Soccer

Walcott fires Arsenal top of EPL with West Ham win

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LONDON (AP)

Theo Walcott scored twice as Arsenal returned to the top of the English Premier League by fighting back to win 3-1 at West Ham on Thursday.

Arsenal fell behind when goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny spilled Kevin Nolan's shot and Carlton Cole pounced to score a minute into the second half.

West Ham goalkeeper Adrian was also culpable for Arsenal's equalizer, with Walcott cutting in from the right and striking between his legs in the 68th.

Walcott headed Arsenal in front three minutes later, and Lukas Podolski netted in the 79th to ensure a three-game winless run in the league ended.

''From our disappointing results in the last few games it's nice to get a good positive away win,'' Walcott told BT Sport. ''It's great to be top but it's going to be a very tough league this year, everyone is very tight, a lot of people are taking a lot of points off each other so we've just got to make sure we look after ourselves.''

Arsenal displaced Liverpool from top spot, with the Reds dropping to fourth after losing 2-1 at Manchester City. Arsenal is two points ahead of Chelsea, which beat Swansea 1-0 on Boxing Day when every team was in action.

The only blot on the win was the 23-year-old Aaron Ramsey being forced off with an apparent thigh strain.

''The Christmas period is certainly over for him. It was his birthday today,'' Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said. ''I don't know how long it will be. We will have to see tomorrow morning. He knew straight away, but we have to see.''

This was not a victory without other worrying moments for Arsenal.

It began a spell of pressure that belied West Ham's insipid first-half display, but it was brought to an abrupt end when Walcott's shot somehow evaded Adrian in the 68th.

Walcott cut in from the right and unleashed a hopeful strike that slipped through Adrian's grasp.

Three minutes later the match was turned on its head.

Podolski, brought on after Ramsey took a knock, swung in a fine cross from the left and Walcott ghosted in to power home a header from close range.

It was quite the impact by Podolski in his first appearance since a hamstring injury in August.

There would also be a goal for the Germany forward as Giroud held up the ball for Podolski to bury a strike into the bottom corner to put the game out of sight.

The result saw Sam Allardyce's West Ham slip into the bottom three.

''We had three golden chances after we scored - Matt Jarvis in the box, one-on-one, Joey O'Brien's free header in the six-yard box and Carlton Cole's side-foot tap,'' Allardyce said. ''We paid the price because what Arsenal do then is take more and more chances when they are losing.

''It was either going to be us getting that second goal and then we would have made sure we tightened it up or they'd score.''

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