Arsenal 1 West Brom 0: Three talking points
Arsenal 1 West Brom 0: Three talking points as the Gunners seal fourth spot
Following the departure of Robin Van Persie, hopes were high that a high-profile frontman would arrival to fill the goal-scoring void. Therefore, many eyebrows were raised in north London when Olivier Giroud arrived as the direct replacement for the departing Dutchman. Boasting a transfer fee of £9.6m, many onlookers were unsure whether Arsene Wenger had spent the transfer funds wisely, but the doubters have certainly been proven wrong. Statistics illustrate that that the Frenchman’s faith in his fellow countryman was perfectly placed as Giroud has averaged a goal every 2.2 games this season, with 22 strikes in 49 appearances. The failure to sign a potent striker is seen to be a key reason why the wheels fell off Arsenal’s title ambitions, but the talismanic frontman outlined his worth in this encounter. With just 14 minutes gone, the 27-year-old opened the scoring from Santi Cazorla’s teasing corner, to notch his fourth headed goal of the campaign. His impact wouldn’t stop there though as Giroud harnessed his best abilities to full effect, as he showed the strength to easily brush off defenders and interwine the attacking movement of the hosts. Given the effect of the World Cup on recruitment plans and the dearth of talent within their ranks, it will prove crucial for Wenger to hold onto him.
Worries for West Brom
During the last decade, West Bromwich Albion have been known as a yo-yo club who have struggled to secure their status as a stable Premier League side. Throughout his time at the club, Jeremy Peace has been known to have patience with managers but in recent times, there has been a noticeable change in his approach. Since giving Tony Mowbray and Robert Di Matteo a combined total of 1559 days (4.27 years) in charge, the Baggies have appointed five bosses in a three-year spell and Peace has seemingly become impatient with a lack of improvement. Clearly the growing riches of the Premier League facilitated this swap from stability but there are question marks over whether it has paid off. The harsh sacking of Steve Clarke came in December 2013, after the Scot had guided the club to their highest league finish (8th) in 33 years, with Keith Downing taking the reins on an interim basis. Just 26 days later, the upheaval continued as Pepe Mel was chosen as the third manager of the season, in an attempt to arrest the slide in fortunes, but the Spaniard has won just three times since taking charge. Sitting just four points outside of the relegation zone, Albion’s safety is not yet secured and with 12 players either on loan or out of contract at the end of the campaign, their future trajectory looks unclear. With Mel casting doubt over his long-term future earlier in the week, the Chairman faces some crucial decisions over the Summer.
Throughout the 2013/14 season, Arsenal’s fans have experienced the full spectrum of emotions. On the opening day, Aston Villa embarrassed them at The Emirates as Paul Lambert’s side triumphed 3-1, but the Gunners regrouped in style to give themselves a realistic chance of winning the Premier League. Until early February, these dreams were alive but a dip in form, which included heavy away defeats to Liverpool, Chelsea and Everton put pay to these. The only constant in recent times has been their insatiable ability to get a result at home, as they sought to protect their unbeaten run at home. While the stadium may not possess the history of Highbury, it is clear to see that their new ground is steadily turning into a fortress. This run, which includes 13 victories and five defeats, never looked under threat against the Baggies, who have now won just once in their last 20 trips to London. An ability to stay strong at the back has proved to be a component of this sequence, with 16 clean sheets being kept by Per Mertesacker and co. Consistency on their own turf has helped to keep up a long-standing tradition of finishing in the top-four, with an 18th consecutive appearance in these spots now secured. While many fans will question the ambitions of a club that seemingly values a Champions League place more than a trophy, it is clear to see that home is where the points are.