At the final whistle a banner was unfurled by Arsenal fans which read: “Arsène, thanks for the memories but it’s time to say goodbye.” It was instant, cruel judgment after a week when his team had reached the last 16 of the Champions League and recorded their first win in three matches.
The Arsenal manager was clearly rattled and surprised by the message but managed to respond in a calm and dignified manner. “I don’t comment about that,” he said. Pressed further he said: “I don’t comment. Do I need to say it again? The only thing we can do is let people talk. We live in a society of opinion. The job of every person is to prepare for the future.”
Wenger finds himself in a no win situation, having started the game with the club’s worst start to a season in 32 years. Even victories now are greeted with scorn by some of his own fans and yesterday’s result was no different. It was Arsenal’s fifth win of the season but all of them have been against teams in the bottom third of the League and therein lies his problem.
West Brom 0 Arsenal 1 - player ratings
West Brom 0 Arsenal 1 - player ratings
1/4 From the bench: Victor Anichebe
Offered a physical threat but struggled to make an impact as a second half sub. 6
2/4 Laurent Koscielny
Timely interceptions in the penalty area, the Frenchman has been badly missed by Wenger's side. 6
3/4 Nacho Monreal
Went off injured and was unable to make a serious impact on the game. 5
4/4 Aaron Ramsey
Still trying to find his best form. Unlucky not to have scored but played well throughout. 6
He needs to be seriously challenging the top six. Wenger picked an attacking line-up with Danny Welbeck, Alexis Sanchez, Santi Cazorla and fit-again Olivier Giroud in a team designed to score goals against a West Bromwich side short of confidence. The visitors monopolised possession and weaved pretty passing patterns but were woefully short of threat. It was so uninspiring in the first half that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain appeared to fall asleep on the substitutes bench.
Arsenal’s opening two attacks offered nothing more than catching practice for Ben Foster. In the first six minutes, Cazorla and Sanchez fired in shots which the Albion goalkeeper caught without any undue alarm. It was 25 minutes before the Gunners penetrated behind a solid line of West Bromwich defenders.
Aaron Ramsey pierced the Albion barricade of eight players to find Welbeck running free into the penalty box but his cross-shot was saved as Foster came rushing from his line to narrow the angle. Albion’s smothering tactics worked admirably for the durations of the first half, although Foster almost dropped his team in it by trying to dribble out of his area. He lost the ball to Giroud but the angle was too tight for the striker to find the back of the empty net.
Further attempts from long range by Cazorla and Ramsey were the best the Gunners could offer before half-time but Welbeck finally delivered the wake-up call Arsenal wanted on the hour. Cazorla accelerated down the left and stood up his cross for the England striker to head powerfully into the net via Foster’s attempted two-handed intervention.
The goal was an alarm call, too, for Albion who began to find some attacking momentum. Saido Berahino, who earlier shot tamely into the side netting, headed a Graham Dorrans cross against the bar. The West Bromwich striker has now gone four League games without scoring and that will not have impressed the watching England manager Roy Hodgson. Neither will his alleged drink-driving offence this week.
The home side threw everything forward at the finish, including Foster who moved up for a corner, but they could find no way through. The Albion fans turned on Alan Irvine, in the second half after his substitution of Stéphane Sessègnon (with an outburst of boos and chants of “you don’t know what you are doing.”)
The outburst was as harsh on the Baggies manager as it was on Wenger but Irvine accepts it comes with the territory. “It’s not nice” he said. “People have own opinions but it (the substitution) nearly worked. We really looked as if we might score. Perhaps people would have had a different judgment then.
“It’s bizarre that I’m also being asked to defend Arsène Wenger for what he’s done. He has had an incredible time. It doesn’t please me to see him criticised. He’s been doing a tough job for a long time.”
West Bromwich Albion (4-2-3-1): Foster; Wisdom, Lescott, Dawson, Pocognoli (Gamboa, 74); Gardner, Mulumbu (Anichebe, 64); Brunt, Dorrans, Sessègnon (Samaras, 76); Berahino.
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Martinez; Chambers, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal (Gibbs, 23): Flamini, Ramsey; Welbeck Sanchez, Cazorla; Giroud (Oxlade-Chamberlain, 78)
Man of the match: Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal)
Match rating: 6/10
Referee: Chris FoyReuse content