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Stuff of hope ..but top four still tall order.

Byline: Oliver Holt CHIEF SPORTS WRITER AT THE EMIRATES

THE grip of perpetual dissatisfaction that has seized Arsenal this midwinter loosened at the Emirates last night.

The feeling that a fullblown crisis is only ever an unexpected defeat away dissolved in a blitz of four goals in 12 minutes at the start of the second half.

So what if this West Ham side is average to mediocre? Suddenly, faint echoes of Arsenal's old certainties came flooding back.

Sometimes, they reach for their former dominance here, only to find that things are simply not the way they used to be.

But last night, as they swept West Ham aside with glorious attacking football, hope emerged again.

Hope, now, is measured in modest helpings a t Arsenal. Hope means finishing in the top four.

The fans rage against the loss of their superiority, even though logic whispers to them that they cannot compete with the might of the Manchester teams.

And their curse is that the scapegoat whom fans usually turn upon, the manager, is the best thing that ever happened to this club. So, in the first 45 minutes last night, the supporters' unrest burst out into the air in hot breaths.

Even a team as ordinary as West Ham caused them discomfort, not least when Jack Collison put them ahead in the 19th minute.

But in the second half, all anxiety was banished. Giroud, Cazorla, Walcott and Giroud again put West Ham to the sword and everyone breathed a sigh of relief.

That's the way it is now. Victories like this are not greeted with unabashed joy. They are tempered with the knowledge that, when Arsenal have come up against the big sides this season, they have struggled.

There are reasons for optimism. Walcott signing a new contract is one. The rich, rich potential of Jack Wilshere is another.

Lukas Podolski was brilliant last night, scorer and creator. Olivier Giroud looked like a thoroughbred striker. Santi Cazorla showed signs of recovering his form.

But the truth remains that, with this cast of players, Arsenal will struggle to qualify for the Champions League next season.

They have some fine players, but they need quality reinforcements, reinforcements that Arsene Wenger shows no particular desire to recruit.

A 5-1 win is a salve, but the dissatisfaction that seethes here will only fade away when better teams than West Ham leave here, beaten and despairing.

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THAT'S MY BOY Wenger with Walcott Pics: KENT GAVIN
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jan 24, 2013
Words:412
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