Dec 28 (Reuters) - Lukas Podolski's return for Arsenal at West Ham United on Thursday was a delight for the striker after four months on the sidelines but could also turn out to be an important factor in maintaining the London club's title hopes.
The 28-year-old German, who came on as a second half substitute, made a goal for Theo Walcott before scoring one of his own as Arsenal came from 1-0 down to beat West Ham 3-1 and return to the top of the Premier League.
With Olivier Giroud extending his run of matches without a goal to seven at Upton Park, Podolski offered Arsene Wenger a clear alternative to the Frenchman as an out and out centre forward.
For Podolski, though, a goal and an assist in his first match since sustaining a hamstring tear in a match against Fenerbahce in late August were just the icing on the cake.
"I have been out for a long time, four months, so it was not easy," he told the club's website.
"I have never had a muscle injury before so it was a new experience. It was a hamstring injury and they take a long time.
"Every morning you come in, you have treatment, you work hard to get fit while the others are working outside. It is not easy for the head.
"When you sit on the bench or on the couch at home, it is not easy to watch. You don't have the feeling [of being] with the team and in the dressing room. But that is the way it is in football, so I am all the more happy to be back."
Wenger's transfer dealings come under more scrutiny than those of most managers given his reputation for parsimony with the club's cash, which critics blame for the lack of a sustained title push in recent seasons.
Eyebrows were raised when he failed to sign a goalscorer before the start of the season and popular wisdom has it that the strain of leading the line is behind Giroud's dip in form since he scored eight goals in 17 games to open the campaign.
Arsenal had drawn two and lost two of their previous four matches before the trip to West Ham so a return to winning ways over the Christmas and New Year period was vital to their hopes of a first English title for a decade.
"It was important we got the three points here because the last few matches we drew or lost and you're always happy when you get an assist or score a goal," Podolksi added.
"I remember last season we had a lot of injuries and a lot of problems. Now we have only one or two, so it's good. We have the three points and it was a derby, so it was good for the fans.
"Every match is important now, every match is about three points - we are top and we want to stay there. It is not easy because there are five or six teams who are all strong this season, but we have a strong team and we will fight."
Podolski came on at West Ham for Arsenal's top scorer Aaron Ramsey and the Wales midfielder's thigh injury is likely to rule him out for at least a month, starting with Sunday's visit to Newcastle United. (Reporting by Nick Mulvenney in Sydney; Editing by John O'Brien)