Could Arsenal lift the mood and keep their slim hopes of European qualification alive?
And return Allardyce’s words about Arsenal being fellow relegation strugglers earlier in the season back with interest.
This was a bit of a microcosm of Arsenal’s season – touches of brilliance laced with a lack of consistency. They lost direction after 65 minutes following an impressive Pereira goal and were hanging on against the second bottom side until brilliance in the form of a Willian free kick got them out of a jam late on.
Arsenal made six changes. Gabriel came in, Saka was at left back and Chambers on the right, Ceballos, Smith Rowe and Elneny were in midfield with Martinelli flanked by Pepe and Willian up front.
West Brom started directly. Ex-Arsenal players Ajayi and Bartley sent long balls into the channels behind the Arsenal backs when they were forward. Neymar lookalike Pereira cut in and fired a bender, just wide. And then ran down the right and hit a piledriver – wide. Not a bad option to join the Arsenal Brazilians. Then Diagne was a toe away from touching his cross. But Arsenal survived the storm.
At times they went to a back three leaving overlaps on the left – with Saka the weapon. It begged the question why he wasn’t played there in previous games instead of Tierney.
Ceballos set Saka away and the cross found its way to an unmarked Pepe. A reasonable striker would have hammered it home. But Pepe skied it over the bar. Then he cut in and crossed hard – but no-one was running in. Soon after Furlong tackled him in the area as he was about to pull the trigger.
Third time lucky and some intricate passing saw Saka making a good run off the ball and crossing for Smith Rowe to hammer it home for his first Premier League goal.
Chambers found Pepe near the Albion area. He stepped inside and sent a shot arrowing into the opposite corner of the net.
Pepe had another golden chance – unmarked in the area – but he hit it straight at Johnstone. An easier chance than the one he scored from. The epitome of consistent inconsistency.
An Arsenal break saw Saka send a brilliant ball across the area – and Martinelli and Smith Rowe diving in couldn’t connect. And another three crosses went begging. And it looked to cost them. Where’s the killer instinct of this team?
Then Pereira ran three quarters of the length of the pitch, beat the retreating Arsenal defence and fired into the corner of the net. It kick-started Albion. With Diangana and Robson-Kanu as subs. Furlong just missed the corner of the net with a header.
It was enough to make Arteta swap Ceballos for Partey.
Willian was fouled by Bartley near the end, and he took the free kick curling into the corner. First goal for Arsenal at the 37th attempt.
Allardyce said: “We took the game to them because we had to. We had the opportunity but failed to find the right ball. We had five minutes of sloppiness and Arsenal showed their finishing quality which we didn’t have. We came out fighting in the second half. We didn’t find the right opportunities in the final third. They took their goals very well. The second and third were brilliant.”
Mikel Arteta said: “We needed the win – it has been a while at home. Three fantastic goals. There were some brilliant spells, and we could have scored more. When we conceded we were nervy. Then they went man to man and throw everything at you. We got some control with Thomas on the pitch.
“Europe is a different game. You need a bit of luck. Things we could have done better.
On consistency: “We have to demand more to reach standards.”
Arsenal: 1Leno,21Chambers, 16Holding, 6Gabriel, 7Saka, 25Elneny, 8Ceballos (Booked at 70mins, Substituted for Partey at 76’minutes), 12Willian, 32Smith Rowe (Substituted for Tierney at 63’minutes), 19Pépé, 35Martinelli (Substituted for Lacazette at 60’minutes)
West Brom: 1Johnstone, 2Furlong, 6Ajayi, 5Bartley, 14Townsend, 7Robinson (Substituted for Diangana at 68’minutes), 35Yokuslu, 10Phillips, 12Costa Pereira, 18Gallagher (Booked at 76mins),17Diagne (Substituted for Robson-Kanu at 56’minutes, Booked at 62mins)