A good week for Arsenal got better at the Hawthorns at lunchtime. Whilst we may have lost Mikel Arteta from Wednesday we welcomed Laurent Koscielny and Olivier Giroud back to the starting line-up.
Much of the match turned into a catalogue of opportunities for a clearly dominant, but far from ruthless Arsenal. From the off we took control.
Santi Cazorla, set up by Danny Welbeck, fired straight at Foster on just two minutes. That would prove to be a recurring feature of the half. Next came a solo effort by Alexis Sanchez that also found Foster’s gloves on six minutes. Cazorla was again teed up by Welbeck on eleven minutes but his effort was blocked.
Welbeck was held off in the nineteenth minute, but almost immediately we were forced into a change as Nacho Monreal hobbled off to be replaced by Kieran Gibbs, the latter not getting much of a rest. Alexis fired a free-kick into the wall and as the pressure mounted Aaron Ramsey put Welbeck through for a one on one with Foster, but the ‘keeper again stood firm.
In the 28th minute Giroud dispossessed Foster near the goal-line but curled his effort across the face of the unguarded net. A couple of minutes later Welbeck again set up Cazorla but again the influential Spaniard fired straight at the Baggies ‘keeper. Soon after Martinez was called upon to comfortably deal with Brunt’s cross, his first involvement in the match.
The one-way traffic resumed with Aaron Ramsey hustling through but sliding his effort wide, then Cazorla chipped just beyond Rambo as he burst into the box again. Either side of the half-time break we were given a reminder that not converting dominance into goals could be dangerous.
Brunt was rightly flagged offside in a move which ended with the ball in the back of the net. Just after the break an erroneous flag halted Berahino in his tracks after he got in behind Koscielny and Per Mertesacker.
Five minutes into the half Calum Chambers flighted a deft chip to Rambo who miscued a difficult volley in the inside-right channel. Arsenal were back in the ascendency. A couple of minutes later Dorrans was booked for pulling back Gibbs and Foster spilled the resulting free-kick only for Per Mertesacker to pull his effort wide.
In the 55th Minute Gibbs crossed just a fraction to high for the energetic Cazorla, surely producing his most influential performance of the season. Lescott headed wide from a Dorrans cross just before the hour was up but Arsenal finally broke the deadlock a minute later when Cazorla danced to the by-line and crossed perfectly for Welbeck to power in a header that Foster could only help on it’s way into the back of the net.
Cue West Brom substituting midfielder Mulumbu with striker Anichebe. That didn’t change things immediately. Rambo missed the target when through once more. Surely a second goal was coming? On 68 minutes Welbeck was brought down, the meat in a sandwich around the edge of the box, but Chris Foy, otherwise excellent, denied him even a free-kick.
The Baggies made their final throw of the dice, sending on forwards Gamboa and Samaras for Pocognoli and Sessegnon. The latter drew huge jeers from the West Brom support and manager Alan Irvine was serenaded with “You don’t know what you’re doing”. As if to prove, not for the last time on the day, that supporters can get their timing so wrong on occasion the tide turned for the final ten minutes. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came on for the tiring Giroud who had put in a full shift up front.
Margins can be fine in football, as in life, and ten minutes from time West Brom came closest to stealing a point when Berahino headed against the crossbar, but the Gunners cleared the danger and re-organised for a disciplined final phase.
With six minutes remaining Gamboa was booked for hauling back Welbeck as Arsenal threatened to break out. Gardner’s deflected shot provided a rare bit of work for Martinez who showed good concentration and saved comfortably. Minutes later he was even more impressive, clinging on to a Samaras cross over Koscielny’s not inconsiderable frame. In the last of the 90 minutes Rambo deflected Gardner’s effort wide.
In four added minutes the Ox was the third name in Mr Foy’s notebook for a blatant trip, but the Gunners saw out the match with a welcome show of disciplined defending. Santi Cazorla rightly earned the man of the match plaudits, but as I tweeted earlier a word too for Mathieu Flamini, not at his best this season, who typified that discipline and who looked more like the Flamini of old. With Mikel Arteta out for an Arsenal three weeks the Flamster will be needed.
Afterwards the boss reflected on the performance and acknowledged that final phase.
“In the end our solidarity got us through when the legs went in the last 10 minutes. Maybe we were a fraction lucky on the crossbar, but overall it’s a well-deserved win.”
Very understated. Indeed that was a very well deserved win.