ALBION suffered a controversial third successive defeat in a tale of two Mikel Arteta penalties in North London.
The Baggies, without influential midfielder Claudio Yacob, fell behind on 26 when the former Everton star converted the first of his two spot-kicks. However, the penalty should not have been given after TV replays showed Steven Reid did not make contact with Santi Cazorla.
The second spot-kick award in the 64th minute was also a talking point. Chris Brunt clearly upended Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, enabling Arteta to make it 2-0 - but Albion protested that sub Goran Popov had been fouled in the build-up.
In truth, Arsenal ran out deserved winners as Albion struggled to keep possession and create chances.
However, they could rightly reflect on what might have been - especially had the first spot-kick not been given.
And, with the score still at 1-0, the Baggies had penalty appeals of their own turned down four minutes before the break when Per Mertescaker handled a Brunt free-kick. However, referee Mike Jones harshly penalised Jonas Olsson for a push on the Arsenal centre-half.
Tenth entertained fifth at the Emirates Stadium, with Albion starting the game five points clear of last season’s third-placed club.
Steve Clarke rang four changes from the Stoke defeat as the injured Yacob and benched trio Popov, Markus Rosenberg and Graham Dorrans made way for Liam Ridgewell, James Morrison, Peter Odemwingie and skipper Brunt.
Albion started confidently but it was the Gunners who threatened first after five minutes when Boaz Myhill only half-cleared a corner. Olivier Giroud flicked on Jack Wilshere’s header and Gervinho volleyed wide form 12 yards.
A minute later, the Baggies suffered an early injury blow when Ridgewell had to be replaced by Popov.
Both teams were showing an attacking intent but chances remained scarce. On 11, Wilshere found Cazorla in space 20 yards out but the summer signing was off target with a 20-yard curler.
Arsenal were gradually getting on top and Clarke’s side had a reprieve in the 17th minute. The unmarked Cazorla miscued an awkward 15-yard volley after Oxlade-Chamberlain had chased down what appeared a lost cause down the right and centred.
The Baggies were often proving their own worst enemy by conceding possession in dangerous areas.
But they almost broke the deadlock on 23. After Youssouf Mulumbu was stopped in his tracks on the edge of the Gunners box by Bacary Sagna, Brunt pounced on the loose ball and saw a fine right-footed effort curl just wide.
Arsenal immediately broke upfield and Cazorla looked destined to score after Gervinho had skipped past Gareth McAuley down the right and picked him out. However, Mulumbu stole the ball off the Arsenal midfielder’s toes with a terrific last-ditch challenge.
Cazorla was in the thick of it again moments later when Arsenal were awarded a highly-debatable 26th-minute penalty. The Spaniard went to ground after jinking inside Reid and Jones pointed straight to the spot. However, TV replays showed the Albion right-back had made no contact with Cazorla – but Arteta calmly beat Myhill from the spot to make it 1-0.
Albion’s luck was back in, though, on 38 when, after a lull in goalmouth action, Wilshere came within a whisker of making it 2-0. Gervinho raced through down the left and crossed low into the danger-zone. Wilshere looked certain to score as he stuck out his right boot, only to poke the ball wide of the gaping goal.
There was another ‘spot-kick’ talking point on 41 when Mertesacker clearly handled Brunt’s diagonal free-kick into the Gunners box. Albion appealed for a penalty but the officials instead awarded the hosts a free-kick for an alleged foul by Olsson on the German. Again, TV replays showed Albion had been hard done by, with there appearing to be minimal contact.
Arsenal were soon back on the attack and Gervinho did well to control Arteta’s attempted shot just inside the box and force a fine low save from Myhill. The alert Reid just beat Cazorla to the loose ball to clear for a corner.
Arsenal’s last chance of the half came when Oxlade-Chamberlain sent a scissor-kick over from an acute angle while, at the other end, Gera was off-target with a header from Reid’s centre.
Albion started the second 45 on the front foot and, on 48, McAuley flashed a header wide from Brunt’s sublime set-piece delivery.
But Arsenal went mightily close themselves on 53. Wilshere scooped the ball across goal from the by-line and Oxlade-Chamberlain looped an acrobatic volley onto the bar from a tight angle. Four minutes later, Gervinho headed harmlessly wide from Kieran Gibbs’ centre.
Another Arsenal chance came and went when Gervinho produced an air-shot in front of goal after Popov had inadvertently prodded the ball into his path in challenging Giroud.
Albion went close to bagging a bizarre equaliser on 61 when Giroud miscued Reid’s free-kick inches wide of his own net.
Clarke made his second change on 62, replacing Peter Odemwingie with Romelu Lukaku.
But before the on-loan Chelsea man had had chance to even touch the ball, Arsenal were two-up. Oxlade-Chamberlain robbed Popov wide on the right on 64 before racing into the box and being upended by Brunt. This time, there was no doubt it was a penalty and Arteta once again beat Myhill from 12 yards. However, Albion felt aggrieved that Popov had been fouled in the build-up.
Albion did not throw in the towel but continued to find chances hard to come by.
It wasn’t until the 86th minute that Wojciech Szczesny was forced into his first save, when he dived low to his right to push away sub Rosenberg’s stinging 30-yard drive.
The Arsenal keeper had another worrying moment a minute later when he could only stand and watch the unmarked Lukaku, who may have been put off by team-mate McAuley, head wide from Brunt’s free-kick.
Gunners sub Lukas Podolski missed a great chance to make it 3-0 in the dying minutes before Jones' final whistle brought to an end a frustrating afternoon for the Baggies.
ARSENAL (4-2-3-1): Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen (c), Gibbs; Arteta, Wilshere; Oxlade-Chamberlain (Coquelin 78), Cazorla (Podolski 87), Gervinho (Rosicky 80); Giroud. Subs not used: Martinez (gk), Ramsey, Squillaci, Jenkinson.
ALBION (4-2-3-1): Myhill; Reid, McAuley, Olsson, Ridgewell (Popov 6); Morrison, Mulumbu; Odemwingie (Lukaku 62), Gera (Rosenberg 66), Brunt (c); Long. Subs not used: L Daniels (gk), Dorrans, Fortune, Tamas.
GOALS: ARSENAL – Arteta (pens 26 & 64).
BOOKINGS: ARSENAL – Giroud (unsporting behaviour 53), Mertesacker (dissent 66). ALBION – Olsson (unsporting behaviour 53), Brunt (dissent 58), Reid (foul 78).
REFEREE: M Jones (Chester).
ALBION STARMAN: Shane Long.