Result: Arsenal 3-1 West Bromwich Albion
Competition: Premier League
Date: 9 May 2021
Venue: Emirates Stadium
Arsenal: Leno, Chambers, Holding, Gabriel, Saka, Ceballos, Elneny, Pepe, Willian, Smith Rowe, Martinelli
Subs: Runarsson, Bellerin, Tierney, Cedric, Partey, Odegaard, Lacazette, Aubameyang, Nketiah
Goals from Emile Smith Rowe, Nicolas Pepe and Willian helped Arsenal to a 3-1 win against West Bromwich Albion which relegates Sam Allardyce’s side to the Championship.
Having been in a comfortable position at the break thanks to Smith Rowe’s close-range volley and Pepe’s rocket, the Gunners struggled to maintain the momentum in the second half and were pegged back by Matheus Pereira’s fine solo effort.
As the visitors went in search of an equaliser, Willian made sure of the points late on with a well-taken free-kick.
Mikel Arteta made six changes from the side that grossly underperformed on Thursday. In defence, Calum Chambers replaced Hector Bellerin, Gabriel took over from the injured Pablo Mari to partner Rob Holding and Bukayo Saka, in the absence of the injured Granit Xhaka, started at left-back. Dani Ceballos and Mo Elneny anchored the midfield with Nicolas Pepe, Willian and Emile Smith Rowe ahead of them. Gabriel Martinelli led the attack.
Having been reticent to field Bukayo Saka at left-back in recent weeks, Mikel Arteta was given an untimely reminder of what he’s been missing. The youngster produced a 45-minute masterclass with his jinking runs on and off the ball that pretty much had West Brom pegged back from the get-go.
As early as the 6th minute, the 19-year-old was played into space behind his marker Furlong and zipped a ball across the box that found Chambers who tried his luck. While nothing came of the chance, it was a tactic we persisted with on repeat. 10 minutes later, Saka twice more got to the byline. On the first occasion, his cross escaped everyone in red. On the second, he was denied a shot on goal by a last-ditch challenge.
Eventually, his persistence was rewarded. After a prolonged period of possession that saw us work the ball back and forth across the pitch, we finally picked the lock. Willian slipped in Saka and the left-back picked out Smith Rowe who volleyed home on the run with his left foot. It was his first Premier League goal and he knew exactly who to thank; his fellow Hale End buddy. (1-0)
We didn’t have to wait too long for a second. Having worked through the West Brom press on the edge of our box, Chambers gave the ball to Pepe on the right flank. The Ivorian drove inside onto his left foot and lashed into the top corner. It was a reminder that simple football can be the most effective. (2-0)
West Brom did have chances of their own. Early on, Matheus Pereira threatened with two rasping drives and Callum Robinson clipped the bar before being flagged offside.
Saka had a chance to add a third before the break. Played in on goal by Willian, he tried to beat Sam Johnstone at his near post but the keeper was equal to the effort.
Pepe and Smith Rowe both forced Johnstone into saves in the opening stages of the second period as we looked to kill off the game.
At the other end, Leno made a smart stop to tip over a corner that looked like it was going to find the net. When he claimed the next, he quickly sprung a counter-attack that ended with Ceballos playing in Saka and Smith Rowe and Martinelli both missing the full-back’s teasing cross. They were replaced by Lacazette and Tierney and we quickly lost our rhythm.
The Baggies reduced the deficit on 67 minutes when Pereira took matters into his own hands. The Brazilian picked up the ball deep in his own half, accelerated away from Ceballos with comical ease and with three of our defence back-peddling, picked out the bottom corner with a low drive that gave Leno no chance. (2-1)
Furlong had a chance to draw the visitors level when he climbed in the box to meet Hal Robson-Kanu’s cross. Leno was relieved to see the effort flash wide.
Aside from a Chambers effort that bounced over, the visitors continued to have the better of things in the closing stages. We weren’t exactly holding on for dear life, but not were we comfortable. The game was tight and almost completely devoid of quality. That was until the final minute when Willian converted a fine free-kick from 25-yards. It was his first goal since signing last summer and a classic case of too little too late. (3-1)
After a terrible week for the club, light relief was provided by the sight of Sam Allardyce digesting the first top flight relegation of his career. You have to take your wins where you can get them.