Arsenal 4-1 West Brom
Arsenal overcame their recent goal drought at the Emirates with an emphatic first half performance against West Brom, in which they tore the visitors apart to secure a third place finish.
Going into this game the Gunners could have been forgiven for enduring a lack of confidence in front of goal, given the number of chances they had created during those three barren home games.Maybe as a result of this Arsene Wenger elected to rest Olivier Giroud, who has been distinctly off form recently, with Theo Walcott, whose substitute appearance against Sunderland had been highly impressive. In midfield, Jack Wilshere replaced Aaaron Ramsey, who had appeared slightly jaded in recent games.
Both Walcott and Wilshere justified their inclusion in the starting line-up and also staked a claim to be included in the FA Cup final starting eleven, during a first half display which highlighted just what this Arsenal team are capable of when they play to their full potential.
Following his highly impressive goal scoring record since his return from injury in January, the goals have dried up for Giroud and his performances have also suffered, with the Frenchman severely struggling to have any influence on the game. Giroud’s lack of movement has been a feature of Arsenal’s failure to convert immense pressure into goals at the Emirates recently, but with a confident Walcott up front, the Gunners suddenly had that movement which causes problems for the opposition defence and it took the Englishman only four minutes to get himself on the score sheet. Walcott drifted from his central role, to the right hand side of the penalty area and as he received a pass from Cazorla, Walcott turned and rifled in an unstoppable effort into the top left hand corner of the goal. It was a wonderful shot from the Englishman, with pin-point accuracy, clipping the inside of the crossbar as it sailed into the back of the net.
This was the early goal that the Gunners had sought in their three previous home games but failed to achieve. Such an early goal completely destroys the opposition’s game plan and forces them to come out of their defensive shell as they now have to come out in search of a goal. Arsenal were in the mood to finish the season on a high note and ten minutes after scoring the opener, Walcott was at it again. This time he demonstrated his predatory ability, picking up a loose ball inside the area, showing great awareness to dink it over the leg of an incoming defender, before prodding the ball home, his quick finish giving the goalkeeper no chance to set himself.
The Gunners were on fire and with the Emirates crowd on their feet saluting them, Arsenal were full of confidence. Their mood was highlighted perfectly by the home side’s third goal, which arrived in the 17th minute. An Ozil corner was cleared towards the edge of the penalty area and Gabriel teed the ball up for Wilshere to smash it home, on the volley, without a moment’s hesitation. It was an exceptional strike from Wilshere which rocketed into the top corner of the goal, with the goalkeeper well and truly beaten.
With Arsenal 3-0 up in only seventeen minutes this was a performance reminiscent of the Gunners in their heyday, when teams would arrive at Highbury and be torn apart inside the first twenty-five minutes, allowing the home side to cruise to victory. Walcott could have sealed his hat trick in the twenty-third minute having been released by an excellent pass from Alexis, but his attempt to curl the ball around the goalkeeper was well saved. Yet Walcott did not have long to wait to ensure he would be leaving with the match ball and scored his third of the afternoon in the thirty-seventh minute. Again it was a poacher’s goal, with Walcott showing great desire to react first to a low ball across the goal from Cazorla, turning it into the empty net.
The second half was now a mere formality and as a result was played at a slower tempo than the first period. Arsenal could have added to their lead with substitute Aaron Ramsey twice seeing efforts hit the woodwork when his efforts had deserved so much more. However West Brom managed to secure a consolation goal after Ospina failed to deal with a corner delivery into the box and McAuley had the simple task of heading the ball into the unguarded net. Ospina also almost handed the visitors another goal as he attempted to punch a long range effort away, got it wrong and was fortunate to see the ball come back off the crossbar. Such a shaky performance in such a comfortable game does raise question marks over the goalkeeping position at the Emirates once more and with the availability of Petr Cech this summer, Wenger must surely be weighing up his options.
The manager also now has a selection headache on his hands in regards to Saturday’s Cup Final. Both Wilshere and Walcott were exceptional on Sunday and Wenger could be considering starting both players, however that is highly unlikely. The manager is a big fan of Ramsey and in fairness the Welshman did play every game of Arsenal’s impressive winning run which propelled them into the top three. Up front however it is a different story. Giroud did embark on an impressive scoring run earlier in the season but the goals have recently dried up and his confidence has been severely affected. In recent games the Frenchman has been a mere shadow of himself, offering very little to the team and with Walcott now brimming with confidence following his excellent hat trick, surely the biggest threat to Aston Villa would be to stick with the Englishman rather than Giroud. Wenger certainly has a selection dilemma on his hands and his decision will be crucial.