Theo Walcott hat-trick downs Baggies
ALBION finished the 2014/15 Barclays Premier League campaign in 13th place on 44 points having fallen to a 4-1 defeat at Arsenal on the final day.
As the Baggies look forward to a sixth successive season of top-flight football, this year’s points tally falls only three short of those which secured 11th and tenth-placed finishes in 2011 and 2012 respectively.
The Throstles went into the Emirates Stadium encounter with aspirations of still matching that figure but all hopes were extinguished during a first half in which the below-par visitors were blown away by Arsenal’s vast array of attacking riches.
Theo Walcott followed up his impressive fourth-minute strike with a second ten minutes later, Jack Wilshere added a stunning third after just 17 minutes before razor-sharp Walcott completed his hat-trick and made it four-nil from close range before half-time.
Gareth McAuley headed home a second-half consolation from Chris Brunt’s corner, his second goal of the season in all competitions, to give the vocal 2,900 travelling Baggies fans something to cheer.
But it was third-placed Arsenal, FA Cup finalists next weekend, who emerged comfortable victors, ending Albion’s five-match unbeaten sequence and, with it, ensuring there was to be no addition to the 16 league clean sheets registered this term – a number bettered only by Chelsea.
Tony Pulis named an unchanged starting XI from the side who romped past the champions 3-0 on Monday night, however there were places in the matchday 18 for the first time for promising young duo Tyler Roberts, 16, and Alex Palmer, 18.
Albion made a slow start to proceedings and Arsenal capitalised with just four minutes on the clock, Walcott receiving the ball from Santi Cazorla and drilling a fine effort into the top corner from a difficult angle via the underside of the crossbar.
Just ten minutes later it was two-nil as the visitors, struggling to cope with Arsenal’s movement in the final third, failed to clear the ball inside their own area following one or two unfortunate ricochets and Walcott was on hand to poke home.
More misery was to come after 17 minutes as Mesut Ozil’s corner was only half cleared and recycled to Wilshere, who drilled a superb, first-time left-footed effort into the top corner from the edge of the penalty area – giving Myhill no chance.
The Baggies ‘keeper pulled off a smart save to deny Walcott his hat-trick before denying Wilshere as the impressive Gunners continued to slice through the visiting defence at will.
Arsenal skipper Per Mertesacker was next to test Myhill, Dawson blocked a goalbound effort from Alexis Sanchez and the impressive Walcott failed to failed the net from ten yards.
Yet he did not have to wait long for his hat-trick as the Gunners made it four before the break, Wilshere, Sanchez and Cazorla combining to leave Walcott with the simple task of tapping home from close range at the far post.
Walcott almost made it five when his strike found the stanchion before James Morrison registered Albion’s first attempt on goal with a deflected free-kick in the 45th minute.
Pulis turned to Victor Anichebe and Craig Gardner off the bench just minutes after the restart but the pattern of play continued from the first half, Myhill parrying Cazorla’s effort.
Arsenal stopper David Ospina got down to his left to tip Anichebe’s low effort behind and, from Chris Brunt’s resulting corner, McAuley rose to head home in the 57th minute.
Gunners sub Aaron Ramsey came closest to adding to the scoreline in the closing stages of the encounter, first rifling an effort against a post before watching Myhill tip his strike on to the crossbar.
And it was Gardner’s turn to twice go close late on as his attempted lob dropped the wrong side of a post and then Ospina failed to keep hold of his rasping long-range effort only to see the bar come to his rescue.
Arsenal: Ospina, Bellerin, Gabriel, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Coquelin (Ramsey 69’), Cazorla, Wilshere (Oxlade-Chamberlain 77’), Ozil, Alexis, Walcott (Giroud 69’).
Subs: Szczesny, Koscielny, Monreal, Flamini.
GOALS: Walcott 4’, 14’, 37’, Wilshere 17’
BOOKED: Bellerin 47’
Albion: Myhill, Dawson, McAuley, Olsson (Anichebe 51’) , Lescott, Fletcher, Yacob (Baird 60’), Morrison, McManaman (Gardner 54’), Brunt, Berahino.
Subs: Palmer, Gamboa, Ideye, Roberts.
GOAL: McAuley 57’
Referee: Robert Madley (West Riding)
Albion star man: Boaz Myhill