Alexis at the double to show absent fans what they are missing
Published 21/04/2016 | 21:41
Alexis Sanchez scored a brace as Arsenal moved up to third in the Barclays Premier League with a victory over West Brom on a night when there were plenty of empty seats inside the Emirates Stadium.
Reports leading into the game suggested as many as 2,500 season-ticket holders had sent back their tickets, with seats on general sale as many stayed at home in protest against a poor season and some unhappy that Arsene Wenger remains in charge after another faded title challenge.
But, on the pitch, the hosts recorded a much-needed 2-0 win to pull clear of the chasing pack and leapfrog Manchester City into third spot as they look to secure Champions League football for a 20th consecutive campaign.
Sanchez struck twice in the first half in front of the official figure of 59,568 fans, but in reality the attendance was much less than that as the club count the number of tickets sold rather than the figure coming through the turnstiles.
Those fans who had made the journey were rewarded as early as the sixth minute as Sanchez turned Sandro before arrowing a low drive past Ben Foster for his fourth goal in as many games.
The hosts had their tails up and only a brave block from Jonny Evans kept out Mesut Ozil, with the recalled Aaron Ramsey volleying the rebound wide.
While West Brom continued to sit back, Arsenal retained possession without creating a further chance until past the midway point of the half when Hector Bellerin, named in the PFA Team of the Year earlier in the day, broke into the box and flashed a shot just wide.
A couple of advanced set-pieces allowed the Baggies to exert a little attacking pressure and it almost paid off as Gareth McAuley broke clear of Ozil's lazy marking to head James McClean's corner onto Petr Cech's crossbar.
A neat interchange between Ramsey and Bellerin allowed the latter to cross in for Ozil, whose tame shot squirmed through Foster's legs - with the England goalkeeper having his blushes spared by Craig Dawson mopping things up on the line.
But the Gunners did not have to wait much longer for the second as Sanchez bent home a precise free-kick through a less-than solid West Brom wall after Ramsey had been felled by Claudio Yacob.
The quiet Olivier Giroud drew a routine save out of Foster at the start of the second half before McClean's far-post header was kept out by Cech.
Referee Jon Moss courted controversy for his handling of Leicester's clash with West Ham on Sunday after awarding two soft penalties and sending off Foxes' striker Jamie Vardy.
Vardy's second yellow was for simulation but Moss was in no mood to book Arsenal midfielder Mohamed Elneny despite a clear dive inside the Albion box.
Baggies' half-time substitute Salomon Rondon could not react quick enough to Craig Gardner's corner after it evaded everyone to fall to him at the back-post.
Wenger introduced Francis Coquelin, Joel Campbell and Theo Walcott towards the death but it was Giroud who flickered into life as he tested Foster with a late strike - with Arsenal easing over the line.
TWEET OF THE MATCH
"The Emirates Stadium is half empty. Arsene, it's over. You've lost the fans. #afc" - Piers Morgan
Petr Cech: 6
Hector Bellerin: 8
Laurent Koscielny: 7
Per Mertesacker: 6
Nacho Monreal: 7
Aaron Ramsey: 6
Mohamed Elneny: 7
Mesut Ozil: 6
Alex Iwobi: 7
Alexis Sanchez: 9
Olivier Giroud: 5
Francis Coquelin (for Iwobi, 82): 6
Theo Walcott (for Sanchez, 86): 6
Joel Campbell (for Ozil, 86): 7
Ben Foster: 5
Craig Dawson: 6
Gareth McAuley: 6
Jonny Evans: 6
James Chester: 5
Claudio Yacob: 5
Stephane Sessegnon: 5
Darren Fletcher: 5
James McClean: 6
Saido Berahino: 5
Jonas Olsson (for Chester, 46): 6
Salomon Rondon (for Sandro, 46): 6
Craig Gardner (for McClean, 65): 6
Alexis Sanchez: Five goals in his last four games begs the question: Would Arsenal's season have panned out quite as badly had the Chile forward not been injured for two months over the turn of the year? He scored two smart goals and was lively for much of the contest. Getting his signature on a new contract will be one of the main bits of business the club will be keen to conclude over the summer.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH
Alexis Sanchez: His free-kick to pull Arsenal further clear was a fine finish, aided by Giroud and Mertesacker unsettling a brittle West Brom wall. It was always going to be enough to secure the points and not leave the hosts vulnerable to a late surge like that of Crystal Palace on Sunday.
VIEW FROM THE BENCH
Wenger cast his eye around the ground before kick-off, but will be pleased with the way his side performed after bemoaning their home displays of late. Giroud was recalled in attack, but was blunt, while Ramsey and Per Mertesacker also returned. For Tony Pulis, the early Sanchez strike was a killer against a team set up to frustrate and they never looked like getting back into it after the second.
MOAN OF THE MATCH
Whatever happened to actual attendance figures? It was clear for all to see that the Emirates was at far from capacity as supporters decided to stay away. But the official total of 'tickets sold' painted a picture of an almost-full ground when it was anything but.
WHO'S UP NEXT
Sunderland v Arsenal (Barclays Premier League, Sunday, April 24)
Tottenham v West Brom (Barclays Premier League, Monday, April 25)
Arsene Wenger was pleased to see his side get back to winning ways after back-to-back draws.
"I believe that we did the job in a serious way," he said on Sky Sports 1. "Maybe we should have scored more goals, but the quality of our game was good."
The Frenchman, who appeared in sombre mood in the post-match interview, heaped praise on Sanchez.
Asked if the Chilean was back to his best, Wenger said: "He looks like it, yes, he's back sharper, more confident. Especially in the first half I thought he was exceptional."
On Sanchez's early goal, he added: "I t helped (us) to focus more on the way we played than on being anxious about the consequence of the result."
Ramsey was also happy to see the team finally produce a better showing.
The midfielder said: "I thought we played with real belief and intensity and we created opportunities. We thoroughly deserved the three points.
"We haven't been up to standard of late and it was important for us to put on a performance today, not just for our fans but for ourselves.
"We've been really frustrated with the way we've been playing, but we've come back tonight. It may be too little too late, but we'll keep going."
West Brom boss Tony Pulis said: "Ar senal were the better team tonight in every department really. We're disappointed, we weren't on it tonight."