Arsenal’s 3-1 win over West Bromwich Albion sees Sam Allardyce relegated from the Premier League for the first time as a manager and ties the Baggies with Norwich for the club relegated the most times from the PL (5). It wasn’t the greatest performance from the Gunners: three magnificent goals mask the fact that Arsenal didn’t generate enough offense against a relegation club that they should have played off the park. At the end of the day, a win is a win, and when you’re close to a club nadir, you take ‘em however you can get ‘em.
The goal Arsenal conceded was dreadful. Matheus Pereira was allowed to pick up the ball in his own half of the pitch, run 60+ yards largely uncontested, get to the edge of the Arsenal area, and shoot without anybody closing him down. He ran away from Mohamed Elneny and Dani Ceballos, the latter laughably so. None of the four Arsenal defenders, in particular Gabriel and Rob Holding, stepped to him even though there weren’t any other West Brom players in the move. It was really poor defending.
But let’s talk about the good. Bukayo Saka was magnificent. He set up Emile Smith Rowe’s first Premier League goal and could have had two or three more assists had players gotten a touch to some of the other balls he flashed across the goal mouth. Caveats about the comparative level of the opposing team aside, his performance at left back today makes you wonder if things might have gone differently if Mikel Arteta had used him instead of Granit Xhaka to deputize for the injured Kieran Tierney earlier.
Emile Smith Rowe was quite good as well. His secondary runs are second to none (see what I did there?). He has a knack for finding spaces between defenders and running forward into that space to unbalance the opposing setup and was rewarded for his movement with a goal. In an unfortunate and unsurprising turn, he left midway through the second half with an injury. Random thought (that probably needs a bit more exploring / unpacking): bringing in Martin Ødegaard on loan may have hurt rather than helped Emile Smith Rowe this season. The two have not played well together and when they’ve shared the pitch, ESR hasn’t had the same freedom to roam side-to-side that he did today.
I don’t think through the middle is the best position for Gabriel Martinelli, at least not yet. He struggled to have an impact as the lone player leading the line against two centerbacks. He’s looked much more dangerous this season from the left wing when he’s been able to isolate and drive at an outside back.
Both Nicolas Pépé and Willian scored absolutely cracking goals — Pépé from open play and Willian from a set piece. As previously mentioned, Arsenal could have had a few more had players gotten on the end of balls the Bukayo Saka put through the six-yard box. But today just didn’t feel like the dominant attacking performance you’d like to see from Arsenal against a relegation side. Winning a match you’re supposed to win is progress I suppose, and Rome wasn’t built in a day, but this side still has a ways to go. Hopefully Mikel Arteta recognizes that and uses the remaining three games to build for next season and the future, although starting Willian and a soon-to-leave Dani Ceballos doesn’t inspire confidence.