Arsenal win easing up against West Brom
Baggies beaten by 14th minute Olivier Giroud header at the Emirates Stadium
Olivier Giroud of Arsenal celebrates scoring in the 14th minute against West Bromwich Albion at the Emirates Stadium in London, England. Photograph: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Arsenal 1 West Bromwich Albion 0
For Arsenal, there is reassurance and no little credit in the familiar. Their membership of Europe’s most exclusive football club has been renewed. For the 17th season in succession, they have made it into the Champions League, albeit with August’s play-off round to come.
They might have had loftier goals for most the season because, until the visit to Chelsea on March 22nd, they were bang in contention for the Premier League title. In that sense, the top-four finish – the bare minimum requirement of their season – has failed to set the pulses racing. The campaign has been scarred by the high-profile away-day drubbings, particularly the 6-0 at Stamford Bridge and all of the related questions about their know-how.
But Champions League qualification is not something to be sniffed at and Arsene Wenger can make a decent case for having overseen progress in relation to the most recent seasons. Arsenal have, at least, competed for the title and if they can win the FA Cup final against Hull City they will be able to sell it as a positive campaign. Much still rests on the final.
Arsenal knew that fourth place was in the bag before West Bromwich Albion rolled into town, thanks to Manchester City’s defeat of Everton on Saturday and there was an end-of-season feel to the proceedings on their side and not only at the end, when they marked their final home game with a lap of appreciation. The stroll was most notable for the home crowd making it plain to Bacary Sagna, whose contract is set to expire, that they wanted him to stay.
It was a more important day for Albion and if Norwich City’s trip to Chelsea later in the afternoon always stood to have a significant bearing on the relegation battle, Pepe Mel and his players knew that they were the masters of their destiny. They had been pepped by their home win over West Ham United from the previous weekend but they made a poor start here.
Setpiece concessions normally grate with managers and, very often, they undermine the week’s preparations and this one was no exception. Craig Dawson stayed tight to Olivier Giroud on Santi Cazorla’s corner to the point where he was actually grabbing him yet he still could not force him to check his stride. Giroud was too strong and he headed firmly past Ben Foster for his 22nd goal of the season. Fifteen of them have come in the Premier League.
There was a relaxed vibe among the Arsenal supporters, which was reflected by them batting a beach ball around in the seats behind the dugouts in the first half, although it said much for 21st-century football that a steward quickly moved in to confiscate it.
Mesut Özil glided, he tricked and he probed. There always seemed to be something on for Arsenal when he was in possession, particularly in the transition. He had cut away from Chris Brunt, who played as a makeshift left-back to lay on the chance for Cazorla, which led to the corner for the opening goal while he twice released Lucas Podolski in the first half.
On the second occasion, Podolski pulled back for Cazorla, who drew a fine save from Foster. The Albion goalkeeper also stuck out a leg to divert a Mathieu Flamini cross from the byline that was bound for Özil.
Albion’s travelling fans lived every moment. They squirmed in frustration during the first-half when their team lacked cohesion in the final third. James Morrison’s attempt to catch Wojciech Szczesny off his line from 50 yards was optimistic in the extreme while Graham Dorrans did work the Arsenal goalkeeper from outside the area on 33 minutes in their only effort of note.
There was more urgency from them in the second half. Stéphane Sessègnon worried Nacho Monreal, in particular, with his pace and those in the visiting enclosure lived in the hope that one decisive moment could be fashioned. It is the hope that kills you.
The big chance for them came in the 72nd minute, when Saido Berahino worked a pass to Morgan Amalfitano and, suddenly, he was one-on-one with Szczesny. The goalkeeper closed down the angle to block.
Podolski sliced against the post at the other end after Jonas Olsson’s error and, despite Mel’s attacking substitutions late on, Albion could not find a way through.