By Chris Harris
Nicklas Bendtner and Arsenal threw off the shackles to end their goal drought and register a comfortable victory at the Hawthorns.
The Dane has suffered as much as anyone in front of goal in recent weeks but he needed just four minutes to break the deadlock and secured the points with a thumping volley before the break.
West Brom had delivered an instant riposte to Bendtner's opener when Chris Brunt fired in a free-kick. But Kolo Toure restored Arsenal's lead with his first goal of the season before his Danish team-mate delivered the coup de grace.
So ends a run of 364 minutes without a Premier League strike and, in truth, tonight's winning margin should have been greater. Arsene Wenger had warned that the goals would soon flow for the Gunners and Albion's porous defence was lucky not to concede more.
On Sunday, Arsenal were within a whisker of falling eight points behind Aston Villa but they are now just three behind the side occupying fourth place. Martin O’Neill’s side might just feel a modicum of pressure when they visit Manchester City tomorrow night.
Wenger had hinted at minimal rotation for this game so it was something of a surprise to see four changes on the Arsenal teamsheet. One was enforced – Johan Djourou replacing the injured William Gallas. Emmanuel Eboue and Alex Song were drafted in to stiffen the midfield while Bendtner was recalled up front.
Before kick-off all the talk was of Arsenal’s goal drought. The Gunners had not delivered four consecutive 0-0 draws in the League since October 1993 - the days of George Graham and Eddie McGoldrick.
One more goalless game would set an unlikely record in the English top flight but the statisticians were thwarted just four minutes into the game. That’s how long it took Bendtner to fire Arsenal ahead.
The source of the goal was a poorly-taken corner by Samir Nasri. It was easily cleared at the near post but only as far as Denilson, who picked out Bendtner on the right corner of the box. The striker worked himself a yard of space and curled a low shot into Scott Carson’s bottom corner.
Arsenal had finally thrown off the shackles but, within two minutes, they were pegged back. Brunt lined up a free-kick from 22 yards and his low effort flew through the defensive wall past Manuel Almunia. The Spaniard was furious and rightly so – Arsenal had just undone their good work.
Buoyed by their unexpected equaliser, Albion pressed for a second and Luke Moore almost obliged. The striker had his back to goal and Djourou in close attention when he received the ball 20 yards out but Moore span and fired towards Almunia’s near post. The keeper scrambled to his left to keep Arsenal level.
Moore headed another chance over the crossbar after Brunt’s corner had caused consternation in the visitors’ box, but by and large Arsenal were in control. Bendtner fluffed a great chance after Eboue’s mis-kick fell invitingly for him and Arshavin sliced a shot wide from the edge of the box. The Russian would soon make amends.
Eight minutes before the break, Clichy was shoved off the ball on the left flank. Arshavin drifted a delightful free-kick into the box and Toure guided a downward header past Carson.
This time, Arsenal did not waste their advantage. Indeed, six minutes later, they effectively put the result beyond doubt.
This time Toure turned provider, lofting a pass into the right channel for the unmarked Bendtner. The Dane was given far too much space by the Albion defence but his first touch was exquisite and his finish was clinical.
It was suggested before the game that, if Wenger were to hand-pick an opponent in light of Arsenal’s recent travails, he would have chosen Albion. The Baggies were certainly living up to their billing. They lack the bite of the other promoted sides and, although they try to play football; Arsenal play it better.
The visitors confirmed their superiority after the break, creating chance after chance.
Bendtner was at the hub of most of Arsenal’s finest moves. The Dane set up Arshavin inside the box after 52 minutes but Carson tipped the Russian’s effort past the post. Seconds later Arshavin showed quick feet to get another shot away just eight yards out but, once again, he was denied by a minor deflection.
You could smell a goal and Abou Diaby, on as a half-time substitute, almost obliged. Turning Ryan Donk one way and then the other, the Frenchman sent a vicious shot towards goal but another deflection rescued Albion.
Bendtner, chasing a hat-trick, so nearly completed his first Arsenal treble after a slaloming run into the box ended with a low shot against the left-hand post. Four minutes later the Dane picked out Eboue but the Ivorian shot straight at Carson.
Arsenal were almost caught out on the break with 17 minutes left. Marc-Antoine Fortune broke clear on the right but Almunia tipped his angled his drive round the post.
It was a brief respite for Albion.
Bacary Sagna fired over the bar and Bendtner followed suit as time ticked down. Then Arshavin forced another save from Carson right at the end when it seemed a first Arsenal goal would be his.
Arshavin will have to wait a little longer. For now, it’s good to see any Arsenal player finding the net.
Referee: Steve Tanner
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