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Arsenal start 2021 with rout at West Brom

Gunners win third league match in a row

02 January, 2021 — By Richard Osley

FA Premier League
ARSENAL 4 (Tierney 23, Saka 28, Lacazette 60, 64)

A FEW weeks ago, new West Bromwich Albion manager Sam Allardyce described Arsenal as being among his team’s relegation rivals.

Over the years, he has often been successful in needling the Gunners, particularly during his time at Bolton Wanderers, but tonight his repartee looked slightly embarrassing.

If Arsenal are to go down, then it won’t be due to finishing below the Baggies, who were given a comprehensive thumping at a snowy Hawthorns.

Allardyce will be acutely aware that they already looked like they were in different in divisions.

That’s not to say Arsenal’s problems are all behind them but this third consecutive league victory has lifted them to within sight of the top half of the table. Better still, manager Mikel Arteta was once again handed an illustration of why he may have finally stumbled across better team selections and tactics.

Truth is, Arsenal look stronger without Willian, the summer acquisition currently joining a list of underwhelming signings from Chelsea, Nicolas Pepe – the club’s most expensive transfer and Eddie Nketiah, a striker whose minutes on the pitch have not translated into goals.

Joe Willock has also fallen behind Emile Smith Rowe in the order and a difference in quality shows. It was Smith Rowe and the brilliant Bukayo Saka who pulled the strings here once more, skidding quick passes through the blizzard conditions in patterns that were too mesmerising for their hosts.

Another talent, the left back Kieran Tierney, has been plugging away earnestly during Arsenal’s poor form and is now also looking like a key component to any revival.

He loved his evening’s work against Albion’s scattered back line, turning inside to fire home a picture book opening goal in the first half.

A few minutes later, Saka then capped off a passing move that had fans hailing the return of ‘Wengerball’, a series of precision passes left him with a virtual tap-in.

The contest was already over and Arsenal had to hope that the falling snow did not lead to the fixture being abandoned.

The ground staff’s half time shovelling helped keep the game on track. Allardyce may have been wondering why the men with the spades had bothered: his team spent the second half chasing shadows.

For Arsenal, it will be a disappointment that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang could not get in on the goals. He had at least three good opportunities which he would have expected to have scored.

His strike partner, Alexandre Lacazette, however, did get in on the action and is now the club’s leading marksman this season. Both of his second half goals were opportunistic finishes which made the most of Albion’s defending.

There could have been more. It might be too much of a stretch to say the fun stopped when Saka and Smith Rowe came off early, but when they are not on the pitch at the moment Arsenal are without two young men best placed to salvage something from the ruins of autumn.

At 19 and 20, they can’t play every minute of every match in this punishing schedule, even if the temptation would be to put their names down first on each teamsheet right now.

Arteta said afterwards that he had not shared all of the doubts that had been rising about his team.

“At the end of the day I wasn’t that concerned with the performances,” he said.

“I think we lost games where we were unlucky and most of them it was our own fault because we made some errors and we lacked some discipline in certain moments.”

He added: “But obviously you need to win football matches and now this brings a different momentum, energy. And as well the players they get the handbrake off and you can see that they are more free to play.”

Johnstone, Furlong, O’Shea, Ivanovic (Bartley 66), Ajayi, Sawyers, Gallagher, Diangana (Austin 46), Phillips (Harper 81), Pereira, Robinson
SUBS NOT USED:  Button, Diaby, Gibbs, Grosicki, Krovinovic, Peltier

ARSENAL: Leno, Bellerin (Maitland-Niles), Tierney, Holding, Mari, Xhaka, Ceballos, Smith Rowe (Willock 77), Saka (Willian 71), Aubameyang, Lacazette
SUBS NOT USED: Elneny, Luiz, Martinelli, Nketiah, Pepe, Runarsson


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