Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Arsenal 4 West Brom 1

Arsenal finished their Premier League campaign in style after beating West Brom 4-1 thanks to Theo Walcott's hat-trick and Jack Wilshere's MOTD goal-of-the-season winner. Prior to the game, Arsene Wenger dismissed any concern about his side's goalless run of three consecutive home games and his belief in his side was vindicated. Going into the game, the Gunners only needed to avoid a heavy defeat to ensure automatic Champions League qualification, 3 points and 7 goals above fourth-placed Manchester United, but they showed that they wanted more than required.

Arsene Wenger made three changes from the side that started in a goalless draw with Sunderland at the Emirates 4 days ago with a view to freshening up his side ahead of the big game in the following week. Theo Walcott earned the first start since March at the expense of Olivier Giroud, who in turn dropped to the bench, while Francis Coquelin was reinstated after being rested in the mid-week game. Gabriel came in for Laurent Koscielny. Given last year's precedent in which Wenger fielded then-Cup keeper, Fabianski, between the sticks in the final game of the Premier League campaign ahead of the Cup final, we thought the goal keeper selection on this day might give us some indication for the Cup final. As it turned out, David Ospina kept his place. Among the subs' bench were Wojciech Szczesny, Nacho Monreal, Mathieu Flamini, Aaron Ramsey, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Danny Welbeck will not feature for his club or country again this season due to the bone bruising of the knee.

The first half showcased Arsenal's free-flowing football. Walcott smashed his 4th-minute attempt into the net via the underside of the cross bar. 10 minutes later, his determination won him a second goal with a toe-poke. Wenger's men were playing with tempo and intensity. In the 17th minute, a corner was cleared only for Gabriel to find Wilshere, whose volley from the edge of the box flew into the top corner. Walcott's curling effort was denied by a superb save from Myhill, but the England forward did not wait too long to complete a hat-trick. In the 37th minute, after some lovely build-up involving Wilshere and Alexis, Cazorla's low cross (or a shot dragged wide?) was met by Walcott, who timed his run perfectly to just tap the ball into the net.

It's always difficult to maintain the tempo and intensity after such a mesmerizing first-half, when you are cruising with a 4-goal cushion. West Brom got a goal back before the hour mark. Wenger decided to give Ramsey and Giroud a run-out for the remaining 20 minutes, which was a cue for Theo's withdrawal from a successful afternoon. Jack Wilshere was also taken off in the 76th minute to give way to the fit-again Ox. Ramsey went close to add to Arsenal's goal tally twice only to be denied by the post and then the finger-tips of Myhill before hitting the frame of the goal once again.

It was a perfect way to warm up for the following weekend's FA Cup final. The game was open and we found acres of space in West Brom's midfield. Theo demonstrated what he is capable of, when he finally got a starting spot. In the past few games when the England forward came on as a sub, the team struggled to adjust themselves to play on his strength. However, as Wenger praised the team, they adapted to the quality of their front man, while Theo responded with good movements to his team-mates' efforts. In the past few games, Arsenal's shot-shy tendency was criticised, but Theo's directness was richly rewarded in this game. Now a big question rises as to whether he should retain his place in the starting XI against Aston Villa? As Wenger remains tight-lipped on his team, Tim Sherwood has to keep guessing our starting line-up until shortly before the kick-off. It is good to have different attacking options and that the team can play different types of football, depending on the strength of their front man.

In the season when a top-four race appeared to have been even more intense than the past years at times, Arsenal ended third, 4 points behind second-placed Man City and 5 points ahead of fourth-placed Man United. It is too early to assess their season just yet. The outcome of the FA Cup final will have a significant sway on that.

Players ratings

Ospina: 5
Beaten by Gareth McAuley to Chris Brunt's corner, allowing him to head the ball into the empty net. He should have stayed on the line if he was unable to get to the ball. Had a heart-stopping moment in the 90th minute when Craig Gardner's shot burst through the hands of the Colombian keeper thankfully before the ball hit the cross bar and flew over.

Bellerin: 7

Made 2 tackles, 1 interception, and 2 clearances. Shown a yellow card.

Metesacker: 7
He was on a mission to score on today and was unlucky not to score with a shot on target. Made 3 interceptions.

Gabriel: 8
Claimed an assist for Jack Wilshere's goal. Made 1 tackle, 3 interceptions, and 9 clearances. He looked more comfortable on the ball with an improved passing accuracy of 98.2%.

Gibbs: 7

Made 3 tackles, 6 interceptions, and 1 clearance. Was not troubled.

Coquelin: 7
Only made 1 tackle and 2 interceptions, but the team looked better balanced with him in it.

Cazorla: 8

Made more passes (123) than any other player in a single game this season and that was accompanied with an impressive 91.9% passing success rate. Provided 2 assists for Walcott. 

Wilshere: 8
Scored a screamer from the edge of the box. Had a good game.

Özil: 7
Created a massive 6 chances. He even made 3 tackles! The German international and Cazorla were joint second in terms of the distance covered (10.7 km) after West Brom's Saido Berahino (11.1 km)

Alexis: 7

Had 5 shots, 2 of which were on target, creating 4 chances for his team-mates. 

Walcott: 9
Had 8 shots, 6 of which were on target and scored his third hat-trick. Unanimous Man of the Match. Received a standing ovation when he came off the pitch in the 68th minute, replaced by Giroud.


Ramsey: 7
Replaced Coqulin in the 68th minute. Injected some energy and got into the great positions. Unlucky not to score. Had 3 shots, two hit woodwork 1 of which were on target, making 2 key passes.

Giroud: 6
Came off the bench to replace Walcott in the 68th minute. Little impact. Had 9 touches and 1 aerial duel won.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 6
Replaced Wilshere in the 76th minute. Great to see him back on the pitch. Had 1 shot.

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