Arsenal embarrassed as latest slip-up casts new doubt on title credentials
West Brom 2-1 Arsenal
This was a huge slip by Arsenal, and Santi Cazorla, and further proof that Tony Pulis still loves to put one over his old nemesis Arsene Wenger. Cazorla's bizarre penalty miss six minutes from time summed up a deeply frustrating experience for Arsenal and this defeat will again raise renewed doubts over their title credentials.
Wenger's relationship with Pulis may have thawed in recent years but the Welshman has now lost just one of his past seven home games against Arsenal. This was always going to prove another litmus test for Wenger and whether his team are the real deal this season, after teasing for so many years.
But despite dominating long periods they were unable to shake off the Pulis curse, with Cazorla producing a carbon copy of David Beckham's penalty miss in Turkey to leave Wenger bewildered.
Arsenal's injury crisis also plumbed further depths with Francis Coquelin and Mikel Arteta joining the lengthy list, while there was also an own goal from Arteta to increase the sense of farce. "It was a very bad afternoon for us," Wenger said.
"We had 70 per cent possession, scored an own goal, missed a penalty and gave a goal away from a set-piece so that's perfect to make the afternoon a nightmare. When you drop points and think we have not done the maximum with what we produced, of course, you cannot be happy.
"Santi didn't talk to me, he's so disappointed. It's difficult to blame Cazorla for that and we have to take it on the chin and bounce back in the next game. This is a big blow for us."
West Bromwich Albion's display was trademark Pulis, typically resilient and defined by defensive bravery, organisation, and not without a liberal dashing of fortune. A home win for Albion, only their second of the season, appeared unlikely, especially with Arsenal in such rampant mood in front of goal.
Their 18th goal in seven games came just before the half-hour mark and, unsurprisingly, it was the mercurial Mesut Ozil who provided another assist. This time it came from a free-kick, teeing up Oliver Giroud for a simple header.
A routine victory, you would think? Not so. West Brom were level in the 35th minute, from another set-piece, with James Morrison looping Chris Brunt's free-kick over Petr Cech.
They were ahead five minutes before half-time after an enterprising counter-attack that would not have looked out of place at the Emirates Stadium. Salomon Rondon was released down the left wing and teed up the excellent James McClean, whose low cross was turned over the line by the hand of Arteta. The hairdryer is probably an alien concept to Wenger but Arsenal were clearly fired up for the second half, with Ozil cracking a low shot against the post. It became increasingly frantic for Albion's defence, launching desperate blocks and last-ditch tackles in a bid to keep Arsenal at bay.
Alexis Sanchez was at the heart of all Arsenal's threatening moments, - despite only returning from international duty 36 hours before the game, and West Brom frequently had at least eight outfield players behind the ball to frustrate the Gunners.
Wenger was prowling his technical area, hands deep into his long coat, wondering if the dam was going to break. Joel Campbell, a substitute, wasted a fine chance in the 68th minute to level from close range after Brunt slipped, but skewed his shot wide. Albion did have a third goal disallowed when Jonas Olsson's header was judged not to have crossed the line but they escaped in the 84th minute after a moment Cazorla will struggle hard to forget. Brunt pulled down Sanchez in the area to present Cazorla with the chance to level, but he slipped and scooped the ball over the bar. It was one of those days for Wenger, but he probably expects it now when he faces Pulis.
"We needed to get our home form going and to do that against one of the top sides in the league was fantastic," said Pulis.