Danny Welbeck headed Arsenal to a much-needed win over West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns to take them, at least temporarily, into the Premier League’s top four. After being comfortably the most dangerous of the two sides, but with nothing to show for it, as the clock ticked toward the hour-mark, Welbeck capitalized on superb work from Santi Cazorla down the left flank to power a header at goal that Ben Foster could merely flap a hand at before watching in vain as it ruffled the net.
Languishing in eighth place after just four wins from 12 games and back-to-back defeats, Arsenal now sit in fourth, albeit with a whole host of teams having the ability to take the final Champions League berth away from them later in the weekend. Still, after another recent uncomfortable period, Arsene Wenger will be delighted that his side have built some momentum following a 2-0 victory over Borussia Dortmund in midweek that qualified them for the last 16 of the Champions League.
This was also victory that was secured without a recently lengthened injury list, including Jack Wilshere, Wojciech Szczesny and Mikel Arteta. And while it also saw welcome returns to the starting lineup for France international duo Olivier Giroud and Laurent Koscielny, Nacho Monreal was forced off in the first half in what is becoming an all-too familiar scenario for Arsenal.
Those problems proved inconsequential at the Hawthorns. A West Brom side set up to make life difficult, did so for long periods but offered precious little going forward until the frequently isolated Saido Berahino headed against the crossbar late on. It was all-too easy to see why Alan Irvine’s men have now gone three matches without scoring a goal, all of which they have lost. With just one win in their last seven Premier League matches, they could find themselves perilously close to the relegation zone once the weekend has concluded.
The standout feature of Wenger’s starting lineup was a first link up from the start of Arsenal’s undisputed first-choice striker last season, Giroud, and the man signed in haste to fill the gap left by his serious injury in the early weeks of the season, Welbeck. It meant the England international moving out of the striking role he has so welcomed since joining from Manchester United. But, while he lined up on the left flank, he still spent much of his time through the middle.
It was Welbeck’s forages inside that led to most of Arsenal’s openings in the first half. On three occasions, his layoffs found Cazorla, only for the Spaniard’s shooting to lack the required venom to find the West Brom net. Welbeck perhaps had the best chance himself when he was fed through by Aaron Ramsey but shot straight at the legs of his former Manchester United teammate, Foster. Ramsey should have done better, too, when side-footing wide of the target with the type of chance he so regularly put away last season.
At halftime the possession time was equally split between the two teams, but the attacking threat had been anything but even. It wasn’t until the 54th minute that West Brom had their first shot at goal, through Berahino. The striker, troubled by injury and off-field matters in the past week, was a non-factor through most of the contest, in part due to his own lack of sharpness but mainly thanks to a lack of forward ambition shown by a stolid home performance. They and Berahino can look back in frustration at having been denied a glorious chance to get the opening goal when the assistant referee’s flag was raised in error as Berahino ran clear onside. But it wasn’t until the final minutes and after they were behind that they began to show some forward thrust.
It was in the 60th minute that Arsenal produced their breakthrough. Cazorla, excellent in midweek and impressive here, was the key factor in speeding past Andre Wisdom down the left and chipping back to the byline to find Welbeck who headed home form eight yards for his third Premier League goal in an Arsenal shirt. Perhaps, with recent defensive mishaps in mind, Arsenal settled for the one-goal advantage, and the contest’s conclusion was far from comfortable for the visitors. But, helped by Berahino finding the crossbar and Craig Gardner seeing a shot deflect just wide, an Arsenal defense strengthened by Koscielny’s return held on.