We were all hoping for our strongest attacking triumvirate to take to the field, which are Alexis, Ozil and Lacazette, but Mesut Ozil only made the bench. There were other inclusions and omissions which raised the eyebrow as well.
Aaron Ramsey was expected to make the lineup and he did, but not in his usual position in the centre. The Welshman was given a spot in the attacking front three, with Egyptian Mohamed Elneny playing alongside Granit Xhaka in the engine room. With West Brom including Grzegorz Krychowiak and record-breaker Gareth Barry in the centre of the pitch, our unfamiliar pairing in the centre would be facing a strict test.
Kieran Gibbs made his return to The Emirates and he received a warm welcome. The ex-Gunner was given the task of patrolling the left flank in defence and attack, and this put him in direct conflict with Ramsey. This would be a mouthwatering duel.
We had plenty of firepower on the bench if things went awry. With Olivier Giroud, Theo Walcott and Mesut Ozil as options, as well as Jack Wilshere looking impressive in his last outing, we could turn the tide if needs be.
The home side started well, and in the first five minutes Alexis earned a free kick about 25 yards out which bewitched Ben foster in the West Brom goal but it sailed narrowly wide.
But it was West Brom who came closest to breaking the deadlock. Jay Rodriguez outpaced Shkodran Mustafi to gain a yard and when he checked back in the box, Mustafi took out Rodriguez’s trailing leg. The West Brom striker went to ground and it was a clear foul, but got up immediately to take a shot, which curled around Petr Cech and struck the far post. On first appearances anyway. On closer inspection and with the benefit of slow-motion replay, the reason for the miss was that Cech had saved with his fingertips brilliantly.
Referee Bobby Madley may have been playing advantage as Rodriguez had a chance for a shot, but we were very lucky not to concede a penalty. After a settled start, this scare was just the reminder we needed that our opponent was a dangerous one.
Alexis was given a second opportunity to score from a free kick about 20 mins in and roughly 25 yards out, and his effort had zip. Foster saved well, but could only parry out and up, leaving the ball airborne. Who was quickest to the loose ball? The predatory instincts of Alexandre Lacazette were on show and put him ahead of everyone in the box, he nodded in to give the Gunners the lead.
The unjust penalty calls were soon even as well. Alexis Sanchez had his shirt wrenched around his neck by Krychowiak which Madley failed to spot, so the karmic balance was set evenly once more.
West Brom were showing a tendency to to give away set-plays too, and a third free kick in a dangerous setting about 25 yards out was awarded. It was Alexis again who took it and again he produced an effort that was not far away at all, flying just wide.
Then, with eight minutes remaining of the half, the Baggies should have equalised.
A strong run saw a ball arc over our defence to the far post, and it was met by Rodriguez. His downward header evaded everyone but Nacho Monreal who flew into the goal and cleared acrobatically. It was a phenomenal piece of defending, and it kept Arsenal in the lead.
Arsenal had controlled proceedings after their goal, but West Brom were finishing the half the stronger. Hal Robson-Kanu nearly made contact with a cross with just Cech to beat and the home team were letting this game slip away.
Thankfully, the half time whistle blew and it couldn’t have come soon enough. We were on the ropes and the Albion were sniffing blood.
The second half started quite settled for both sides, but it was Arsenal who had the first chance.
It is an unwritten rule that former players come back to haunt you, and Gibbs just had to have a say. Sanchez rampaged down the left and squared for Elneny, who passed to Lacazette who looked odds on to score in the box. His shot was deflected over though at the last minute by a diving Gibbs. It should have been two.
West Brom hadn’t kicked on in this half, and were using their tools of gamesmanship to stem Arsenal’s rising swell of attacks. They were staying tight to the Gunners attacks and if there was an opportunity to stop an Arsenal move in its tracks, they were taking it without remorse.
Nacho Monreal was having a fantastic game. Every touch was assured, his positioning was supreme. He really was excellent in whatever he did. Credit where it is due, but it is hardly the first time the Spaniard has shown his class.
Kolasinac too was on song, and Elneny was giving a good account of himself. Lacazette was dropping deep to get service but he was giving Evans and co food for thought. As a team though, we were falling short of clicking.
Still, we were doing enough to force Tony Pulis’s hand. He swapped Jake Livermore for the more attack-minded James Morrison, and also took out Robson-Kanu for the target man Salomon Rondon.
Pulis wanted to bombard us.
Bobby Madley took the wind out of West Brom though. Aaron Ramsey turned Alan Nyom and as he burst into the box from out wide, Nyom clearly took out the Welshman. Alexandre Lacazette, prolific from spot-kicks, placed it low and in the left corner and out of the grasp of Foster, and that made it 2-0 to The arsenal, and four for the season for the Frenchman.
There was little over 20 minutes left after the penalty was taken, and just one goal would leave us biting our nails, so West Brom had no option but to go for it. That would play right into our hands.
The press was fizzling out from West Brom and we were given that little bit of breathing space as the time wore on toward the final whistle. Lacazette came off with ten minutes left, and his countryman Olivier Giroud replaced him, and Alexis was taken off at the same time, with Mesut Ozil coming on for his cameo and a step closer to full fitness.
Arsenal had overcome a tough side and real test in this game. There were moments when we could have went behind, and the Baggies gave a fantastic account of themselves. We fought well though, and our first half display especially showed we can rough it when we need to.
So, it was another win, and we climb the table a little higher than before. We can take great pride in our last few games, but the tests keep coming and we must continue to show the application we have done in the last month.