With two wins-in-a-row coming into the match, one could forgive a certain amount of smugness from Arsenal fans. Having endured a winless league run for over a month, consisting of home defeats and toothless draws, a return to form has been celebrated as if it were a trophy.
Arsenal’s record against Sam Allardyce is not as prolific as the club would probably want, but his West Brom side (recently taken over by the former England manager in the wake of Slaven Bilić’s departure) has been resolutely at the bottom of the league since the start of the season.
Mikel Arteta made two changes to the side that narrowly beat Brighton & Hove Albion, with Gabriel Martinelli and Mohamed Elneny both dropping to the bench in favour of Alexandre Lacazette and Mohamed Elneny respectively.
The game started off fairly well, Arsenal were mainly camped out in West Brom’s half, with most of Arsenal’s more devastating attacks coming through youngster Bukayo Saka. However, it was West Brom who had the game’s best chance, with a quick break, resulting in a powerful, but somewhat tame effort from Matt Phillips, which was easily stopped by Bernd Leno.
Soon Arsenal began to put the squeeze on West Brom and soon the unlikely form of Kieran Tierney cropped up, knocking the ball round the defender, he then chopped inside before letting rip a stupendous effort with his right foot into the far corner to grab only his second-ever Arsenal goal and the game’s opener.
It didn’t stop there though, soon Arsenal began to grow in confidence and some wonderfully intricate passing play, reminiscent of Arsène Wenger’s sides at their pomp, Arsenal pulled off a spectacular team move with Héctor Bellerín, Emile Smith Rowe and Alexandre Lacazette combining well, only for Smith Rowe to unselfishly pick out Bukayo Saka in the middle of the six-yard box and the England teenager slotted home the Gunners’ second.
The second-half was much the same by way of one-way-traffic as the snow began to fall with more intensity. Though West Brom did have the ball in the back of the net, it was ruled out for offside.
Arsenal began to pile on the misery with further attacks and soon enough they had a third. A somewhat bizarre goal, which saw former Gunner Semi Ajayi slam the ball against his own post, only to then be hit in the midriff from a powerful shot from Smith Rowe and then Lacazette to turn in the subsequent rebound. It wasn’t pretty, but it was three.
A fourth followed shortly afterwards with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Tierney linking up well down the left-hand side and Lacazette to fire the ball home for the final goal of the game. Allardyce looked grateful to see the final-whistle some thirty minutes-or-so later.
It was a consummate performance from Mikel Arteta’s side, not least aided by the team’s Hale End graduates. Both Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe were dangers throughout the night, collecting the ball from deep and running, but also from the intricacy of their passes and the vision both players exhibited.
Arsenal’s recent upsurge in form is down in no small part to the contribution of the two youngsters, who have been at the heart of every good Arsenal attack since the team’s 3-1 win over Chelsea on Boxing Day.
Another standout performer in the team is fan-favourite Kieran Tierney. Though Tierney’s main praise from the press will likely be for his Roberto Carlos-esque finish, the Scotland international has been one of the bright sparks in a very turbulent season for Arteta. The left-back has been dependable, excellent from crosses and brings as much to the defensive side of the game as he does to the attacking.
Arsenal have lacked a real defensive and attacking full-back since the days of Ashley Cole and though Nacho Monreal and Kieran Gibbs picked up the slack very well in the wake of Cole’s controversial departure, it is Tierney who has impressed the most.
Alexandre Lacazette’s performance must also not go unnoticed. The Frenchman continues his rich vein of form with four goals in his last three matches for Arsenal, but it seemed as though everything clicked for the former Lyon man against West Brom. He was able to drop deep to collect the ball, but also push further up, a balance that he has struggled to find in recent seasons. His performance was similar to Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino, who plays in the patented “False-Nine” role for Jürgen Klopp’s side and seems to be a much better fit for the striker who so far is proving to be a valuable asset to the team, especially with Smith Rowe’s build-up play.
Elsewhere, it was a better performance from captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but the Gabonese striker is still struggling for goals and his body language towards the end cut a frustrated and dishevelled figure. Though he looked happy to see his teammates playing arguably their best football this season, it was difficult for him not to hide his contempt as he struggled to score once more.
Arsenal are by no means “back”. Smile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka may have brought an element of danger that was not present before, but that does not change Arsenal’s need to find a creative element in January and nor should it distract them from their defence of the FA Cup, which begins at home against Newcastle United next Saturday.
1.) Bernd Leno
2.) Héctor Bellerín (Maitland-Niles 54’)
16.) Rob Holding
22.) Pablo Marí
3.) Kieran Tierney
8.) Dani Ceballos
34.) Granit Xhaka
7.) Bukayo Saka (Willian 71’)
32.) Emile Smith Rowe (Willock 77’)
14.) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (c)
9.) Alexandre Lacazette
13.) Rúnar Alex Rúnarsson
23.) David Luiz
15.) Ainsley Maitland-Niles
28.) Joe Willock
25.) Mohamed Elneny
19.) Nicolas Pépé
35.) Gabriel Martinelli
30.) Eddie Nketiah
West Bromwich Albion team:
1.) Sam Johnstone
2.) Darnell Furlong
6.) Semi Ajayi
20.) Branislav Ivanović (Bartley 66’)
27.) Dara O’Shea
10.) Matt Phillips (Harper 81’)
19.) Romaine Sawyers
18.) Conor Gallagher
11.) Grady Diangaga (Austin 45’)
12.) Matheus Pereira
7.) Callum Robinson
West Bromwich Albion subs:
25.) David Button
5.) Kyle Bartley
22.) Lee Peltier
3.) Kieran Gibbs
13.) Kamil Grosicki
17.) Filip Krovinović
16.) Rekeem Harper
58.) Cheikh Sidya Diaby
15.) Charlie Austin