By Richard Clarke
Arsenal missed the opportunity to make up ground on leaders Chelsea when they were beaten 3-2 by West Brom at Emirates Stadium on Saturday.
Arsène Wenger’s men kicked-off this afternoon just minutes after Manchester City had completed a 1-0 victory over the Stamford Bridge outfit. It meant that a win today followed by another at Chelsea next week and Arsenal would be top.
However the home side would never find their feet this afternoon.
In the first half, Manuel Almunia saved a penalty from Chris Brunt after the keeper had felled Peter Odemwingie. Then they were blown away by two goals in two minutes just after the break.
First, Odemwingie prodded home following fine work by Jerome Thomas. Then a speculative effort from Gonzalo Jara hit Almunia and found the bottom corner.
Arsenal’s comeback failed to make much of a dent until Thomas had added a third in the 73rd minute. Almost immediately, Nasri plundered a goal. The Frenchman grabbed another on the stroke of full time to make for a frantic five minutes of injury time.
The home side huffed and puffed but West Brom did not buckle. The visitors are certainly a tidy side while Arsenal were rough around the edges this afternoon.
It was a bad day at the office and Wenger’s men can not afford many more like this if they are going to seriously challenge for the title.
Emirates Stadium was drenched in Autumnal sunshine as the teams strode out this afternoon and the weather matched the overall mood.
Since dropping two late points at Sunderland last Saturday, Arsenal had swept aside Tottenham in the Carling Cup. Then just before kick-off, news had filtered round that Chelsea had been beaten.
With Arsenal travelling to West London next weekend, it was a chance. A good chance.
Wenger retained only Nasri and Laurent Koscielny from the side that had won so handsomely on enemy territory on Tuesday.
But there were only two alterations from the Stadium of Light. Cesc Fabregas (hamstring) dropped out but Abou Diaby returned from the ankle injury he collected in the last game Premier League game at Emirates. Meanwhile Emmanuel Eboue replaced Jack Wilshere.
Before kick-off, Wenger had suggested a lack of focus could be “fatal” this afternoon.
However, in the opening stages, Arsenal did not heed his words.
They had sufficient possession but did not use it wisely; failing to find team-mates with anything like their usual regularity.
Still, during the opening stages both full-backs, Gael Clichy and Bacary Sagna, bashed shots just beyond either post.
In the 14th minute, they should have taken the lead. Eboue crossed from the right and the sliding Arshavin nudged the ball against the far post twice in quick succession.
Nasri fired over then against the stanchion so, as the half-hour ticked by, Arsenal might well have been well ahead. But their performance was still not of the usual standard.
West Brom, meanwhile, were on the back foot but hardly overawed. Thomas slipped over at the crucial moment when he seemed set the pull the trigger.
And in the 27th minute, they might have thieved the lead. Odemwingie collected the ball on the right, cut inside and fired low towards the near post. Almunia stretched down to his right and feathered the ball onto the post.
Ten minutes from the break, Song clipped a cross to Nasri who leathered a volley over the bar.
But Arsenal had simply not clicked into gear and it showed. They seemed a little vulnerable this afternoon and, in the 37th minute, they were caught out.
Brunt sent Odemwingie racing down the right-hand channel and Almunia raced out to intercept. The Nigerian striker got there first and the keeper swept him off his feet. There were enough covering defenders to mean Almunia saw yellow not red.
Brunt stepped up to take the penalty but the Spaniard guessed correctly to make a fine save.
Perhaps it was the spark Arsenal needed this afternoon and, shortly afterwards, Sebastien Squillaci powered a header just over the bar from Arshavin’s cross.
In injury time, the Russian sent over a free-kick from virtually the same position and Sagna’s header was hurriedly tipped over by Scott Carson.
Arsenal needed half-time to clear their heads. Frankly it could have been 2-0 in either direction at the break.
Within seven minutes of the restart we would have that scoreline – but very much in favour of the visitors.
Five minutes in, Thomas weaved past Sagna on the left-hand byline and fired a low ball across the face of goal. Odemwingie gleefully touched home at the far post.
Two minutes later, Brunt’s backheel nutmegged Clichy on the right and found Jara. His shot hit Almunia’s knee and went in at the near post.
Arsenal had made that ‘fatal’ mistake Wenger feared – and they had 38 minutes to revive themselves.
The manager made immediate re-enforcements. Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky for Eboue and Diaby.
Then Arsenal started plotting a route back into the game. Nasri had a penalty claim turned down then Chamakh just failed to connect with Clichy’s left-wing cross.
Just after Song missed a near post header, Wenger brought on Vela for Koscielny.
However, Arsenal’s search had not built up a head of steam before in the 73rd minute, they conceded a third.
Brunt burst clear on the right of the area and perhaps the first-half penalty incident meant Almunia did not dive in but shepherded the midfielder wide.
However, Brunt gathered the ball and squared low into the area for Thomas to prod home from close range. Emirates Stadium had been in decent voice this afternoon but now it was speechless.
But, within two minutes, Nasri threw Arsenal a lifeline. Just after the French midfielder had smashed a shot against the bar from distance, he weaved through the West Brom defence and planted a shot into the far corner. It was his third goal of the week and his first from open play.
The expected onslaught did not really materialise but Scott Carson was forced to cling onto Squillaci’s header and, just as the fourth official indicated five minutes of injury time, Arsenal scored again when Nasri found space six yards out.
Having been caught out by injury time last week, could it save them this afternoon?
Now the home side's tactics were ‘kitchen sink’. Cross after cross was thrown into the box, the closest they came was when Chamakh scuffed a header wide. Arshavin forced a decent save from Carson and Rosicky flicked a shot over the bar.
At the full time whistle, the Arsenal fans clapped their side off and, sportingly, did likewise for West Brom. The visitors had won this game as much as the home side had lost it.
Next week’s trip to Stamford Bridge has just got even bigger.
Referee: Michael Oliver
Copyright 2023 The Arsenal Football Club Limited. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source.