Sanchez fires Gunners closer to confirming their top-four residency
Arsenal 2 Wst Brom 0
There are too many empty seats at the Emirates to ignore these days, and a familiar sense of foreboding even when the home team are leading, but no-one can deny the cold, hard truth of it that Arsene Wenger is back on course for his 20th consecutive top-four finish.
The two goals from Alexis Sanchez proved that once again, when Arsenal and Wenger are staring at catastrophe, someone comes up with the goods to pull them back from the brink. Sunday's draw with Crystal Palace, not to mention the last ten years of underachievement, meant that the Emirates was nowhere near full but the team are close to the same kind of finish they usually achieve.
The three points lift Arsenal up to third place with four left to play and two points ahead of Manchester City. Most critically they are four away from Manchester United in fifth place and therefore close again to the promised land of the Champions League places for another year. As for West Brom, without a win in five games, the sanctuary of 40 points seems to be enough for now.
There was one more story on the night, that being the return to action of referee Jon Moss who did not give any penalties on this occasion - controversial or otherwise - but did turn a blind eye to what looked like a couple of borderline dives in the area from Mohamed Elneny and Alex Iwobi.
Perhaps this time, he just wanted a quiet night. It would be right to say that the Emirates filled slowly and certainly by the time Sanchez struck the second of his two first-half goals on 36 minutes it was nowhere near full, but at least Wenger could console himself with the fact that there was not the toxic atmosphere of Sunday's game.
That was largely thanks to the efforts of Sanchez who gave the sparkle to Arsenal's attack and scored goals four and five of his last four games, although there was a moment just before the half-hour when it looked like Arsenal had plateaued again.
Leading 1-0, the West Brom right-back Craig Dawson had a header clip the bar and if that had gone in things could have turned very nasty indeed. Tony Pulis, the West Brom manager, picked a five-man midfield to contain Arsenal and was let down in the sixth minute when Sandro made a half-hearted attempt to get to Sanchez outside the box and was mercilessly turned by the Chilean.
There was one look up from Sanchez before he dispatched a right-footed shot low past Ben Foster for the first goal, that came on the end of a 12-pass move.
With Olivier Giroud back in the starting line-up, Arsenal might have put West Brom away in the next ten minutes but Pulis' side reorganised and held firm. Dawson's header against the bar was their closest sight of goal and it was no surprise to see Per Mertesacker in the middle of defence to deal with the away side's height at set-pieces.
At the other end, Foster gave his manager reason to doubt his goalkeeper's concentration when, after a corner, he let a tame shot from Mesut Ozil squirm through his legs and towards goal. Were it not for Pulis' long-held belief in a man on both posts for corners, Dawson would not have been in position to kick the ball clear.
Claudio Yacob operated at the centre of the five-man midfield and it was his chopping down of Aaron Ramsey that paved the way for the second goal. Moss tried to play the advantage but brought play back.
The range was very close for Sanchez and, with Foster having already shown that his focus might be slipping, it was made very easy for the Arsenal man.
Giroud and Mertesacker lined up on the left side of the West Brom wall and for once the Emirates home support did not mind that the big German centre-half got himself out the way of the shot. Sanchez simply struck the ball at his two Arsenal team-mates who vacated the space to let it fly past Foster before he could move.
(© Daily Telegraph, London)