At this rate, Robin van Persie will have to start every match for the remainder of his Arsenal career. Arsène Wenger rested his top scorerand captain for the Champions' League group game against Marseille in midweek and the result was a goalless draw. Yesterday he restored the Dutchman to the starting XI and was rewarded with a match-winning performance.
Van Persie put Arsenal ahead with his 11th League goal of the season, then set up the other two for Thomas Vermaelen, who scored for the first time after missing most of last season with an achilles injury, and Mikel Arteta.
Van Persie, the top scorer in the Premier League, has now scored eight goals in his past four games and 29 in 28 League games in 2011, and Wenger was lavish in his praise. "When I was young, they used to speak in Germany about national class, international class and world class," Wenger said. "Perhaps only five players were world class, maybe 10. I would put him in that calibre."
Inspired by Van Persie, Arsenal looked firmly back in the old routine of punishing mediocre opposition, and West Bromwich certainly fulfilled that role yesterday. They had won here last season, but there was never the remotest possibility of a repeat as Wenger's men extended their winning run in the Premier League to four matches, with six victories in the eight games since the 8-2 defeat by Manchester United at Old Trafford.
"The spirit of the squad was right from the first to the last minute," Wenger said. "One month ago we were in a bad situation, but there was a drive to do better, and it's still there. That was the most pleasing thing. You could feel in the dressing room at half-time that they wouldn't switch off."
Albion were weakened by the absences through injury of forwards Peter Odemwingie, who had excelled here last September, and Shane Long, but were also overrun in midfield, where Arteta and Aaron Ramsey dominated. "We put in a hell of a shift and we had to because we were up against a very good team who were rampant," Roy Hodgson, Albion's manager, said.
Expecting Odemwingie to play, Wenger benched Per Mertesacker in favour of the more mobile Laurent Koscielny, but almost any combination of Arsenal defenders might have been able to deal with a less- than-intimidating strikeforce. Their own attack foundered too often on a poor final pass early on, but everything came together as they took the lead in the 22nd minute. Ramsey's superbly disguised pass inside Billy Jones, the Albion left-back, sent Theo Walcott through, and though his shot was blocked by the legs of Ben Foster, the goalkeeper, the ball ran loose to the onrushing Van Persie, who could not miss from three yards out.
The only danger to Arsenal's lead came when they allowed the ball to reach Jerome Thomas, their former winger, on the left, where he was stopped in his tracks just inside the penalty area by a challenge from Koscielny that looked barely legal.
Five minutes before the interval Arsenal were 2-0 ahead. Alex Song drifted a high cross beyond the far post, where Van Persie had been allowed far too much space. He volleyed the ball back across goal and although Gervinho could not make contact, it came to Vermaelen, who struck a low first-time shot past Foster.
In the second half Vermaelen glanced a header wide, Foster saved from Gervinho and Song, and a third Arsenal goal seemed only a matter of time. It arrived with 16 minutes to go as Van Persie combined with Tomas Rosicky to set up Arteta, who scored from 18 yards.
Albion could not even score with Vermaelen grounded, as he still managed to block a shot by the substitute Somen Tchoyi, and Wojciech Szczesny made a rare save from Steven Reid's header with three minutes left to preserve Arsenal's first can sheet in five League games.
Arsenal (4-3-3): Szczesny; Jenkinson, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Santos; Ramsey (Rosicky 71), Song, Arteta; Walcott (Arshavin, 77), Van Persie, Gervinho (Benayoun, 71).
West Bromwich (4-4-1-1): Foster; Reid, McAuley, Olsson, Jones; Brunt, Dorrans (Thorne, 80), Morrison, Thomas; Gera (Tchoyi, 62); Cox (Mulumbu, 71).
Referee: Michael Oliver
Man of the match: Van Persie (Arsenal)