Starting XI: Cech, Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal, Xhaka, Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Welbeck, Walcott, Alexis
Subs: Ospina, Gabriel, Mertesacker, Elneny, Coquelin, Iwobi, Giroud
Arsenal’s season lurched to a new low as wretched defending condemned them to a 3-1 defeat at West Bromwich Albion. Craig Dawson twice scored headers from corners and Hal Robson-Kanu took advantage of poor keeping by substitute David Ospina as they made light of Alexis Sanchez’s first half equaliser.
The defeat leaves the Gunners stuck outside the Champions League positions in fifth place with their rivals yet to play.
Since taking over as West Bromwich Albion manager in January 2015 no side in the Premier League has scored a higher proportion of their goals from set pieces.
Given the boss had highlighted the danger on Friday, warning his players to be alert in defence, you might have expected our zonal marking to be on the ball when the Baggies won their first corner after Cech parried a James McClean shot. It wasn’t.
Instead, Craig Dawson was allowed to run unchallenged from the penalty spot into the six-yard box to crash home a header. It was painful to watch. (1-0)
Arsenal composed themselves and quickly found a retort. After prolonged possession, Xhaka’s fantastic pass picked out Alexis in the West Brom box and the Chilean chested the ball down, dinked inside and smashed an effort in off the bar. (1-1)
With exquisite timing, a plane flew over the Hawthorns trailing a banner reading “In Arsene we trust”. This in response to a rival banner flow prior to kick-off calling for the manager to leave. After 15 minutes, scores level on the pitch and in the sky. But that was as good as it good for Arsenal.
It wasn’t a game that was played at a particularly high tempo but even before the goals there had been chances. Both Allan Nyom and Nacho Monreal might have picked out attackers have done well to get to the byline.
After the goal action, Salomon Rondon fired wide on the break after good work by Nacer Chadli, Ramsey produced a fine save from Foster after firing low on the angle with his left foot and Cech flung himself to his right to parry a Fletcher shot for a corner.
It was the veteran keeper’s final meaningful contribution, moments later he appeared to pull his calf muscle and was replaced by David Ospina.
Alexis, who’d been on the receiving end of repeated fouls by the home side, then took a horrible challenge on the ankle from McClean. The Sky commentators called it ‘meaty’, failing to call it out for what it was – fucking horrible. The Irishman went in the book as the Chilean underwent treatment.
Having controlled the opening 10 minutes of the second half (79% of possession!) the Gunners contrived to produce a comedy of errors that allowed Hal Robson-Kanu, on the pitch for 74 seconds, to score the home side’s second goal.
Ospina, seemingly put off by Hector Bellerin’s attempts to stop McClean’s run, failed to claim a dinked pass into the box, instead accidentally kneeing the ball into the path of the Wales international who calmly rolled the ball under the Colombian and into an empty net. Ugh. It looked even worse on the replay.
Welbeck crashed a header against the bar from a corner as we went in search of an equaliser but in committing men forward we left ourselves open at the back. Ospina stopped Robson-Kanu and in the same passage of play, with the Colombian racing around like a headless chicken, Koscielny blocked Livermore’s effort on the line.
Despite throwing on Olivier Giroud, Arsenal continued to look toothless up front, mustering only two shots on target by the 75 minute mark. There was a total lack of confidence in the final third and that was compounded by gutlessness at the back.
The next goal was always going to be crucial and it went to the home side. You didn’t need to be a soothsayer to guess how it might come about either. Another corner, another run by Craig Dawson, another free header, another goal by the defender. Ramsey watched, Chamberlain was weak, Ospina stood stranded. It was pathetic.
The goal sapped the confidence from the men in yellow, the Wenger Out banners appeared in the away end, the home fans ole’d and on the touchline, our manager looked bereft. You get the feeling this may well be the season we surrender our top four credentials.