West Brom 2-2 Arsenal: Sunday Mirror match report
Published 22:30 19/03/11 By Colin Malam
West Brom came within 12 minutes yesterday of completing the double over Arsenal and wrecking the Londoners’ last hope of rescuing some silverware from the season.
Only a desperate toe-poke by Robin van Persie brought Arsenal level as they finally abandoned all attempts at careful football and threw the kitchen sink at the Albion in the closing minutes.
But Van Persie’s equaliser was not enough to prevent Manchester United widening their lead over Arsenal in what manager Arsene Wenger has described as a two-horse race for the title.
Albion deserved their point from a result that keeps them fighting to stay away from the bottom three. But a two-goal lead should have been enough for victory.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was not at all disappointed with the failure to win this match. “I’m proud of the spirit we’ve shown,” he said of his team’s fight-back. “It shows we’re ready for a fight.
“It will be down to character and resilience. We lost two points today, but I think that psychologically we won a point.
“The Premier League has had to most unpredictable results since I’ve been in England. So it (the title) will be down to consistency and character.”
Wenger refused to criticise in public the two men, Manuel Almunia and Sebastien Schillaci, responsible for allowing West Brom’s second goal.
“The players involved in that second goal know what it’s about,” was all he would say. But he must have been seething inside.
West Brom manager Roy Hodgson was also pleased with his team’s performance.
“It was a sterling effort by everyone against a very good team,” he said.
“The way they move the ball, they ask questions of you. It’s disappointing to be two goals up and not win, but far be it from me to suggest Arsenal did not get what they deserved.”
West Brom could not have made a better start. The match was only in its third minute when Chris Brunt slung over a corner from the left for right back Steven Reid to leave Manuel Almunia helpless with a free header fromsix yards.
Fallible defensively again, Arsenal did not look like a team striving for the title. They dominated possession without making much impression until
Gael Clichy made ground down the left and crossed the ball in the 25th minute.
Robin van Persie met the cross with his head and the ball looped over Scott Carson to strike the bar. But the Albion ‘keeper recovered quickly enough to block Aaron Ramsey’s point-blank shot from the rebound.
Maybe Arsenal’s scoring chance owed something to the fact that West Brom were down to 10 men at the time. James Morrison was off for nine minutes in all to have five stitches put in a head wound after an accidental collision with Laurent Koscielny.
Both managers reshuffled their teams at the start of the second half. Marek Cech replaced Paul Scharner and played on the left. Jerome Thomas switched to the right, while Morrison dropped back into central midfield and Brunt joined Peter Odemwingie up front.
Arsenal went on the attack. Striker Maroune Chamakh was sent on to replace disappointing defensive midfielder Denilson, shortly to be followed by the introduction of Niklas Bendtner for Ramsey, short of match fitness in his first start of the season.
It was West Brom, though, who continued to make the chances. Brunt, for instance, stretched to connect with Cech’s low centre, but could only direct his shot wide of goal.
Then Arsenal paid for yet another mix-up between goalkeeper and defender.
When Reid hoisted a long ball up the middle, the dithering of Almunia and Sebastien Squillaci allowed Peter Odemwingie to roll the ball home from outside the penalty area.
It was reminiscent of the misunderstanding between Wojciech Szczesny and Koscielny that cost Arsenal the Carling Cup final at the beginning of the club’s disastrous and costly three weeks.
This time, though, the Gunners fired back with an excellent goal by Andrey Arshavin. Exchanging passes with Chamakh, the Russian drove an angled shot cleanly past Carson.
It was Arshavin, anonymous until then, who also delivered the cross that led to the equaliser. Bendtner headed back across goal, Abdoulaye Meite struggled to clear and Van Persie pounced to prod the ball home.
Even then, a thrilling second half refused to stop offering excitement. Almunia somehow managed to deflect a shot from substitute Marc-Antoine Fortune, while Carson had to dive low to keep out a shot from the marauding Clichy.