‘Fighter’ Giroud saves Gunners with late winner
Arsenal 1 West Brom 0
This was almost the moment when Arsenal could once again forget about the Premier League title race and concentrate on doing what they do best - securing a top-four finish.
But, however faint they may be, Olivier Giroud's late goal in his first Premier League start of the season kept Arsenal's hopes alive and the critics off manager Arsene Wenger's back for the last few days of 2016.
And, despite the narrow victory and the fact they are still nine points behind leaders Chelsea, Arsenal received the backing of West Bromwich Albion manager Tony Pulis.
Pulis, who has seen his team lose by a single goal to both Chelsea and Arsenal in recent weeks, believes Antonio Conte needs to spend in the January transfer window to be sure of maintaining the advantage over Wenger's side.
"If you look at the players who were not playing and not in the team today, and then you look at Chelsea's, I think Arsenal have definitely got the stronger squad," said Pulis.
"So they have most probably got the staying power to see them through and it will be interesting to see what Chelsea do.
"I think Chelsea will spend. I don't think your man (Conte) will sit back on what he's got. I think he will invest. It will be an interesting window for the top four or five clubs."
Following defeats by Everton and Manchester City, Wenger had claimed he was immune to criticism from the fans, but a draw at home to West Brom may well have signalled a revolt heading into the new year. Fortunately for Wenger, Giroud made Arsenal's second-half dominance pay with three minutes remaining as the Frenchman finally got the better of West Brom goalkeeper Ben Foster with a header from Mesut Ozil's ball into the area.
"Players who are ready and get their chance, take it," said Wenger. "Players who feel sorry for themselves and are not ready, give you another reason to leave them out.
"I have got big respect for Olivier. He always makes a point when he comes in because he has scored many times. He has qualities in our squad that are needed and the other players have not. He's a fighter, too, and has a fantastic mentality.
"It has been frustrating for him because he didn't always play but I think we have an honest relationship. I have big respect for him and he knows that.
"We need two or three strikers and we have (Danny) Welbeck coming back so most of the time we have to make the decision depending on our opponent.
"Like today, I knew they would play deep, and in the air Giroud could be the solution so I have to make the right decisions."
On the title race, Wenger added: "We are quite a big distance behind Chelsea and we will need a special resilience to come back. But I hope that the other teams will have their moments of weakness as well."
With Premier League games against Crystal Palace, on New Year's Day, Bournemouth, Swansea City, Burnley and Watford to come, Arsenal desperately needed to start a favourable run of fixtures with a win.
But, without Theo Walcott, who is also likely to miss the Palace and Bournemouth games with a calf injury, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Arsenal made a slow start against West Brom.
Before the break, Giroud's most noteworthy impact had been a shove on Jonny Evans that earned him a yellow card.
Just as they did at Chelsea, West Brom lined up with seven men, including Foster, behind the ball when they were defending and it proved to be similarly difficult for the hosts to get past them.
Arsenal, and in particular Alexis Sanchez, came alive after the restart and it took a combination of Foster and the post to prevent Wenger's men from taking the lead before the hour mark.
First, Foster, who signed a new West Brom contract on Christmas Eve, produced a double save from Giroud and Sanchez.
From the resulting corner, Sanchez managed to find space for himself in the area and cracked a fierce shot against the outside of the post.
Foster then had to make a brilliant save to tip a long-range effort from Sanchez over the bar before keeping out Giroud with an outstretched foot.
Arsenal survived a major scare with 20 minutes remaining following a series of West Brom corners.
Petr Cech fumbled Chris Brunt's delivery, but Claudio Yacob lifted the ball over the bar from inside the six-yard box.
That was the visitors' big chance gone and they paid the price in the 87th minute as Giroud lifted the frustration inside the Emirates.
Hector Bellerin raided down the right and pulled the ball back for Ozil. He planted in on to the head of Giroud, who outmuscled Gareth McAuley and this time Foster was helpless.
Substitute Lucas Perez argued with Gabriel as they left the pitch at the final whistle, but the dissenting voices in the stands had been, perhaps temporarily, silenced. (© Daily Telegraph, London).