West Bromwich Albion (0) 0 Arsenal (2) 4
The Hawthorns, 9 Birmingham Road, West Bromwich B71 4LF
Saturday, 2nd January 2021. Kick-off time: 8.00pm
(4-2-3-1) Bernd Leno; Hector Bellerin, Rob Holding, Pablo Marí, Kieran Tierney; Dani Ceballos, Granit Xhaka; Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith-Rowe, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang; Alexandre Lacazette.
Substitutes: Willian Borges da Silva, Alex Rúnarsson, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Nicolas Pépé, David Luiz, Mohamed Elneny, Joe Willock, Eddie Nketiah, Gabriel Martinelli.
Scorers: Kieran Tierney (23 mins), Bukayo Saka (28 mins), Alexandre Lacazette (61, 64 mins)
Yellow Cards: Hector Bellerin, Dani Ceballos
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 62%
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Assistant Referees: Darren Cann, Harry Lennard
Fourth Official: Darren England
VAR Team at Stockley Park: VAR Jonathan Moss; AVAR Stephen Child
Attendance: A maximum of 300 attendees due to UK government coronavirus restrictions
Firstly, Happy New Year to everyone! Secondly, the pressing matter of tonight’s game. After winning the previous two matches, this evening’s contest becomes paramount in our restoration to a decent Premiership position, one that a club of our stature should be rightly pround of. Today is all about Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who is set to make his one hundredth Premier League appearance; and by the way, he has also been involved in seventeen goals in fifteen Premiership matches against promoted opposition, scoring thirteen goals and four assists. To date, he has scored fifty-seven Premiership goals (with thirteen assists) since he started here at Arsenal in the 2017-18 season. Congratulations, may there be many more goals and assists for us from him, starting with tonight’s match at The Hawthorns. Let’s go!
On an absolutely freezing night in the West Midlands, both sides started quite slowly, probably due to the chilly nature of the weather tonight, but we looked the livelier of the two teams when Hector Bellerin drilled a low shot at goal which goalkeeper Sam Johnstone managed to clear the ball away after just four minutes. Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith-Rowe got extremely close to opening the scoring, but in both cases, the WBA goalie saved well; Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang also came close to scoring (via a Bukayo Saka cross) after fifteen minutes, but only suceeded in wrapping himself around the far post! After twenty-two minutes, Kieran Tierney beat Darnell Furlong twice on the left, cut inside, and scored a beautiful opening goal with his right foot that sailed past Sam Johnstone and into the top right-hand corner of the net. Five minutes later, we got the second goal of the evening, when Bukayo Saka received a pass and fed Alexandre Lacazette, who rolled it into the path of Emile Smith Rowe in the box; he then merely laid it on a plate for Bukayo Saka who tapped the ball into an open net from a couple of yards out, which finished off a Barҫa-like movement perfectly, and in the middle of a snowstorm too! Sublime. Despite being two goals ahead, this did not stop our hunger for more. Rob Holding came close with a powerful header that the WBA goalie managed, somehow to hold, and just before the healf-time break, Alexandre Lacazette was desperately unlucky not to score from close range, when his powerful shot cannoned off the goalie for a corner.
Just a couple of minutes into the second half, the home side did manage to get the ball into the back of our net, but fortunately it was cancelled out for offside. Phew. Anyway, we composed ourselves and got back into the match with some very good work on the wing by our two full-backs, and less than ten minutes after the restart, surprisingly it has to be said, Ainsley Maitland-Niles replaced Hector Bellerin at full-back. Just after the substitution, Dani Ceballos picked out Alexandre Lacazette, but he was forced wide by Sam Johnstone allowing Dara O’Shea to get back on the goal-line and hack the goalbound shot clear; it made no difference, as just after the hour, Bukayo Saka got involved again as his cross was volleyed onto his own post by Semi Ajayi; he then blocked Emile Smith Rowe’s follow through, but the ball fell nicely for Alexandre Lacazette to convert a low finish from about five yards out. And again, three minutes later, Alexandre Lacazette grabbed our fourth (and his second) of the night, when a Kieran Tierney cross was diverted into the back of the WBA net by our number nine, who was having a superb night. Bukayo Saka made way for Willian after seventy minutes, and six minutes later, Joe Willock replaced Emile Smith-Rowe in order to get new legs out on the pitch for the remainder of the game. And still we came forward, hungry for yet more goals. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Kieran Tierney were unfortunate not to score, and despite the disappointment of Dani Ceballos receiving a yellow card for a pointless challenge a couple of minutes before the end, that was pretty much the end of things here at The Hawthorns tonight.
We appear to have risen, phoenix-like, from the ashes of the possibility of relegation. Nine points from three games, eleventh in the Premiership, three points from sixth place. Wow. The demolition derby that took plave in the snowbound West Midlands tonight was a football lesson, the likes of which we have not seen from the team this season. It was a joy to watch from start to finish; accurate passing, good running both on and off the ball, and above all this, they had complete control. Great to see Alexandre Lacazette getting on the scoresheet again, and just how good was Kieran Tierney tonight? A superb way to start a new year. Keep it up, chaps.
Remember everyone, keep the faith, get behind the team and the manager, as this season is going to be crucial for our future success in all competitions. Stick with the winners. Our next match: Newcastle United at the Emirates on Saturday, 9th January at 5.30pm (FA Cup). Victoria Concordia Crescit.
Too Dearly Loved To Be Forgotten: Arsenal v Racing Club de Paris 1930-1962 by Steve Ingless (Rangemore Publications, ISBN 978-1-5272-0135-4) is now available on Amazon.
Happy new year gents. And if the boys keep playing like that, it most certainly will be.