Arsenal mark fourth place with defeat of West Bromwich Albion
LONDON // Arsenal were not accustomed to this. They have tended to take their pursuit of Uefa Champions League football down to the final day of the season.
They have become experts in prevailing on nerve-racking occasions in May. Yesterday was altogether different, a game that lacked the usual consequences or considerations.
It was that rarity for Arsenal, an end-of-season affair with little riding on it. They secured victory nonetheless, courtesy of Olivier Giroud’s header, to give themselves a seven-point advantage over Everton and prove that, despite the Merseysiders’ spirited challenge, their status in the elite quartet was never in doubt.
“I believe the mentality of the team was outstanding,” manager Arsene Wenger said. “You can be pleased of the attitude, but frustrated because we were top of the league for so long.”
They led for 128 days in total and, while they could not sustain a title challenge, Arsenal have extended their remarkable consistency – it is now 18 consecutive top-four finishes – and their campaign should end with the long-desired piece of silverware.
Should they celebrate lifting the FA Cup at Wembley it will be a far cry from the opening day, when they were booed off after defeat to Aston Villa. They have gone unbeaten at home since then, even if this was one of the less memorable matches.
Arsenal excelled at the start, when they were elegant and emphatic, but were rather less convincing thereafter, to leave West Bromwich Albion rueing a moment of lax marking.
“We made one mistake and it was disappointing to concede from a corner,” said head coach Pepe Mel.
There are times when one brilliant piece of defending is rendered irrelevant. It merely delays the arrival of a goal. So it was when Youssouf Mulumbu flung himself into the path of Santi Cazorla’s shot to deflect it over the bar. Cazorla took it and Giroud shrugged off Craig Dawson to head it in.
Despite the frequent suggestions that Arsenal lack a top-class striker, Giroud’s goal return this season – 22 – is laudable and he has shouldered a huge burden admirably.
It would be scant reward for his excellence if Wenger were to spend heavily on an attacker and demote his compatriot to the bench.
Another French forward, Loic Remy, was a notable spectator. “I honestly did not know,” Wenger said. “I hope he paid for his ticket.”
But for Ben Foster, Arsenal would have sealed victory before half time. The England keeper blocked well when Mathieu Flamini latched on to Diego Lugano’s poor header and saved superbly when Lukas Podolski picked out Cazorla, who produced a sharp shot.
“My team gave a good performance but we just couldn’t get the goal we needed,” Mel said.
Two chances came in the space of a minute when Wojciech Szczesny failed to hold Morgan Amalfitano’s swerving shot and then Saido Berahino’s piledriver just cleared the crossbar.
After the break, the Pole again denied Amalfitano an equaliser while Wenger’s Germans should have garnished the victory. Instead Mesut Ozil bobbled a shot wide and Podolski hooked an effort against the post.
Those incidents apart, the second half was a low-key affair as the lack of drama meant attention was turned to other matters.
Aaron Ramsey was omitted in a precautionary move ahead of the FA Cup final while next season is occupying the fans’ thoughts. They chorused “Bacary Sagna, we want you to stay”.
The right-back is out of contract and the subject of interest elsewhere. This may prove his final game in an Arsenal shirt at the Emirates Stadium.
“I want him to stay,” Wenger said. So do the supporters.
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Published: May 4, 2014 04:00 AM