By Rob Kelly at Emirates Stadium
Alexis’ fine form continued with a well-taken brace as Arsenal eased past West Bromwich Albion to move into third place in the Premier League.
The Chilean forward had scored in each of his previous three matches, and wasted little time in adding to his tally here as he fired in a low drive after six minutes.
Hector Bellerin - fresh from being named in the PFA Team of the Year - was in flying form in support of Alexis, and one charge forward and shot brought the Emirates to its feet.
But it was Alexis who the eye was drawn to, and he claimed his second just before half time with a curling free kick that somehow found its way through the West Brom wall.
Alex Iwobi was at the heart of the action after the restart, setting up Olivier Giroud for one chance, before having a go himself soon afterwards and then playing in Mesut Ozil for a decent opening.
With Aaron Ramsey and Mohamed Elneny controlling the midfield, and Alexis, Iwobi and Ozil orchestrating the attacks, Arsenal were in total control.
They may not have added to their advantage, but this remained an evening full of encouragement as Arsene Wenger’s side leapfrogged Manchester City into third place.
SETTING THE SCENE
After a frustrating couple of results, Wenger opted to freshen up his side for this unusual Thursday night clash in north London.
Per Mertesacker had been patiently biding his time, waiting for his return to the starting XI and his wish was granted as he replaced Gabriel in the heart of the defence.
Ramsey - in for his first start since the north London derby on March 5 - came in for Francis Coquelin in midfield, with the only other change seeing Olivier Giroud spearhead the attack, with Danny Welbeck dropping to the bench.
The visitors, meanwhile, may have averaged less than a goal a game under Tony Pulis, but having kept a clean sheet in 41 per cent of their matches under him, they could have been a tough nut to crack.
With Arsenal looking for inspiration, there was one man they could rely on - the bang in form Alexis.
The Chile international had been involved in seven goals in his previous six matches, and he took no longer than six minutes to open the scoring here.
It was vintage Alexis, collecting Ozil’s pass just outside the box before brilliantly spinning away from his marker and planting a low drive beyond Ben Foster and into the bottom corner.
It was the ideal start for Wenger’s side, who soon came roaring back at the Baggies and they could have doubled their lead moments later when Ozil saw his close-range shot blocked in the area.
This was much more like it from the Gunners, with Bellerin soon getting the crowd to their feet with a rampaging run through the middle, before firing just over the bar.
But the hosts did not have it all their own way, and they could even have been pegged back minutes later when Gareth McAuley hit the bar with a glancing header from a corner.
It was a warning for Arsenal, who responded instantly - with Bellerin once again at the heart of it, combining brilliantly with Ramsey in the box before cutting the ball back to Ozil.
The German ran on to the ball on the edge of the area and kept his shot low and firm, and while it squirmed through Foster’s hands, it was cleared off the line.
But the Gunners did not have long to wait to double their advantage - and once again it was man of the moment Alexis who was on target.
It came after the energetic Ramsey was tripped on the edge of the area, with Alexis immediately stepping up to take the free kick. It was exactly the sort of range the Chilean would have wanted to be in, and he made no mistake with a curling effort that left Foster with no chance.
Arsenal remained on the front foot after the restart, and there was barely 60 seconds on the clock when Iwobi burst forward and fed Giroud, but his firm shot was held by Foster.
After a relatively quiet first-half display, Iwobi was suddenly right in the heart of the action and he had a decent penalty appeal waved away after he raced into the box, only to go down after what appeared to be a trip.
Referee Jon Moss was asked the same question again soon afterwards when Mohamed Elneny went down in the box after a slick passing exchange - but once again the official was unmoved.
Still Arsenal attacked and they had a golden chance to add to their advantage when the ball fell to Alexis in the area, but he looked to find Ozil rather than shoot himself and the German’s effort was palmed away.
Ozil had another opportunity immediately afterwards, before Iwobi saw a half volley saved and Ramsey directed a shot over the bar at the end of another flowing counter.
The Gunners continued to threaten, and seconds after coming on Joel Campbell blasted the ball just beyond the far post after being found by Ramsey in the box.
Giroud twice went close late on as the hosts went in search of the third goal their performance merited, but they had to make do with just the two at the end of an encouraging night’s work.
Referee: Jonathan Moss
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