Cast your mind back to December 2012. Remember the injustice you felt when Santi Cazola dived over Steven Reid’s leg to win a penalty? Now fast forward nearly three years and tell me how sweet it was seeing the Spaniard on his backside having fluffed a penalty. What do they say? He who laughs last laughs the longest. There were certainly a few people laughing on Saturday as karma came back to haunt Cazola.
Albion’s resilient victory will probably be overshadowed by Cazola’s miss in years to come. That’s a shame as Albion actually played well. The Baggies were forced into a change in defence with Jonas Olsson replacing the suspended Gareth McAuley.
The lively James McClean created Albion’s first opportunity. The winger did well to cut between two Arsenal defenders but his cross evaded everybody in the area. The visitor’s first attempt was a free kick from the excellent Alexis Sanchez – but his effort was comfortably saved by Boaz Myhill.
From another free kick Arsenal took the lead. Ozil floated the ball over and Oliver Giroud planted a free header past Myhill.
The Baggies hit back with their own free-kick. Chris Brunt took the ball off Jonny Evans and whipped over a great delivery where James Morrison leaped to volley the ball into the top corner. I’m not sure Morrison meant to place the ball there, but it ended up being a great finish.
Minutes later Albion were in the lead. Morrison picked the ball up on the edge of the area and found Rondon down the line. The forward did well to hold the ball up and fed McClean on the byline. The Irishman’s driven cross beat Peter Cech but not Mikel Arteta, who bundled the ball into the empty net.
After the break
Arsenal tried to hit back after the break. Ozil fired across Myhill but his effort cannoned back off the post. But after that Albion were reasonably comfortable. The Gunners had plenty of the ball in front of Albion’s area but the back four were protected perfectly by the hardworking Morrison, Fletcher, Jacob and McClean. When the ball did go into the area Myhill was alert to any danger.
Although it was a back to the wall job, Albion were not ultra-negative and looked to counter attack when possible. Rondon worked tirelessly up front on his own and looked exhausted by the time Berahino replaced him.
Berahino has been posting various photos on Instagram but again looked overweight when he came on. His presence was enough to earn Albion a rare corner. Brunt whipped it over, Olsson headed it against the bar and down on the goalline. The linesman flagged and the referee blew his whistle. Albion fans thought a goal had been awarded, but the assistant ref was flagging for offside.
Without that two-goal cushion Arsenal were again pushing forward for an equaliser. Evans, Olsson and Dawson all through their bodies on the line to keep the Gunners out. When Arsenal did find a way through, Joel Campbell fluffed his lines and scuffed his shot wide.
Referee Mark Clattenburg seemed intent on giving Arsenal a way back into the game and happily obliged when he awarded a spot kick after Sanchez fell dramatically in the area. Cazola stepped up but lady luck was on Albion’s side and his slip saw the ball cannon off his standing foot and over the bar. Clattenburg initially seemed to forget the rule and seemed to point for another spot kick. Thankfully after the confusion a free kick was rightfully awarded to Albion.
For once it was an enjoyable 90 minutes at The Hawthorns. The Baggies were disciplined in defence but for once didn’t seem scared to go forward. The midfield worked hard to protect Albion’s back four but still offered something going forward. I’ve been critical of Pulis’ ultra-negative football but we looked dangerous on the counter attack whenever we were able to push Arsenal back.
Credit must go to Jonas Olsson who stepped in for the suspended McAuley. The biggest accolade you could give to the ‘Big Swede’ is that you couldn’t notice Albion’s back-four had been changed. But the Man of the Match has to go to James McClean. The guy runs on Duracell batteries. He was up and down the line more than a yoyo. Most players would’ve given up on Rondon’s over-hit pass but McClean turned a bad ball into a good one and his determination won Albion the match.
Come on you Baggies!