One-way traffic is a familiar sight at an Arsenal home game. Sure enough, with West Brom in North London on Monday night, the barrage arrived late in the first half. Chance after chance came and went at one end. All was quiet at the other.
But incredibly, befuddlingly, the traffic was chugging along in the wrong direction. Arsenal, leading 1-0, was pinned back. West Brom could have – perhaps should have – found an equalizer, if not more.
Order was restored after halftime, and two Alexandre Lacazette goals ultimately carried the day, but not without extended periods of consternation around the Emirates. This was no walk in the park. This was no drubbing of Bournemouth. This was no typical Tony Pulis loss at the Emirates.
And the evening could have gone oh so differently if not for an incorrect penalty non-decision in the eighth minute. Jay Rodriguez, played in off Shkodran Mustafi’s outside shoulder after an Arsenal turnover in midfield, cut the ball back onto his right foot. Mustafi went to ground. His trailing leg cleaned out the West Brom attacker. Referee Bobby Madley’s whistle was silent.
Rodriguez was perhaps too honest. There was inhibitive contact. Had he stayed down, Madley surely would have pointed to the spot. But the fault lies with a referee penalizing honesty, not with a player practicing it.
Arsene Wenger, asked about the incident after the match, defended the decision by invoking the idea of advantage. But it’s silly to suggest Rodriguez had a clearer sight at goal after pulling himself back to his feet than he would have had from the penalty spot.
Pulis, who fumed on the sideline during the match, was pretty blunt. “The great thing is, everybody’s seen it,” he said. “So I don’t have to comment on it.”
Arsenal took the lead just over 10 minutes later when Ben Foster tipped one of three first-half Alexis Sanchez free kicks onto the bar. Lacazette, active as ever, nodded home the rebound with Foster lying helpless on the turf.
On a typical day, the goal would have foiled Pulis’ best-laid plans. The Baggies were prepared to defend and defend some more. Now they had to add an extra dimension to their approach.
But they did just that, especially over the final 10 minutes of the half. Grzegorz Krychowiak burst forward from midfield and placed an off-balance, off-footed cross right on the head of Rodriguez. Rodriguez beat Petr Cech, but Nacho Monreal raced back to clear the header off his own goal line.
Rodriguez again threatened Cech’s goal minutes later. And on the stroke of halftime, Kieran Gibbs guided a cross to an unmarked Gareth Barry at the back post. Barry, who broke Ryan Giggs’ Premier League appearance record in his 633rd league match, forced a prone Cech to scramble the ball away and behind for a corner.
Arsenal held on into halftime, and restored its superiority after the break. It deserves praise for doing both. And it all but secured three points when Madley did blow his whistle for a second-half foul in almost exactly the same area of the pitch as the first-half incident.
It was the more debatable of the two calls. It was also the more correct of the two – Allan Nyom made contact with Aaron Ramsey without getting his shoulder in front of Ramsey’s, and without recovering into position to play the ball. But it could have gone either way.
And the game, as a whole, probably could have gone either way. But Arsenal was the better team, and is the better team. Its performance merited three points. There’s no shame in riding a bit of luck every now and then.
The Gunners have now claimed seven of a possible nine points since embarrassment at Anfield, and have done so in a wide variety of ways. They stomped Bournemouth, stifled Chelsea and staved off the Baggies. They’ve stabilized themselves, as they always seem to do.
They are back up into seventh place. And although they’re imperfect, seventh is more than acceptable after such a rocky start.
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Henry Bushnell covers soccer – the U.S. national teams, the Premier League and much, much more – for FC Yahoo and Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.