Albion fall just short after late rally
ALBION just fell short in their attempt to wipe out a two-goal deficit against ten-man Arsenal.
The Baggies could count themselves a little hard done by to be trailing Tomas Rosicky’s 20th-minute header at half-time.
But it looked game, set and match to the Gunners five minutes after the restart when Rosicky blasted home his second.
However, Albion were thrown a lifeline 20 minutes from time when Per Mertesacker was red-carded after conceding a penalty for fouling Shane Long.
James Morrison’s converted spot-kick sparked a late Baggies rally and they would have bagged a dramatic point had sub Romelu Lukaku or Long converted great, late chances.
Fifth visited eighth at a sun-drenched Hawthorns this afternoon, with the two teams separated before kick-off by nine points.
Steve Clarke rang two changes as fit-again Morrison and Jerome Thomas came in for the suspended Youssouf Mulumbu and benched Lukaku.
With Peter Odemwingie missing out altogether, Academy product Isaiah Brown was named on the bench for a home game for the first time.
Arsene Wenger named an unchanged side from the 4-1 victory over Reading.
With Clarke switching back to a 4-2-3-1 formation, Albion started brightly enough but soon began to get pegged back as Arsenal settled into their renowned passing stride.
However, the Gunners’ first effort at goal – and indeed that of the game – was instantly forgettable, with Rosicky miscuing horribly wide from 18 yards.
But the Baggies soon began to build up some momentum of their own and Arsenal had two huge escapes in the 12th minute after a Chris Brunt corner wreaked havoc in the visitors’ box.
Claudio Yacob was denied a certain goal when his near-post header was nodded off the line by Rosicky. Liam Ridgewell swept the ball back into the box and Lukasz Fabianski fumbled under pressure from Gareth McAuley. Yacob hooked the loose ball over his shoulder – only to see his effort drop agonisingly over the empty net.
Albion threatened again on 16 when Long jinked past Laurent Koscielny before dragging a 15-yard effort wide of the near post.
Yet it was Arsenal who drew first blood four minutes later – somewhat against the run of play.
Mikel Arteta released Gervinho with a raking ball over the top and the Ivory Coast international beat McAuley before seeing his fierce low cross headed home by Rosicky.
Albion were soon back on the attack and Fabianski was called on to make his first save of the game on 25 when he dived across his line to clutch an awkward Brunt free-kick which had slid under the wall.
The Baggies lost their way for a while but TV replays suggested they should have been awarded a penalty in the 35th minute. Yacob narrowly beat Koscielny to the ball just inside the Arsenal box before being clipped by the Gunners centre-half – but referee Howard Webb waved play on.
Morrison tried his luck from distance in the 41st minute but volleyed well wide.
However, Albion had a let-off of their own two minutes later. The Baggies defence was scythed open by slick play between Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla to create a clear opening for Aaron Ramsey, who stabbed wide from close range.
Arsenal won a corner 60 seconds later but Giroud was off target with a near-post header from Cazorla’s delivery.
That was the final goalmouth action of the half – and Arsenal started the second 45 on the front foot.
Billy Jones blotted his copybook by giving the ball away after a fine run, enabling the Gunners to launch a swift counter-attack. Gervinho ran at the retreating Albion defence before slipping in Bacary Sagna, who was brilliantly denied at point-blank range by Ben Foster.
But it proved a momentary reprieve for the hosts, as Arsenal doubled their lead on 50.
Ramsey squared the ball to Rosicky who saw his ferocious 18-yard drive parried by Foster before blasting home the rebound from six yards.
Albion regrouped and Brunt did well to create room for a shot, only to fire over from 25 yards.
There was a worrying moment in the 58th minute when McAuley went to ground clutching his head after an accidental aerial collision with Mertesacker. Thankfully, the key defender was able to continue after lengthy treatment.
Clarke rang a double change just past the hour-mark as he replaced Thomas and Graham Dorrans with Lukaku and Markus Rosenberg.
The Baggies had struggled to get any momentum going but Fabianski did have a save to make on 67, when he did well to clutch Lukaku’s 25-yard free-kick.
Moments later, Jonas Olsson sent Brunt scampering into the Gunners box with a fine ball and Fabianski showed great reflexes to block the skipper’s acute drive on the turn.
There was a huge moment on 70 when Mertesacker was red-carded as he conceded a penalty by chopping down Long in the box after the striker had chested down Morrison’s lofted pass, thus denying him a clear goalscoring opportunity.
Morrison took on the penalty duties and squeezed the ball home off Fabianski’s body after blasting his spot-kick down the middle.
The game had taken on a whole new complexion, with Albion very much on the front searching for an equaliser.
They threatened again on 75 when Lukaku headed wide from Ridgewell’s left-wing centre.
After a sustained spell of pressure, the hosts went even closer on 80 when McAuley beat Koscielny in the air at the back post and headed just wide from Brunt’s corner.
And there was real agony on 84 when Lukaku fired a great chance just wide from 12 yards from a Jones centre.
Another gilt-edged chance went begging in the 89th minute when Long spun on Ridgewell’s low centre and shot inches over.
Albion kept pressing until the end but Arsenal hung on for the three points.
ALBION (4-2-3-1): Foster; Jones, McAuley, Olsson, Ridgewell; Yacob, Brunt; Dorrans (Lukaku 62), Morrison, Thomas (Rosenberg 62); Long. Subs not used: Myhill (gk), Popov, Brown, Fortune, Tamas.
ARSENAL (4-3-3): Fabianski; Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal; Arteta, Rosicky (Gibbs 82), Ramsey; Gervinho (Vermaelen 73), Cazorla (Coquelin 89), Giroud. Subs not used: Mannone (gk), Jenkinson, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Podolski.
GOALS: ALBION – Morrison (71 pen). ARSENAL – Rosicky (20 & 50).
BOOKINGS: ALBION – Jones (foul 78), Ridgewell (foul 86). ARSENAL – Ramsey (foul 26), Rosicky (foul 37), Koscielny (foul 65), Arteta (foul 83).
SENDING-OFF: ARSENAL – Mertesacker (professional foul 70).
REFEREE: H Webb (Yorkshire).
ALBION STARMAN: James Morrison.