Ar­se­nal suf­fer an­other set­back

CityPress - - Sport -

Ar­se­nal’s chances of qual­i­fy­ing for the Cham­pi­ons League – by get­ting a top-four po­si­tion in the Premier­ship – took an­other knock after they went down 3-1 at the hands of West Brom at The Hawthorns yes­ter­day.

Arsène Wenger’s men headed into this encounter aim­ing to bounce back from a 3-1 de­feat to Liver­pool at the start of the month, but all eyes inside The Hawthorns were glued to the sky be­fore kick-off as a plane car­ry­ing the mes­sage “No Con­tract #Wenger Out” flew over­head.

The French­man’s fu­ture has be­come the sub­ject of fevered spec­u­la­tion in the English press fol­low­ing the club’s hu­mil­i­at­ing 10-2 ag­gre­gate de­feat at the hands of Bay­ern Mu­nich in the Cham­pi­ons League.

It’s fair to say the mat­ter has po­larised the Gun­ners’ sup­port, as ev­i­denced by an­other plane that flew over­head a few min­utes later, car­ry­ing the mes­sage: “In Arsène We Trust #RespectAW.”

And, de­spite a strong start from the Lon­don­ers, it was the hosts who claimed the lead against the run of play in the 12th minute, Craig Daw­son ris­ing above Lau­rent Ko­scielny to head home from Nacer Chadli’s near-post cross.

The goal sparked an al­most im­me­di­ate re­sponse from the Gun­ners, though, with the ir­re­press­ible Alexis Sánchez latch­ing on to a pin­point pass from Granit Xhaka be­fore lash­ing the ball into the roof of the net from the edge of the six-yard box.

With par­ity re­stored, the match slipped into a pre­dictable rhythm as Ar­se­nal dom­i­nated pos­ses­sion, while the Bag­gies dropped deep and formed a tight de­fen­sive unit in a bid to frus­trate the vis­i­tors.

Petr Čech was even­tu­ally called into ac­tion in the 35th minute to keep out Dar­ren Fletcher’s sting­ing drive from the right-hand side of the box, but had to be sub­sti­tuted a few min­utes later after pulling up with a sus­pected calf in­jury. David Ospina came on to re­place the in­jured Čech, but had very lit­tle to do in the re­main­ing min­utes of the first half.

How­ever, Ar­se­nal’s de­fence – and Ospina in par­tic­u­lar – would be put to the test again after the half-time break, and West Brom very nearly re­claimed the lead in the 51st minute when Salomón Rondón headed wide of the mark from Chris Brunt’s invit­ing cross.

They weren’t to be de­nied four min­utes later, though, as Ospina failed to col­lect a first-time shot from the lively James McClean, and the ball fell for sub­sti­tute Hal Rob­son-Kanu, who had the sim­ple task of prod­ding the ball past Ospina and into an un­guarded net.

Ar­se­nal went ag­o­nis­ingly close to draw­ing level in the 65th minute, but Danny Wel­beck saw his volleyed ef­fort crash back off the cross­bar be­fore be­ing cleared by the Bag­gies de­fence.

And they were made to rue that missed op­por­tu­nity as West Brom went on to bag a third in the 74th minute from yet an­other set-piece, Daw­son evad­ing his marker be­fore pow­er­ing a headed ef­fort home into the back post, ef­fec­tively end­ing the match as a con­test.

The re­sult sees West Brom re­turn to the win­ning trail fol­low­ing backto-back de­feats, while the Gun­ners are still search­ing for their first league win this month.

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