Arsenal ease to 2-0 victory over West Brom as Sanchez nets double in front of large number of empty seats
- Credit: Arsenal FC via Getty Images
An Alexis Sanchez double strike saw Arsenal easily beat West Bromwich Albion 2-0 here at The Emirates tonight.
The lively Chilean – nearly back to his best again after a spell in which in struggled to find his top form – scored in the sixth minute with a low strike which beat Baggies keeper Ben Foster from outside the box.
He then increased the lead on 37 minutes after a well-worked free kick – which surely owed its origins to the training ground – that saw him fire through space in the visitor’s wall created by Olivier Giroud and Per Mertescaker.
It was no more than the home team deserved as they triumphed in front of a large number of empty seats – left empty by apathy rather than a boycott by the club’s frustrated supporters it has to be said.
Arsenal followed up their disappointing 1-1 home draw with Crystal Palace on Sunday by bringing in Per Mertescaker for Gabriel, Olivier Giroud for Danny Welbeck and Aaron Ramsey for Francis Coquelin as they looked for three points tonight at The Emirates.
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The visitors from the Midlands – reputed to have sold only 900 tickets for the fixture – kept faith with Saido Berahinho despite his two penalty misses against Watford at the weekend.
Such is the fluid nature of football the Gunners required maximum points more to stave off the late challenge of Manchester United for the ‘glory’ of fourth spot – rather than a trio to supplement a supposed title challenge – which as many believe stalled after the dispiriting defeats by Manchester United and Swansea in the space of four days in late February and early March.
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The pre-match talk by supporters was of boycotts and protests. But in reality it may the apathy by many who may issue a sea-change in the concrete belief the board have of Wenger.
For if the thousands of empty seats are any indication – despite the club not officially announcing the attendance – hitting this giant in the pocket is the only way to effect change.
On April 26 1986 a ‘played-out’ Arsenal team took on an already relegated West Brom side in front of the poorest crowd for a Highbury league game since the all-time low of 4,554 against Leeds United two months before England lifted the World Cup.
The long-suffering fans had had enough of their 80s underachievers and actually sat down on the famed North Bank terraces – long before the first seats were bolted on. The team looked listless and rudderless and there was a general malaise only alleviated by the final whistle of the season after an embarrassing thumping at Maine Road by Manchester City. .
A month later the board appointed an unheralded but young, hungry manager called George Graham, and the rest they say is history.
Who knows what will happen in the coming weeks – certainly if the apathy – or ‘crapathy’ – as some wags are calling it continues. For the bottom line is what matters to American businessmen these days at Arsenal. And if the club fails to qualify for the Champions League gravy train who knows what ‘Silent’ Stan Kroenke would do?
As for tonight Arsenal started with a goal on seven minutes with a low shot from Alexis Sanchez. The Chilean who is gradually returning to the form he consistently showed before his hamstring injury curtailed his season in November spun former Spurs player Sandro on the edge of the area before shooting low past Foster.
The goal had similarities with Yannick Bolasie’s daisy-cutter that crept past Cech on Sunday. Except that when the ball ended up past the equally-evading dive of Ben Foster the majority of the stadium – apart from the many thousands who came dressed as empty red seats – erupted with joy.
Moments later Ramsey fired a shot wide after Giroud had a shot blocked by a desperate Baggies backline.
There followed a period where both sides struggled to find their rhythm. Despite neat interchanges the Gunners forwards were thwarted by what appeared to be a three-man defensive shield in front of a no-nonsense back four.
Perhaps someone should have explained to Tony Pulis his team were safe and even an illusory attempt at a little attacking would have been fun.
But equally, the baseball-cap and tracksuit wearing former Stoke City manager could justifiably point out his only concern was to serve his own fans – who looked satisfied enough. All 900 of them.
On 23 minutes Hector Bellerin, fresh from being included in the PFA team of the season, fired a shot just past Foster’s near post. Despite the miss the accolade was fully deserved on the basis of his marauding runs all term allied with his growing defensive maturity and sensible positioning.
The Baggies nearly equalised just before the half hour when a header by Ulsterman Gareth McAuley bounced off the bar. Yet again questions have to be asked of the fact he was allowed to direct the ball towards Cech’s goal with little hindrance.
Five minutes later Elneny fired over after Mesut Ozil’s shot trickled through Foster’s legs but was cleared off the line. Ozil looked exasperated – perhaps for the second time today after hearing, unlike his young Spanish colleague he hadn’t made it into the PFA team of the year.
With eight minutes until half-time Sanchez doubled the aggregate and his goals for the night in making it 2-0 with a well worked free kick on the edge of the area, following a twisting run by Ramsey that was halted.
It was nice to see a training ground move conducted to perfection in a match situation. Giroud and Mertesacker - who had infiltrated a five man wall – split into different directions creating the space required for the Chilean’s shot to fire into – and past a bemused Foster.
The half time talk was of a possible walk-out later in the game. With the loyal and long-suffering home supporters content with a comfortable two goal cushion would it happen – in real life rather than irate 140 character promises on twitter?
No was the resounding answer. Even if ‘that’ Stan Kroenke song was sung by many fans towards the end of the game.
The second period started in much the same vein as the first as Arsenal dominated without hurting West Brom as Iwobi and Sanchez looked particularly lively on a cold night in North London.
A twisting, jinxing run by the increasingly impressive Iwobi saw him end up on the floor in the box. All eyes immediately fixed onto referee Jon Moss – the official who gave two penalties in the absorbing match between Leicester City and West Ham over the weekend. Much to the crowd’s disappointment the official – perhaps sated by his Sunday splurge – declined to point to the spot.
Moments later Elneny appeared to be felled in the area. However Moss made the right call as there was no contact by any West Brom players on the Egyptian.
Which begged the question – shouldn’t have the former Basle player been booked for simulation – just as the Foxes Jamie Vardy was on Saturday?
A decision which could have a huge impact on whether the title goes to the East Midlands or North London. The pity of it for Arsenal was that for the first time since 1961 – if you discount a faded challenge in 1985 – was it was the Lillywhite end of the Seven Sisters Road which was in the frame.
Sanchez and Ozil certainly deserved their ovation on being subbed late on with the game already won. The German’s replacement wasted no time in nearly finding the net after he fired a low shot narrowly past Foster’s far post.
As the game petered out the home team showed more of their intricate passing which invariably fails to break down stubborn defences. Arsenal fans filed away, more concerned as they were with what the future holds than anything a predictably defensive minded West Brom could threaten them with.
And so the stasis continues – apparently too good to drop out of the top four – but tellingly not good enough to challenge for the title.
Cech, Mertesacker (c), Koscielny, Ozil (Campbell), Giroud, Ramsey, Sanchez Walcott), Monreal, Bellerin, Elneny, Iwobi (Coquelin),
West Bromwich Albion
Foster, Chester, Yacob, Evans, McClean (Gardner) , Berahino, McAuley, Fletcher (c), Dawson, Sessegnon, Sandro