Saturday 24 March 2018

Wenger mystified as Arsenal humiliated

West Brom 3 Arsenal 2

Having witnessed the first flaws in Chelsea's armour, Arsenal displayed their failings at the Emirates Stadium where they lost for the first time this season and, in so doing, suffered their first home defeat for nine months.

Chelsea's defeat at Manchester City earlier in the day had offered Arsenal the incentive to close the gap at the top of the Premier League ahead of their short trip to Stamford Bridge next Sunday. But a strangely inept performance left Arsenal and their fans stunned.

Following the 4-1 extra-time League Cup win at Tottenham, Arsenal were exposed by an Albion side that scored two goals in two second-half minutes, from Peter Odemwingie and Gonzalo Jara. It set up West Bromwich Albion for their first win at Arsenal for nearly 27 years. And a third goal, from Jerome Thomas, handed the home side a potentially damaging reverse. Samir Nasri replied with two late consolation goals. Despite late pressure Arsene Wenger's team could not break the resolve of Albion.

Wenger, who must lift his side ahead of Tuesday's Champions League trip to Partizan Belgrade, said: "We made it difficult because we were not at our usual level. It is unexplainable that we were so flat. It is a mystery to me."

Wenger refused to point fingers at individuals. "Many players made massive mistakes. I didn't recognise my team so we have to sit down and analyse it. Something was not right," he added.

"We pressed them very high in their half, all over the pitch, and when we had the ball we created a lot of chances," said Albion manager Roberto Di Matteo.

Albion lost 6-0 in their last trip to London, the open-day thrashing at Chelsea, and Di Matteo added: "We got a hammering at Chelsea but we have learned and we still have to learn and improve."

The statistics show the magnitude of the win: it was Albion's first away victory in the Premier League for two days short of two years and 19 attempts, while they became the first visiting team to win here since Manchester United won 3-1 in January.

Yet the score could have been worse had Manuel Almunia not saved a late first-half penalty.

However, he could do nothing to prevent Odemwingie from giving Albion a 50th-minute lead and two minutes later Jara's effort squeezed through his grasp.

Albion were first to threaten. Former Arsenal winger Thomas, outstanding throughout, was allowed to run into the Arsenal area but his cross was poor.

Albion survived in the 14th minute when Emmanuel Eboue's cross was turned against an Albion post by Pablo Ibanez, with Andrei Arshavin finding the same left upright from the rebound.

Arsenal had a let off before the interval when Almunia conceded a penalty, taking the legs of Odemwingie. With a covering defender, he survived only a yellow card but this was definitely an off day for the goalkeeper. Almunia responded with a fine save, diving to his right to deflect Brunt's kick to safety, but he was soon at fault again.

Albion maintained their momentum with a deserved goal just five minutes into the second half when Thomas beat Bacary Sagna on the left before feeding Odemwingie, who turned the ball over the goal line unchallenged.

If that was unexpected, what followed was remarkable with Albion extending their advantage two minutes later. Jara exchanged passes with Brunt, racing onto a back heeled pass. Spotting Almunia off his line, the Chilean slotted the ball between the goalkeeper and the right post, exposing the Spaniard's positioning.

Arsenal made three changes, with Jack Wilshere belatedly introduced, but the damage had been inflicted. And another slip by Almunia allowed Albion to extend their lead in the 73rd minute. The goalkeeper hesitated, allowing Brunt to cross for Thomas to convert. Nasri struck the crossbar before clawing one goal back, in the 75th minute and added a second in the first minute of added time, but Albion held on.


Sunday Independent

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