Giroud's strike keeps Baggies waiting
OLIVIER Giroud’s first-half strike left Albion still unsure of their Barclays Premier League status – for at least another few hours.
The much-changed Baggies back-four coped admirably with a tricky Gunners team all afternoon and, ironically, it was from a set-piece they conceded the only goal of the game in the 14th minute.
At the opposite end, Wojciech Szczesny was rarely tested but was stretched by Graham Dorrans’ 32nd-minute screamer and Morgan Amalfitano’s 71st-minute effort.
Ben Foster also had to be at his best on occasions and the woodwork came to the rescue for the Baggies 15 minutes from time to keep out Lukas Podolski’s shot.
Albion put the Arsenal defence under plenty of pressure after the break but they could not force a leveller.
Pepe Mel was forced to make two changes and handed a rare start to Diego Lugano as well as recalling James Morrison to the Baggies’ starting XI.
It meant a reshuffle in defence, with Chris Brunt playing at left-back and Craig Dawson at right-back in a four-man rearguard.
Arsene Wenger made just one switch as Mathieu Flamini returned in midfield for the Gunners.
The hosts threatened first in the fifth minute as Giroud laid off Mesut Ozil’s cross from the left for Podolski in the box and the German international fired just wide of the near post.
Three minutes later, Morrison dispossessed Bacary Sagna and the ball sprang forward for Saido Berahino in the box. The Baggies young gun took a touch before seeing his shot from a tight angle snuffed out by Laurent Koscielny’s last-ditch block.
The Gunners put the Baggies under pressure in the 13th minute, with Youssouf Mulumbu twice forced to block stinging Santi Cazorla shots from the edge of the area.
The second resulted in a corner that Cazorla delivered from the left. Giroud showed brute strength to hold off marker Dawson and nod home a 14th-minute opener at the near post.
Lugano could only head Cazorla’s chip up into the air on 25 and Flamini pounced in the six-yard box but saw Foster stick out a crucial boot to block the France international’s pass and deny Giroud a tap-in.
Four minutes later, Dawson made another crucial block from Flamini’s 18-yard drive, which left him winded.
Dorrans fizzed in a dipping 25-yard shot in the 32nd minute and it proved too hot to handle for Szczesny.
Fortunately for the Poland goalkeeper, Berahino was offside as he won the chase to the rebound, which he fired over.
Seconds later, Dorrans robbed Ozil in the Gunners’ half and found Berahino inside. The England Under-21 international dropped his shoulder and let fly with a 20-yard strike that flew just over the bar.
Arsenal countered quickly and Foster had to be at his very best as he dived full stretch to his right to turn Cazorla’s low shot around the post after Podolski had cut the ball back from the left.
Dawson was presented with a chance to head a leveller five minutes before the break but sent his effort over from Dorrans’ corner.
At the other end, Lugano’s weak clearing header from Ozil’s cross fell to Cazorla 25 yards out but his low shot was comfortably dealt with by Foster as the first half drew to a close.
Albion looked more assertive after the break but the action took a while to get going. On 59, Lugano did well to block Podolski’s shot inside the area following Nacho Monreal’s pull-back from the left.
Wenger made a change on 63 as Kim Kallstrom came on for Mikel Arteta.
Four minutes later, Per Mertesacker was at full stretch to prevent Berahino getting on the end of Brunt’s low left-wing cross to the near post.
The hosts made their second change on 70 as Tomas Rosicky came on for Cazorla.
A well-worked move by the Baggies a minute later saw Berahino thread Amalfitano in on goal inside the box and he forced a good save from Szczesny at his feet.
From the resultant Dorrans corner, Dawson’s header sailed just over the bar.
Mulumbu’s attempted clearance rebounded into the path of Giroud in the 74th minute and the Frenchman played in Ozil, who shot inches wide of the far post.
A golden chance went begging for Arsenal a minute later as Olsson hit his clearance straight to Podolski, who hit the post from eight yards and saw Foster gather the rebound.
With ten minutes remaining, Tomas Vermaelen replaced Monreal for the hosts and Victor Anichebe came on for Amalfitano for Albion.
Mulumbu made way for Matej Vydra on 85 and, seconds later, Dawson was unlucky to see his header from Dorrans’ corner deflect just over.
In the second minute of stoppage time, Anichebe spun Sagna in the penalty area and was unfortunate to see Mertesacker block his shot – the final effort of the game.
ARSENAL (4-4-1-1): Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal (Vermaelen 80); Cazorla (Rosicky 70), Flamini, Arteta (c) (Kallstrom 63), Ozil; Podolski; Giroud. Subs not used: Fabianski (gk), Jenkinson, Diaby, Sanogo.
ALBION (4-4-1-1): Foster; Dawson, Lugano, Olsson, Brunt (c); Amalfitano (Anichebe 80), Mulumbu (Vydra 85), Morrison, Dorrans; Sessegnon; Berahino. Subs not used: Myhill (gk), O’Neil, Sinclair, McAuley, Yacob.
GOALS: ARSENAL – Giroud (14).
BOOKINGS: ARSENAL – Monreal (foul 64), Giroud (unsporting behaviour 90+2). ALBION – Brunt (dissent 83), Dorrans (unsporting behaviour 90+2).
REFEREE: M Jones (Cheshire).
ALBION STARMAN: Graham Dorrans.