Tony Pulis’ West Brom outclass Arsenal 3-1
- Credit: PA Wire/PA Images
Tony Pulis’ West Brom outclassed Arsenal 3-1 at a raucous Hawthorns this lunchtime as Arsene Wenger’s team simply had no answer to the Baggies powerful movement and passing.
Two goals from defender Craig Dawson and one from substitute Hal Robson-Kanu two minutes after he came on saw the Gunners’ outplayed.
Alexis Sanchez may have pulled Dawson’s first goal back but Wenger’s team were blown away by the effectiveness of a very impressive West Brom team – as the away fans called for the long-serving Frenchman to leave the club.
Nacho Monreal started in place of Kieran Gibbs at left back. £25m midfielder Granit Xhaka, despite boss Wenger admitting he has a problem with his technique when tackling also started.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain shrugged off a knock to make the starting line-up, with Danny Welbeck starting in place of Olivier Giroud from last time out against Lincoln City in their 5-0 drubbing of Lincoln City in the FA Cup quarter final.
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West Brom started with Salomon Rondon in place of Welsh Euro 2016 Euro hero Hal Robson-Kanu after the Baggies drew a blank in their last two defeats against Crystal Palace and Everton.
With the word that anti-Wenger banner flypast was cancelled due to, appropriately enough, too much wind – the infamous airborne protest did eventually take place just before kick off.
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Even if the rousing choral music at the grand old Hawthorns and the anticipation of nothing more self-serving than the old fashioned virtue of watching an important Premier League match – shock horror - distracted many in the crowd from even noticing it, the scene was set for Arsenal to launch their annual spring challenge for the top four trophy.
Yet it was Pulis’ West Brom who nearly scored early on after the physically imposing Salomon Rondon powered through Arsenal’s right flank - before being caught in two minds between squaring the ball for inrushing colleagues or firing across Petr Cech’s goal, and the chance was lost.
James McLean then burst through the same channel on 11 minutes firing a powerful shot at Cech, who managed to parry the near post shot for a corner.
However, the danger was far from over as 27-year-old former Wigan man McLean’s subsequent inswinger saw Craig Dawson power the ball past a hesitant Arsenal defence.
The home fans were still hailing the former Radcliffe Borough 26-year-old defender when the ball broke free for Alexis Sanchez in the home box moments later. With quick feet he found space and fired the ball past former England keeper Ben Foster and into the roof of the net to level the scores at 1-1, capping a hectic first 15 minutes – on the pitch and in the air.
It was instructive to note that Xhaka was the man who played a well crafted left footed pass into the box that Sanchez initially took on his chest. It was a joy to watch his skills allied with a nous honed in the dusty streets of his home town Tocopila rather than a shiny academy. The wily Chilean simply allowed the ball to bounce – thereby sending Dawson the wrong way – as the space opened up for him to score.
It was a glorious moment of football. The fleeting joy that makes people travel 100 miles on the motorway in the hope of such a second of happiness. And far more satisfying than pre-match arguments about the manager. And aircraft for that matter.
Yet, on the half hour mark goalscorer Dawson won the ball from Ramsey and played a clever line pass along to former Spurs man Nacer Chadli who drove on before releasing the powerful Rondon who fired across Cech’s goal.
It was a fast-flowing move which typifies Pulis’ Baggies side that has eased to eight place. Of course they can play it long, but there is far more to them then that lazy headline. Exceptional passing and moving if their first half display is anything to go by.
They could and should have gone 2-1 up Ferguson fired a powerful angled shot across Cech, put the experience stopper palmed it away for a corner.
The busy Cech appeared to overreach himself in his dive and had to hobble off moments later, albeit to a generous round of applause from fair-minded home fans at this grand old ground.
Cup specialist David Ospina came on for his first league match of the season as referee Neil. Swarbrick blew for half time minutes later to put an end to a frenetic opening 45 minutes.
Five minutes after the restart a tenacious West Brom move which commenced after winning the ball from Arsenal in their own half saw Rondon narrowly head wide from a move that used to be primarily associated with Arsenal.
Namely a powerful, athletic counter finished with finesse – albeit not in the Thierry Henry league after winning the ball through no-nonsense challenges.
Or for the pairing of Petit and Vieira.
Five minutes later, West Brom were deservedly 2-1 up with a goal by substitute Hal Robson-Kanu – who had been on the pitch all of 120 seconds after the replacing the hamstrung Rondon.
Credit to the Welsh – and West Brom – hero for slotting home. But the mix-up between Opsina and his right back Bellerin was appallingly inept. And nowhere near as brave as they had to be. Skodran Mustafi was also culpable – not so much for his last ditch effort that failed to block Robson-Kanu, but more because the centre of the box is his area. And the ghost of Tony Adams ‘Thou Shalt Not Pass’ was absent.
What would the legendary Arsenal defender would have made of the defending? The mind boggles.
Olivier Giroud came on for a disappointing Walcott on 64 minutes as Arsenal went more direct. It nearly paid off as seconds later Welbeck thudded against the bar from a high ball into a busy box.
Surely the world has gone mad when Wenger’s Arsenal resort to a reliance on aerial football while Pulis’ West Brom play some silky but powerful stuff on the deck?
They should have made it three when Ospina block Robson-Kanu with Brunt’s subsequent shot flying over the bar.
With 16 minutes remaining West Brom went 3-1 up after a second from Dawson, again with a header in a crowded box.
As the game drew to a close the realisation was that this tepid performance was simply not good enough from Arsenal even if huge credit has to go to Pulis’ Baggies – who may be chasing Wenger’s men for a Europa League spot at this rate.
Foster, Nyom, Evans, Livermore, Rondon (Robson-Kanu), Brunt, McClean, Chadli (Field), McAuley, Fletcher, Dawson
Cech (Ospina), Koscienly, Sanchez (Iwobi), Ramsey, Walcott (Giroud), Oxlade-Chamberlain, Monreal, Mustafi, Welbeck, Bellerin, Xhaka,