Arsenal 2 – 3 West Brom

Gonzalo Jara (left) celebrates with Chris Brunt (centre) and Peter Odemwingie
Jara (left) grabbed the second goal at the Emirates Stadium
By Les Roopanarine

West Brom capped an unforgettable week by outclassing Arsenal to secure a first away win in 18 top-flight games.

After Chris Brunt had a first-half penalty saved, Peter Odemwingie fired the opener from Jerome Thomas‘s centre.

Brunt fed Gonzalo Jara for the second, although Manuel Almunia should have saved his shot, and Thomas made it three after some dismal defending.

Samir Nasri scored a late double for Arsenal, but it provided little consolation for boss Arsene Wenger.

It was West Brom’s second major scalp in the space of four days following Wednesday night’s Carling Cup victory over Manchester City, but that was a game contested by what effectively amounted to two reserve sides.

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Di Matteo praises courageous West Brom

This could hardly have been more different, a promoted Albion side producing a performance full of enterprise and endeavour to secure a famous win against a Premier League heavyweight.

True, the absence of a clutch of injured stars – including captain Cesc Fabregas and Theo Walcott – meant the home side lacked their usual creativity and fluency.

But Arsenal’s performance was as sloppy and error-strewn as West Brom’s was inspired and purposeful.

Sunderland had delivered an object lesson in how to contain Arsenal last weekend, pressing and harrying to deny the Gunners space and time, but only in the final throes of the game were West Brom forced to settle into a similar pattern.

If anything, until Nasri – who also hit the bar – led a belated Arsenal fightback, it was West Brom who looked more credible title contenders, although they first had to overcome a difficult start.

Perhaps betraying understandable unease at the prospect of facing an Arsenal attack that had previously been in electric form at home, scoring 16 goals in three games in all competitions, the Albion defence made a hash of a routine early clearance.

A series of attempts to usher the ball away ricocheted around the box, a skewed skyward punt followed, and the danger was finally snuffed out only when Jonas Olsson hacked down Emmanuel Eboue, earning a yellow card.

West Brom were soon in trouble again as Eboue swung in a cross from the right and Andrey Arshavin, nipping in ahead of Brunt, side-footed against the post.

Briefly, Arsenal threatened to click into gear as Marouane Chamakh headed a Sagna cross wide before Nasri drove a low 25-yard effort just the wrong side of Scott Carson’s left-hand upright.

But it proved a false dawn, and as West Brom began to press and close down their vaunted opponents, Arsenal looked increasingly discomfited and should have fallen behind when Almunia raced off his line before bringing down Odemwingie on the edge of the area.

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It was a poor challenge and the Premier League’s youngest referee, Michael Oliver, who had a quietly impressive afternoon, rightly pointed to the spot.

Brunt’s penalty, struck low to Almunia’s right, was weak, and the Arsenal keeper redeemed himself by getting down quickly to smother the danger.

The Spaniard apparently injured his shoulder in the initial challenge and received treatment at the break, but questions will inevitably be raised about his second-half performance.

There was little Almunia could do when Thomas, cutting in from the left, wriggled past Sagna and gave Odemwingie an easy finish.

But he was clearly at fault for West Brom’s second, scored by Jara after he had danced through the Arsenal defence, when the Chile international’s shot to bounce off his arms and into the net as he crouched to gather the ball.

Almunia was equally at fault for the visitors’ third, inexplicably racing out to meet Brunt’s run into the right-hand side of the area, a manoeuvre which left the Baggies midfielder with the simple task of squaring for Thomas, who gleefully slotted home.

Three down in their own backyard, a rocked Arsenal finally stirred.

Nasri led the rearguard action, shuddering the bar from range before lashing in his third and fourth goals of the week following his Carling Cup exploits against Tottenham.

But West Brom, inspired by the obduracy of a defence brilliantly marshalled by Olsson, hung on for a memorable victory which will inevitably raise questions about Arsenal’s title credentials ahead of next Sunday’s trip to Chelsea.

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