By Richard Clarke at the Hawthorns
Arsenal staged a two-goal comeback at West Brom on Saturday to keep alive their hopes of winning the Premier League title.
Arsène Wenger’s side seemed to have suffered a massive blow to their aspirations when a defensive mix-up saw Peter Odemwingie put the home side 2-0 ahead just before the hour.
Arsenal had been trailing since Steven Reid’s header in the third minute and, despite having overwhleming possession, they could not break down a stubborn West Brom defence.
However, Andrey Arshavin put them back into contention in the 70th minute and then, seven minutes later, Robin van Persie trickled the equaliser over the line.
Arsenal fought frantically for a winner and came closest when Gael Clichy’s drive was saved by Scott Carson. Manchester United’s late victory over Bolton mean Wenger’s men have dropped behind in the title race but, after this massive scare, it could have been much worse.
Questions will be asked about the defence after this result but Wenger’s team gave a resolute answer to any concerns about their spirit.
Arsenal’s title chances were certainly damaged in this pulsating afternoon of football but the blow was not fatal.
They are still in the race.
There were two familiar names back in the squad this afternoon. Aaron Ramsey had come off the bench last weekend against Manchester United but this afternoon he started his first game for the Club since he had picked up that horrible broken leg at Stoke in February 2010. He replaced the injured Abou Diaby.
Meanwhile, Jens Lehmann was on the bench after coming out of retirement to answer an emergency call from Wenger. It was the German’s first Arsenal appearance since May 2007.
Elsewhere, Sebastien Squillaci replaced Johan Djourou, who is out for six weeks with a shoulder injury, and Gael Clichy replaced Kieran Gibbs.
This was a massive day for Arsenal. After the disappointments of recent weeks, Wenger’s men needed a fillip and, of course, three points.
However they would make the worst possible start.
In the fourth minute, Laurent Koscielny gave away a corner on the left which Chris Brunt swung over to the edge of the six-yard box. It found Reid, who pulled away from Ramsey before powering home a header from close range.
It was a horrible goal to concede and instantly put Arsenal on the back foot. They struggled to respond until the quarter-hour but, after that, would dominate.
On a difficult surface, the visitors took time to get their passing going. But gradually Ramsey found his measure and Samir Nasri started to have an influence on the right.
At one point towards half time, Arsenal were registering 74 per cent possession but it only brought them one real opportunity before the break.
It came in the 25th minute. Clichy raced down the left and clipped a cross towards the stretching Van Persie, who sent a looping header against the bar.
Carson stood motionless as the ball bounced back off the woodwork. But the keeper responded quickly when it eventually came down at the feet of Ramsey. The Welshman got his shot away but the ball bounced back off the body of the West Brom stopper.
Apart from that, it was one-way traffic and all in the direction of the hosts' goal. However the home side defended in numbers and, though thoroughly questioned by Arsenal, they always found an answer.
It was a massive half-time for Wenger and he made a decisive change. Denilson off, Marouane Chamakh on.
The Moroccan went up front, with Van Persie in support. Nasri moved to central midfield and Ramsey shifted to the right.
It was an attacking move. And Wenger would make another just before the hour when the Welshman made way for Nicklas Bendtner.
That came just after substitute Marek Cech broke away on the left and his cross was put wide by the sliding Brunt when he should have scored.
However, after the change, West Brom did find a second.
There seemed little on when Odemwingie chased down Squillaci in pursuit of a long ball on 58 minutes. But Almunia also came out to collect and so when the West Brom striker won the ball he had the relatively simple job of rolling it into the empty net.
Again, a horrible goal to concede.
Arsenal now had everything against them. And when Van Persie hacked a free-kick well wide it seemed that they would struggle to respond.
But in the 70th minute, Arshavin handed the visitors a lifeline. The Russian popped up on the left of the area and rifled a shot into the far corner.
It was Arshavin’s sixth goal of the season and potentially the most important.
And the Russian would have an massive influence in the equaliser eight minutes later. It was his raking cross that drew Carson to the far post and bounced back into the area off the upright. The ball got stuck under the feet of Abdoulaye Meite and the sliding Van Persie got the merest of touches to trickle the ball over the line.
The game had turned on its head and now Arsenal were looking for a winner. Van Persie nodded wide from a corner and Jack Wilshere saw his shot blocked.
In injury time Clichy strode forward and saw his effort saved by Carson low at the near post.
Arsenal threw everything at West Brom in the dying seconds but, despite scrambles, the goal would not come.
At the end, the players looked crestfallen
This was a trip - even a backward step - but there is time to recover.
* A word for the travelling Arsenal fans this afternoon. As at Old Trafford, they were utterly magnificent in their support - a credit to the Club.
- Koscielny Yellow Card
- Nasri Yellow Card
- Denilson 46 Yellow Card
- Arshavin Goal!
- Ramsey 56
- Persie Goal!
- Bendtner 56
- Chamakh 46
- Meite Yellow Card
- Reid Goal!
- Scharner 46
- Odemwingie 72 Goal!
- Cech 46
- Fortune 72