Arsenal grab victory vs. West Brom in last home game of the season
MAY 04, 2014 10:18a ET
With yesterday’s results having guaranteed a slot in the Champions League for Arsenal, there was little for the home side to play for. That was reflected in a languid, even terminally dull occasion. Both teams seemed to have tacitly agreed there would be no rash, heavy tackling, with Arsenal looking ahead to their FA Cup final against Hull, and several players on West Brom keeping an eye on their health for Brazil. The Emirates – announced as a sell-out, but with plenty of empty seats – followed suit. All in all, it was a match that put the “library” back in opposing fans’ old taunts -- the ground had none of the bite we’ve seen throughout this season.
Now, one would have thought that for West Brom, still not mathematically safe from relegation, there was far more on the line. But if manager Pepe Mel hoped to see his players make a statement for next season (namely: “keep me in the job, and allow me to spend some money”) the well-travelled Spaniard’s pre-game chat failed. OK, his team huffed and puffed at times, but you also got the sense they were looking at their watches when their manager’s back was turned, counting the minutes until they could get on the beach.
To be fair, Arsenal started promptly, putting West Brom were under the cosh from the whistle. Lone ranger Saido Berahino was stranded and unable to relieve the pressure, so it only took fifteen minutes for Arsenal to collect. Olivier Giroud sharply headed home a corner from Santi Cazorla after shrugging off the attentions of Craig Dawson. It was an unusually strong play from the French striker, often criticized for his softness, but the fact that the normally rugged West Brom allowed him at their near post in the first place spoke to their own difficulties as well as this season has lurched to the end.
From that moment on, the match devolved, for as Arsenal went up, they also eased off the throttle. Mel did try to have his charges press higher up the field after the break, but it was to little effect as the game devolved into a pace more befitting a testimonial. West Brom rarely threatened and Arsenal looked content to play the same triangles that have won them plaudits and scorn in equal measure.
That’s not to say WBA did not have chances: Graham Dorrans forced Wojciech Szczesny into a fine save after 34 minutes with a speculative shot, and Dorrans had given the Arsenal keeper some work to do earlier in the half as well, with Laurent Koscielny helping to take the sting off a shot from an acute angle. Morgan Amalfitano might have made a game of it with twenty to play, but Szczesny was out to clumsily swat the ball clear.
The closest Arsenal came to killing the game off came late, when Lukas Podolski rattled the bar off service from Ozil. Foster was bemused to see the shot ricochet up and then down into his outstretched arms, and his expression spoke volumes about the oddness of the afternoon.
It is of course hard to blame the players. West Brom is realistically in no danger at all of the drop unless you believe that Norwich is going to rise, Phoenix-like, from the ashes and erase their fur-point game as well as their incredibly bad goal differential. (Since that also means beating Chelsea later today, many think that’s highly unlikely.) Arsenal, who have been without a trophy for ten years, are wisely saving their powder for their game in a fortnight at Wembley, and while the work rate of men like Mesut Ozil and Bacary Sagna was beyond reproach, the fact that they declined to reach for balls or dive in suggested they too were thinking of the summer to come.
So, when the fans started filing out with ten minutes to play, it somehow felt right. They had better things to do as well on this bright and sunny day, and watching two teams just go through the motions wasn’t one of them.