Arsenal crisis? Not this time as Mikel Arteta is spot on to sink Baggies
Premier League: Arsenal 2 West Bromwich Albion 0
Arsenal returned to winning ways as a pair of Mikel Arteta penalties accounted for West Brom at the Emirates and brought a satisfying end to a tortuous week for Arsene Wenger.
The Spaniard converted from the spot midway through each half, and while the award of the first penalty, when Cazorla’s theatrics after a challenge from Steven Reid duped the officials, was fortunate, there was no doubt about the second or the strength of Arsenal’s performance.
Wenger had said in the build-up to the game that he had confidence in his side and it was justified as they dominated a team who had started the day five points and five places above them. This was a third straight league defeat for Albion, and they were hugely disappointing given the start to the season they have enjoyed.
Arsenal, and Wenger, will not mind that. The Gunners moved back up to sixth in the table and confidence has been restored ahead of a tricky December schedule that now sees them play three consecutive away games, at Bradford in the Capital One Cup on Tuesday and then at Reading and Wigan in the Premier League.
The seven players who were spared the trip to Athens in the week for the 2-1 defeat to Olympiakos, Bacary Sagna, Kieran Gibbs, Per Mertesacker, Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla Olivier Giroud and Arteta – all returned to the starting line-up. There could be no complaints about tiredness from Wenger this time.
It seemed to have an impact as Arsenal started well, and could have led after just five minutes. Giroud challenged West Brom keeper Boaz Myhill for a high ball, and the half-clearance eventually fell for Gervinho but the Ivorian snatched a little at the chance and sent it the wrong side of the far post with Myhill stranded.
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The visitors then lost Liam Ridgewell to injury, with the Premier League’s sole Macedonian, Goran Popov, coming on to replace him at left-back. It looked to be a disruption Arsenal could exploit and from one foray down that flank Cazorla volleyed wide.
West Brom were hardly in the game although Chris Brunt did fizz an effort just wide of the top corner from 25 yards to send out a warning sign.
On 25 minutes, however, the breakthrough came, and the moment Cazorla went down under a challenge from Reid in the Albion box was instantly controversial. It looked soft even from a distance, and while Reid did kick out a little foolishly, the contact with the Spaniard looked non-existent.
Cazorla went down though, and referee Mike Jones pointed to the spot, only to be surrounded by furious Albion players. Despite the commotion, and the fact that he had missed his previous penalty attempt with the last kick of the game against Fulham a month earlier, Arteta stepped up to convert down the centre of the goal to give the Gunners the lead.
If the manner of the goal was a little fortunate, Arsenal had done more than enough to merit being in front and immediately looked more confident. The lead should have been doubled on 37 minutes when Wilshere, who was starting to shine in central midfield, arrived on the end of a Gervinho cross but, at full stretch, diverted the ball wide of the gaping net from close range.
A two-goal cushion would not have flattered the Gunners, but such is the unease at the club at the moment that even that would not have been enough to stop the nerves. As it was, merely a 1-0 lead felt all too slender going in at the break, even more so after a curious incident that saw Mertesacker clearly handle in the box only for Jones to award a free-kick to Arsenal for pushing by Jonas Olsson. Baggies boss Steve Clarke may well have felt like remonstrating with the official as the sides went in at the break. He certainly had enough ammunition.
But his side were still very much in this game. The first 15 minutes of the second half saw both teams battle for supremacy and the game became fractious. Cazorla went down on the edge of the box and appealed for another penalty, only to be denied this time. Then Giroud tangled with Olsson as tempers frayed, and both were booked, with Albion skipper Brunt following them for dissent at Jones, who was losing controlling of the game.
Gervinho then air-kicked after being wonderfully set up by Giroud, but then Arsenal were awarded another penalty after 63 minutes, and there was no doubt about this one.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain raced into the box and outpaced Brunt, who made a woeful attempt to tackle only to bring the Arsenal man down in full flow. Brunt barely complained, and may have been lucky to avoid a second yellow card, before Arteta stepped up and stroked the penalty past Myhill just as he had done in the first half, high and in the centre of the goal.
Now Arsenal had that two-goal cushion, and West Brom looked deflated. Arsenal were soon appealing for a third penalty after a Wilshere cross was blocked, although Albion looked to have a better claim after a poor piece of defending from Mertesacker.
By now Wenger had replaced Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gervinho with Francis Coquelin and Tomas Rosicky, and Arsenal attempted to play out the game but were never entirely convincing in doing so.
Lukas Podolski replaced Cazorla for the final five minutes and had a glorious chance to grab a goal for himself but, after being teed up by Wilshere, blasted a shot wastefully over the bar. For once, Arsenal fans could afford to laugh at a late miss rather than curse it.
Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Wilshere, Arteta, Cazorla (Podolski, 86), Oxlade-Chamberlain (Coquelin, 76), Gervinho (Rosicky, 79), Giroud.
Subs not used: Martinez, Ramsey, Squillaci, Jenkinson.
Booked: Mertesacker, Giroud.
West Brom: Myhill, Reid, Olsson, McAuley, Ridgewell (Popov, 5), Brunt, Morrison, Mulumbu, Gera (Rosenberg, 75), Odemwingie (Lukaku, 61), Long.
Subs not used: Daniels, Dorrans, Tamas, Fortune.
Booked: Olsson, Brunt, Reid.
Referee: Mike Jones