Arsenal 1 West Brom 0 match report: Arsene Wenger consumed by regrets despite Gunners' sunny stroll

French striker Olivier Giroud scored the only goal of the game

Emirates Stadium

The contrast at the final whistle was stark. After a quick acknowledgement of their large and vocal support West Bromwich Albion’s beaten players trudged, heads bowed, for the away dressing room. The mood that would later accompany them home was yet to be settled, the depth of their gloominess set to be determined by what was still to unfold across the other side of the capital. The prospective terrors of a final week struggle for survival after a “shambles” of a season, according to Chris Brunt, their captain, were not to be banished until Norwich failed to beat Chelsea.

Arsenal’s players, meanwhile, remained on the field, joined by their children for a “lap of appreciation” to mark the final home game of a campaign that has ticked boxes their supporters have become accustomed to, and with one rather large one still to be filled in.

The sun shone on the Emirates, spring was in the air and there was a spring too in the step of those in red and white. A large beach ball was happily punched around a section of the home support until a steward stepped in to pantomime boos. It was cup final weather and, with  a top-four place in the Premier League already secured for an 17th successive season thanks to Everton’s defeat the previous evening, most thoughts around here were heading down Wembley way, especially once Olivier Giroud scored the only goal of a contest that bubbled brightly without ever coming to the boil. It promised more than it ultimately delivered, in a way a little like Arsenal’s league season.

Arsène Wenger wrote in his programme notes he believes his side “have moved forward” and “have strong basic ingredients” – no doubt organic or at worst free-range in this part of north London. Afterwards he was relaxed, as befitting the general mood, yet he did not try and disguise an element of frustration as to how Arsenal’s league campaign will end come Sunday; fourth but…

“I’m frustrated as well because we were 120 days top of the league and when you look today it’s very tight and then comes through your mind here and there the points you dropped that we should not have dropped,” said Wenger, who insists he will sign his new contract after the Cup final. “The regret as well is that at the most important period of the season we had too many players out. Many players have played only five to 15 games and that is where we want to improve of course next season.

 

“From the top-four teams only one will win it. Any other team will be frustrated because they will think ‘we could have had taken two points more here or there’… that’s part of the game. I will just say, to be brutal, we miss a few goals compared to the teams who scored the most goals and we missed some big away games by conceding too many.”

Arsenal have scored 30 fewer league goals than Manchester City and Liverpool this season having played one more game and the absence of those players mentioned by Wenger has played a part in failing to mind that gap; there suited, rather than football booted, at the post-match lap were Theo Walcott, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere.

Mesut Özil is back in business and yesterday took another step back towards his best. Like the match, Ozil did not catch the eye from start to finish but still shone on enough occasions to make a difference and was involved in the build-up to the only goal.

Albion had to field a centre-back and a midfielder filling in on either side of the defence and both can be held to account for Giroud’s goal. It came from Arsenal’s first attack of any menace. Ozil ran at Brunt and drifted far too easily past the makeshift left-back. Carzola’s shot was blocked behind by the flying Youssouf Mulumbu but from the corner Giroud headed matter-of-factly past Ben Foster – that despite Craig Dawson’s attempts to cling on to the Frenchman. Dawson stuck with his man but it was with too much ease that Giroud held him off while finding the space to head home.

West Brom only forced Wojciech Szczesny into one serious save, blocking Graham Dorrans’ long-range effort. At the other end Foster dived low to save one-handed from the lively Santi Cazorla, and Lukas Podolski hit the post after slicing an attempted volley. He should have scored, but even though West Brom upped their tempo in the second half there was nothing more to raise their supporters’ spirits than a spate of corners. From one taken directly in front of them, Dorrans failed to clear the first defender. It summed up a general lack of threat.

“Even if we are safe we will be disappointed with a poor season,” said Brunt. “If we do not learn from this season, we will not learn from anything.”

Manager Pepe Mel agreed an 18-month contract when he arrived in January. The Spaniard will meet with Jeremy Peace, the club’s chairman, after the final game against Stoke on Sunday to determine his future. After yesterday’s defeat he did not look like a man keen to remain in the Black Country. His claim that he wanted to stay and build his own side – 13 players are out of contract in the summer – was not hugely convincing.

Mel sent on Victor Anichebe and Matej Vydra to try and put some teeth into his attack in the final 10 minutes but it came to nothing. He bemoaned conceding a goal to a set-piece and his mood cannot have been improved with Chelsea’s struggle to break down Norwich. West Brom, who play Sunderland on Wednesday before finishing against Stoke, are safe though – three points better off than Norwich and with an advantage of 19 on goal difference – but it is a safety claimed more on the failings of others than their own strengths,  as Brunt and Mel seem all  too aware.

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