at the moment we can only do it if we win our games, so let's focus on that."

For West Ham, who had not played since the home defeat to Liverpool on April 6, it meant their second loss in a row and Sam Allardyce's side are not yet -- mathematically at least -- safe from relegation. Six wins from their last 11 games has seen the Hammers climb away from trouble but they are currently seven points above the drop zone with four matches remaining.

Allardyce said: "We'd done so much up until then [when Arsenal scored the equaliser]. To get the goal I think we deserved it. But probably the one thing that disappointed me was that we didn't create more from our opportunities in the first half.

"We finally got a very good goal and I think that the key was to hold on to that until half time and then say to the lads, 'going out there now there's more pressure going to come on Arsenal, the home fans half-expect them to beat us today.'

"That would have been more pressure on them, but we released the pressure on them by making two errors for both the goals and allowed them to get in front."

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