Danny Welbeck struck as Arsenal's resurgent end to November was consolidated with a hard-fought 1-0 win at West Bromwich Albion in the Barclays Premier League.
Consecutive defeats domestically after a 3-3 draw with Anderlecht in the UEFA Champions League had left Arsenal in eighth and 15 points adrift of leaders Chelsea. However, a 2-0 win over Borussia Dortmund in midweek proved Arsenal's capabilities against European opposition and the grit displayed at The Hawthorns will have enthused Wenger.
Arsenal were in control of the contest and could have won by more, but Welbeck's second-half header was enough to secure the points on a day the England striker found himself on the left wing with Olivier Giroud's return from injury. Laurent Koscielny stepped back into the Arsenal defence to add a degree of calm and control, the Frenchman largely keeping the in-form Saido Berahino quiet. Berahino hit the bar in the closing stages, but a third defeat in a row without scoring leaves Alan Irvine's side looking over their shoulders as the bottom half of the Barclays Premier League bunches up.
Koscielny and Giroud returned to Arsenal's starting XI after respective eight-week and three-month injury absences, while injuries to Wojciech Szczesny and David Ospinna meant a first BPL start for 22-year-old goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez. The Argentinian enjoyed a fairly comfortable outing, while his opposite number, Ben Foster, had to be sharp early on to deny Santi Cazorla then Alexis Sanchez as Arsenal dominated the opening exchanges.
Wenger was dealt a blow midway through the half as left-back Nacho Monreal was forced off and replaced by Kieran Gibbs, further adding to Arsenal's fitness woes in a week when Jack Wilshere ruled out for three months. Foster did well to close the space as Welbeck was fed by Aaron Ramsey, before coughing up possession cheaply to Giroud, but the Frenchman could not hit the net from a narrow angle. Ramsey went close shortly before half-time, but the sides went in at the break level despite Arsenal's eight shots in on goal to the hosts' zero.
Arsenal continued to dominate in the second half and, after Berahino hit the side-netting, their persistence was rewarded on the hour. Cazorla zipped up the left and past Andre Wisdom before clipping in a cross that Welbeck thudded in off the glove of Foster.
The goal sparked West Brom's attack into life, but Berahino saw his looping header bounce back off the woodwork and Ramsey got a crucial toe to Craig Gardner's fierce drive.
The three points move Arsenal back into top-four contention, although a midweek meeting with Southampton and trip to Stoke City next weekend will again provide a stern examination.
West Brom head coach Alan Irvine: “Arsenal showed the other night against Dortmund what a good side they are. On another day they could have won against Manchester United last week. But we now obviously have to regroup. We've got to get organised because we've got a tough game [on] Tuesday [against West Ham]."
"Obviously we gave the ball away too cheaply at times. We started the game and ended the game well but in the middle we gave the ball away too cheaply. I said before the game that was going to be important, how we used the ball, and we didn't do that well enough at times.
"We spent a load of time on Thursday preparing to try and get forward, try and get people attacking, and we didn't do that well enough with perhaps the exception of that last period of the game."
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger: “We played well but we couldn't take our chances sometimes because of the final ball sometimes because of the finishing. Then when we were 1-0 up having given a lot on Wednesday night we finished the game with solidarity because the legs were a bit jaded but we kept it together."
"In glimpses it [the partnership of Giroud, Sanchez and Welbeck] worked very well but what you want is to score the goals when you have so many strikers on the pitch. But the desire to play together is there and the attitude is very good so the rest will come."
|13 Dec 2014||v Aston Villa (H)|
|20 Dec 2014||v QPR (A)|
|06 Dec 2014||v Hull (A)|
|02 Dec 2014||v West Ham (H)|
|26 Dec 2014||v Man City (H)|
|28 Dec 2014||v Stoke (A)|