Premier League: West Brom 1 Arsenal 1
PUBLISHED: 18:28 31 December 2017
PA Wire/PA Images
Arsene Wenger’s record-breaking night ended in extreme frustration as a late penalty gifted West Brom a point at The Hawthorns.
Alexis Sanchez put the Gunners ahead with only seven minutes remaining in the final match of 2017, as Wenger took charge of his 811th Premier League match to surpass Alex Ferguson.
But the hosts were awarded a spot-kick soon after when Kieran Gibbs saw a cross hit the arm of Calum Chambers and Jay Rodriguez converted from 12 yards.
Arsenal wore red shorts with their red shirts for the first time since 1978, but were without the injured Mesut Ozil due to a knee problem, with Alex Iwobi coming into the starting line-up.
And in driving rain it was the home side – 3-1 winners of the corresponding fixture last season – who had the first sight of goal as Rodriguez got up well to meet a right-wing cross from Matt Phillips, but his downward header was comfortably saved by Petr Cech.
The veteran keeper then flapped at Chris Brunt’s high ball into the box moments later and was left grimmacing, before Alexandre Lacazette saw a shot deflected behind at the other end from Hector Bellerin’s lay-off.
Shkodran Mustafi suffered a blow to the head during an aerial challenge with Craig Dawson, as the hosts looked to make use of a corner, but the Gunners had a good chance on 16 minutes when Sanchez teased the ball to Iwobi and his shot on the turn just cleared the crossbar.
The Baggies grew in confidence as the first half wore on, with Mustafi penalised for a challenge on Hal Robson-Kanu just outside the box, but Brunt, making his club record 254th Premier League appearance for the hosts, fired the free-kick over the crossbar.
Arsenal countered as Bellerin’s clearance found Sanchez on the left, with Lacazette and Iwobi taking the ball on for Xhaka to send a low drive towards Ben Foster.
And Iwobi’s left-footed drive was clawed around the post by Foster on the half-hour mark, before the Arsenal youngster was fouled by Jonny Evans, who received the first booking of the night.
The visitors were forced into a change before half-time, as Sead Kolasinac limped off to be replaced by academy graduate Ainsley Maitland-Niles, who was beaten early on by Phillips, but saw a shot by Gibbs, from his low cross, blocked.
It was a long way from a classic first half performance from the Gunners, who had looked so much livelier in the opening 45 minutes of their match against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park on Thursday.
But they were awarded a free-kick in a central position, just outside the box, when Lacazette was fouled by Dawson soon after the restart, which Sanchez fired into West Brom’s defensive wall.
The game remained disjointed, with West Brom proving difficult to break down as Arsenal laboured over their passes through midfield.
And Mustafi was booked for a late tackle on Robson-Kanu, in a wide position, with Brunt whipping in a free-kick which Cech punched emphatically clear.
Then, on the hour, Lacazette swapped passes with Iwobi on the edge of the box and saw a well-struck, left-footed drive saved by the legs of Foster, to give some hope to the travelling Gunners at The Hawthorns.
And the Frenchman got a toe on a pass from Sanchez, but saw the ball pass the outside of the near post under pressure from Evans, before Sanchez dragged a shot into the side netting.
Arsenal began to dominate possession once more midway through the second half, but the hosts remained disciplined in defence, with Sanchez having a shot blocked after a lay-off from Lacazette.
Iwobi then tried a speculative effort from 30 yards, following a careless West Brom pass, which Foster gathered on the bounce, before making way for Danny Welbeck, minutes after Per Mertesacker had replaced Laurent Koscielny.
But the Gunners had a let-off when Rodriguez was allowed to advance towards the box and let fly, with Cech parrying the attempt and seeing James McLean’s follow-up blocked by Hector Bellerin.
The Spanish wing-back then picked out Sanchez with a good pass in from the right, with the Chilean fouled by Dawson, who received a yellow card.
And Sanchez fired the free-kick through the wall, off McLean and past Foster to make the breakthrough with seven minutes remaining, with all but Cech joining in the celebrations this time.
The joy was shortlived, though, as Gibbs saw an attempted cross from the left hit the arm of Calum Chambers and referee Mike Dean pointed to the spot, with Rodriguez sliding the penalty past Cech to level.
Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville felt the decision was extremely harsh in commentary and Wilshere was booked for dissent, while word also came through that Arsenal’s goal had been credited to McLean, not Sanchez.
Wenger was spoken to by Dean as four minutes of stoppage time began, with Lacazette denied by Foster at the far post, from Mustafi’s deep cross, as disgruntled Arsenal sought a last-gasp winner, and Sanchez pulling another 20-yard effort well wide.
And there was a yellow card for Cech, stuck on 199 clean sheets in the Premier League, as Arsenal players surrounded Dean to vent their fury after the final whistle.
Arsenal: Cech; Chambers, Koscielny (Mertesacker 72), Mustafi; Bellerin, Xhaka, Wilshere, Kolasinac (Maitland-Niles 37); Iwobi (Welbeck 74), Sanchez, Lacazette. Unused subs: Ospina, Walcott, Coquelin, Elneny.
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