Arsenal battled to a 2-0 win over West Brom at the Emirates as they got their title challenge back on track. With two defeats to go with two wins and a draw, it was vital for Arsene Wenger’s side to claim all three points, and they did just that. West Brom, on the other hand, were consigned to their second defeat of the campaign which sees them stay in 12th place.
Both goals were scored by Arsenal’s record-signing Alexandre Lacazette as the Frenchman plundered his first brace in front of the home fans. West Brom were not able to offer much in attack as they struggled to get the ball off Arsenal, something that Tony Pulis could not change despite a number of substitutions and a change in formation.
Here are the five things we learned from tonight’s encounter:
Chelsea aren’t the only London side with a clinical forward
Arsenal’s London rivals Chelsea were indebted to new forward Alvaro Morata against Stoke as the Spanish striker hit a hat-trick on Saturday. While he was the talk of the town at the weekend, Gunner’s forward Alexandre Lacazette is an equally talented player.
Against a stubborn West Brom defence, Lacaztte was presented with two chances, and he took them. First, he headed home after Alexis Sanchez’s free-kick struck the bar showing his opportunism, while his second was a classic display of a clinical striker. The Frenchman sent his penalty to Ben Foster’s left with the goalkeeper guessing right, but such was the precision of the strike that the English goalkeeper got nowhere near the ball.
While Lacazette was denied the chance to bag his first hat-trick in English football, he was the match-winner and he is already forging a real status as a fan favourite. With Arsenal crying out for a world class striker since Robin van Persie left for Manchester United in 2012, Lacazette is quickly proving just how important having a dead-eyed striker is.
Ramsey thrives in an advanced role
It was no secret that the partnership between Aaron Ramsey and Granit Xhaka does not work. The pair are not good enough defensively as individuals or as a duo, and they were exploited for this in Arsenal’s 4-0 loss to Liverpool a few weeks ago. Their inability to keep the ball under pressure was compounded by a lack of intelligence in dictating play, and this saw Arsenal’s midfield become non-existent as they were overrun by a classy Liverpool.
Against West Brom though, they were far better. The Baggies are a very defensively sound and physical team that have caused Arsenal and many other top sides problems in the past. However, Arsene Wenger perfectly honed his tactics on Monday as the Gunners brushed their opponents aside. One such tactical change was putting Aaron Ramsey in a centre-attacking position. The Welshman, often criticised for going missing in games, was at his creative best as he passed, dribbled and jinked in behind the West Brom defence.
He partnered Alexis Sanchez behind Lacazette and Arsenal looked very good as they cut the usually so strict West Brom defence apart. While Ramsey clearly does not have a place in defensive-midfield, he does have a future in a more attacking role for the Gunners as he displayed against the Baggies.
Arsene Wenger can win those tough games
Arsenal are a team that play attractive football, there is no doubt about that. When they are at their best, they cut teams to ribbons with slick passing, intelligent running and audacious ideas. When they are at their worst, they are awful. Their passes go astray, they are toothless in attack, flimsy in defence, and the player’s heads go down too easily. It is often their matches against sides that set up to defend and frustrate Arsenal with a physical game that prove the toughest for the Gunners to break down.
Indeed, they are a classic example of a side that wants the opposition to come out and chase the ball, thus opening up space behind to exploit. However, West Brom are contented with sitting deep and looking to counter-attack Arsenal while committing very few men forward. This, historically, has given Arsenal a lot of problems and, when passes begin to miss their mark, the players try to do too much individually, giving the opposition the chance to hit the Gunners hard.
It is therefore vital that Wenger learns how to get his Arsenal team to break down the opposition, no matter how stubborn they are. Their win over West Brom was the first step then, with the Baggies a very organised defensive unit, and one that has given problems to the most creative of players in the past.
While it was only a small step for Wenger, it was a forward one nonetheless.
West Brom are still some way short of the top six
Tony Pulis has been building for some time with West Brom and, with some astute signings this summer, it seemed as though they were on the cusp of gnawing at the ankles of the Premier League’s top six. With a defensive style of play that is organised and intelligent to back up an attack that can be very good, Pulis and the fans have reason to be optimistic for the season to come.
However, their loss to Arsenal displays that they are still some way short of their London opponents and the other five ‘big boys’. West Brom recorded just 31% possession on the night along with seven shots, of which three were on target. By comparison, Arsenal enjoyed 69% possession to go with 16 shots and six on target. While it is no shame to get dominated by Arsenal at the Emirates, they were not able to offer as much as Pulis would have wanted, which was compounded by their inability to take some glaring opportunities. This included a chance which Nacho Monreal cleared off the line. Ultimately, if the Baggies had scored to make it 1-1, then things could have been very different.
Controversial call costs Baggies
West Brom could have taken the lead in the first-half and were left to lament what might have been had Robert Madley awarded them a penalty. Shkodran Mustafi seemed to trip Jay Rodriguez in the box but the referee waved the claims away. While it was not given, it did seem as though they had a case.
Had the Baggies been awarded the spot kick, then it would have given the away side the chance to take the lead early on. It would have then enabled Pulis’ side to drop deeper and actually defend something, which would have given West Brom renewed vigour and belief throughout the game.
As it was, West Brom were denied a penalty and they went on to lose the game. While they will be frustrated by the decision, they were outplayed by Arsenal on the night, and the hosts were worthy winners.
Arsenal: Cech 8 – Bellerin 8, Koscielny 6, Mustafi 7, Monreal 9, Kolasinac 8 – Xhaka 7, Elneny 8 – Ramsey 8 (Maitland-Niles N/A), Sanchez 8 (Ozil 6) – Lacazette 8.5 (Giroud 6).
Unused subs: Ospina, Mertesacker, Wilshere, Walcott.
West Brom: Foster 7 – Nyom 6 (Phillips 6), Dawson 6, Evans 7, Hegazi 6, Gibbs 7 – Livermore 6 (Morrison 6), Barry 6, Krychowiak 6.5 – Rodrigues 6, Robson-Kanu 5 (Rondon 5)
Unused subs: Myhill, Yacob, Brunt, McClean.
Referee: Robert Madley
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