By Rob Kelly at The Hawthorns
Danny Welbeck scored his sixth goal of the season as Arsenal delivered a confident display to beat West Bromwich Albion at The Hawthorns.
Arsene Wenger’s side dominated the first half, with Alexis Sanchez and Santi Cazorla both having clear sights of goal in the opening exchanges.
The Gunners continued to pile on the pressure, with Welbeck and Olivier Giroud both spurning opportunities to give their side the lead, while Aaron Ramsey also went close before the interval.
The pattern of the game stayed the same after the restart, with the visitors very firmly on the front foot and continuing to create chances almost at will.
Ramsey, Welbeck and Per Mertesacker all had opportunities before the pressure finally told on the hour mark as the Gunners grabbed a lead they richly deserved.
It came as the lively Cazorla escaped down the left flank and delivered an inch-perfect cross for the onrushing Welbeck, who made no mistake with a bullet of a header into the top corner.
West Brom finally managed to build up some momentum in the closing stages and with 10 minutes remaining Saido Berahino hit the bar with a firm header from inside the area.
Craig Gardner flashed a shot wide in injury time as the hosts tried to up the ante, but as the Gunners managed to see out the game for their first away win in a month.
The recovery is gathering pace - and this mature, slick display will offer real encouragement to Wenger, his players and all those of an Arsenal persuasion.
SETTING THE SCENE
The Gunners headed to The Hawthorns with confidence restored following a composed midweek victory against Borussia Dortmund - but with the packed festive schedule on the horizon, Wenger opted to rotate his squad.
The most eye-catching selection saw the return of Laurent Koscielny to the heart of the defence for the first time in eight weeks, with Nacho Monreal shifting to left back and Kieran Gibbs on the bench.
Elsewhere, Giroud was back for his first start since August 19 in place of Yaya Sanogo, while Welbeck passed a late fitness test to line up on the left flank. The only other change saw Mathieu Flamini in for the injured Mikel Arteta.
It meant Emiliano Martinez would make his first-ever Premier League start, with 20-year-old former Bristol Rovers goalkeeper Matt Macey on the bench.
West Brom, meanwhile, came into the game on the back of two successive domestic defeats - although Wenger had pinpointed the electric Berahino as a particular threat ahead of the match. The England Under-21 international had eight goals to his name, with his sparkling form winning him a call-up to the senior squad for the recent friendly against Scotland.
Having found the going tough in lunchtime kick-offs last season, this would be another test of Arsenal’s credentials. But with a record of 17 victories in the last 25 games against the Baggies dating back to 1984, they could approach the game with confidence as they sought to get their Premier League campaign back on track.
Having made such a lightning start in midweek, the Gunners would have hoped for more of the same here but it was a far cagier opening as the hosts packed men behind the ball.
But when you have Alexis Sanchez on the pitch, things tend to happen and just six minutes in he fashioned a chance for himself as he raced through the midfield. With the home defence backpedalling, the Chile international held off Craig Gardner on his way to the edge of the area before letting fly with a low shot that Ben Foster was able to keep out.
The lively Santi Cazorla soon saw a shot blocked by Craig Dawson, while Welbeck also had a half chance as Wenger’s side started to crank through the gears as we reached the midway point in the first half.
Arsenal were really taking a stranglehold on the game, and they soon had two golden chances in the space of two minutes to make their dominance count.
The first came when Aaron Ramsey picked out Welbeck in the area with a lovely, incisive ball that split the West Brom backline. The England international timed his run to perfection, but his first-time shot was parried away well by Foster.
While the England goalkeeper had done well there, moments later he nearly presented the Gunners with the opening goal as he collected a backpass and attempted to beat the onrushing Giroud. However, the Arsenal forward made himself big and managed to nick the ball off his feet - but with the goal gaping, he rolled his shot wide from a tight angle.
It was one-way traffic as the Gunners tried to press home their advantage and they fashioned another opening in the 37th minute as Youssouf Mulumbu gave away possession on the edge of the area. Cazorla jumped in to steal the ball and find Ramsey in the area, but the midfielder dragged his low shot inches wide of the near post.
The red waves of pressure continued to build after the restart, with Ramsey slicing over the bar within five minutes after being found in the area by Calum Chambers’ chipped pass.
Moments later Arsenal burst forward at pace again, with Cazorla sending Welbeck through to the left of the area, but the striker checked back on to his right foot and allowed Dawson to recover and get in smother the chance.
Mertesacker then dragged a shot wide from the edge of the box after Foster had spilled a Cazorla free kick, while the Spaniard was inches away from heading in a Gibbs cross after a lovely sweeping move up the left.
Finally the dam broke on the hour mark, with Cazorla once again to the fore. The Spaniard had arguably been the Gunners’ most dangerous player all game and he escaped down the left flank, raced to the byeline and looked up to see who was waiting in the box.
With just Welbeck to aim for, Cazorla arrowed a pinpoint cross on to his head and the striker powered it beyond Foster and into the top corner. It was a lovely strike, and one the visitors’ fully merited.
The home side had, in truth, posed little threat to Martinez in the Arsenal goal but with 10 minutes remaining they had their first real opportunity as Berahino stole in to direct a firm header against the crossbar.
It was a late scare for the Gunners, and while Gardner also went close at the death they saw out the game to claim a very welcome - and deserved - three points.
Referee: Chris Foy
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