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Sunday 20 April 2014

Resilient Gunners hold off late Baggies charge

West Brom 1 Arsenal 2

Arsenal's Tomas Rosicky clears the ball from the line during his side’s Premier League game against West Bromwich Albion at The Hawthorns

When Tomas Rosicky peeled away to celebrate giving Arsenal a comfortable 2-0 advantage, it seemed a fitting image to encapsulate their showing. Under-performers were performing, feints and flicks were bringing rewards.

When Tomas Rosicky peeled away to celebrate giving Arsenal a comfortable 2-0 advantage, it seemed a fitting image to encapsulate their showing. Under-performers were performing, feints and flicks were bringing rewards.

This appeared to be Arsenal at their purest, using neat and nimble attacking football. The sight of Per Mertesacker later trudging off, midway through the second half, having been sent off, threatened to wipe the memories of earlier happiness.

Instead, Arsenal gave even more reason to suggest that they are a team who will claim one of those keenly-contested top-four places. To follow their earlier flair, they showed fight and – even after James Morrison's penalty for Mertesacker's foul reduced the gap – Arsenal were resolute.

It was not comfortable and it required some fortune, but that tends to be the case with teams who qualify for the Champions League; it is not supposed to be simple. West Bromwich Albion had their chances late on, manager Arsene Wenger – so sedate in the first half – started exhibiting irascibility. But the discomfort ended in triumph.

When Rosicky – who scored twice – and Gervinho are playing instrumental roles and running defences to distraction, then it enhances the feeling that things are going right for Arsenal and their crisis from earlier in the season is abating. Those two were a menace, taking advantage of the home team's narrow midfield to exploit space.

Gervinho can look a positional liability when Arsenal do not have the ball and are in the sort of battle that they were drawn into here, but there is no questioning his ability when running at defenders without sufficient pace.

Rosicky's display was assured and composed, leading Wenger to dismiss the suggestion that he is set to leave. "I hope he finishes his career with us – I rate him that highly," said the Arsenal manager. "Every year he gives us a little push at the end of the season. It was a difficult game against a team who were up for it. We showed technical quality and fighting spirit. We are up for the fight."

Tottenham and Chelsea should certainly be feeling the pressure today. While they toil hard amid a busy schedule – which has already accounted for Gareth Bale at Spurs – Arsenal are looking fresh and playing on a Saturday can be an advantage. Putting points on the board will make their rivals feel uneasy when they line up for their Sunday games.

Arsenal's crisis of early in the season, when they exited the cup competitions, is looking like a potential blessing in disguise. They can concentrate on targeting a top-four place and it is a skill that they specialise in. Once again this season, form is coming to them at the right time – and they still have Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott to return from injury.

Wenger's team quickly took the initiative here, but they were also forced into some early defensive work. Rosicky had to be alert enough to clear a Claudio Yacob header off the line following a Chris Brunt corner.

Having been the defensive protector, Rosicky quickly became the attacking poacher. Mikel Arteta started the move with a diagonal ball out to the left, where Gervinho proved too slick and sharp for Gareth McAuley. Gervinho twisted right, then left and back again before dinking over a pass that Rosicky headed in.

One of the best moves came shortly before half time. Santi Cazorla's clever pass found Olivier Giroud to his left and the striker responded with a deft back-heel that fell nicely for Aaron Ramsey who shot wide from eight yards. Apart from a claim for a penalty, when Laurent Koscielny brought down Yacob, West Brom had offered little in the first period. "On another day, it's a penalty," said Steve Clarke, the home team's head coach. "Then, the start of the second half, was crucial."

Gervinho kept up his lively showing soon after the break by exchanging passes with Bacary Sagna as they went on a rapid counter-attack, before the full-back had his shot smothered by Foster. The deserved second Arsenal goal came when Ramsey's ball was over-hit, but Rosicky showed impressive technique to bring it under control and then unleash a powerful shot. Foster parried the initial effort, but could do little to prevent the follow-up strike.

An uneasy finish was set up when Mertesacker brought down Shane Long and dismissed. Morrison struck the resulting penalty down the middle and, although he failed to hit it cleanly, it still had enough to sneak through Lukasz Fabianski's legs.

West Brom pushed hard with late chances falling to McAuley, who headed wide, and Romelu Lukaku and Long, who both shot wide when unmarked. But it was destined to be Arsenal's day.

Telegraph

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