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West Brom needed to avoid defeat to stave off relegation confirmation
Fate was sealed with goals from Arsenal trio Emile Smith Rowe, Nicolas Pepe and Willian
First Premier League relegation for Sam Allardyce
Slumped in his chair for most of the evening, chewing on gum, Sam Allardyce seemed to have accepted his fate long before the end of this decisive match for West Bromwich Albion. He had said earlier this season that the first Premier League relegation of his career would “kill” him, but in the end it barely caused him to raise an eyebrow.
And so a proud run comes to an end for the 66-year-old, who can at least make the point that he was not in the post for the entire campaign. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for most of his players, who have shown fight this season but have rarely produced the quality to match. Only Matheus Pereira, scorer of another excellent solo goal here, can realistically expect to remain a top-flight player next year.
Against an Arsenal side in the midst of a crisis of confidence following their painful Europa League defeat, West Brom certainly put in the effort. The odds have been against them for weeks and, when they conceded twice in the first half, they might well have collapsed as a team. Instead they battled to the end, with Pereira pulling them back into the contest in the second half.
Goals from Emile Smith Rowe and Nicolas Pepe, and a fine late free-kick from Willian, were ultimately enough to secure three points for Mikel Arteta’s side and confirm West Brom’s return to the Championship. Arsenal’s disgruntled fans will not feel entirely enthusiastic about the nature of the performance, though.
A couple of hundred supporters again protested against the club’s Kroenke owners before kick off, and it will take much more than a strained win against West Brom to ease the tension in north London.
At least Willian found the net at last, scoring his first goal since moving from Chelsea on a free transfer in the summer. Even then, it did feel typical of his disappointing season that it took him until now, when Arsenal’s campaign is already over in terms of their competitive targets, for him to finally put his name on the scoresheet.
In the moments before Willian’s late free-kick, the visitors had applied some genuine pressure as they pushed for a draw that would have kept them mathematically afloat still. But it never quite became an onslaught. It was not even enough to raise Allardyce from his seat on the bench.
Appointed in December, when West Brom were 19th, Allardyce knew then that survival would be a tough ask. Back-to-back wins against Chelsea and Southampton had given hope of a great escape but, ultimately, there was simply not enough quality in the squad. A better team would have punished Arsenal in the second half here, when the home side were wobbling and nervous.
As a bare minimum, Allardyce and West Brom’s fans would have expected their team to have a go here. They did so in the opening exchanges when, despite making six changes from Thursday’s Europa League match, Arsenal still looked to be reeling from their European exit.
If anything, West Brom were the better side for much of the first half, with Pereira twice going close to scoring a spectacular opener from range. His first effort, whipped with his left foot, almost brushed the outside of Bernd Leno’s post. West Brom were impressive in these moments but, as has been the case so often this season, they did not make the most of the chances they had.
Neither did they help their cause with their reckless defending. The right side of Allardyce’s back four was exposed time and time again by Bukayo Saka, who had started as a left-back but was soon bombing forward with relish. Each time the ball went left, Saka went in behind with ease. On some occasions he was not even spotted by a West Brom runner.
It was only a matter of time before it led to a goal. Saka picked out Smith Rowe, his fellow academy graduate, who lashed in a venomous finish on the volley. It was a timely reminder that the future is not all bleak for Arsenal. In Saka and Smith Rowe, there is hope for the future.
“I was saying to him before that he had to assist me,” said Smith Rowe. “I have assisted him a few times this season. It was good to get the goal together. We are all going to fight for each other until the end."
The second came just six minutes later, as Pepe demonstrated the sort of quality that Arsenal will hope to see on a more regular basis next season. Cutting inside from the right wing, he launched a curling effort into Sam Johnstone’s top corner.
Despair was setting in now for West Brom, who briefly lost some of their composure and verve. Again and again, Saka sauntered down the left wing and caused havoc in West Brom’s penalty area.
There should have been more goals for the home side after the break, with Smith Rowe and Gabriel Martinelli both failing to connect with Saka’s cross, before Pereira’s moment of individual genius. Running all the way through the Arsenal half, past Arteta’s entire midfield, he fired into the corner from the edge of the box.
From there the visitors pushed, but Willian’s 25-yard free-kick ended the afternoon as a contest and confirmed what has long felt inevitable for West Brom, and for their manager.
That's that, West Brom are officially relegated back to the Championship after just one season. It's their fifth relegation, the joint most ever from the Premier League along with Norwich, and Sam Allardyce's first from the top flight.
A good performance from Arsenal, in particular from Bukayo Saka who tormented the Baggies down the left. They continue their outside hunt for a Europa League spot. Final score is Arsenal 3 West Brom 1.
90 + 3 mins Arsenal 3 West Brom 1
West Brom's heads have dropped, they know the jig is up. Arsenal are popping it round with minimal pressure on the ball.
Has to be said, we've seen four excellent goals this evening.
Wonderful free kick from Willian. He has a shot 25 yards from goal, slap bang in the centre of the park. Sam Johnstone moves across and Willian finds the corner of the keeper's side in the space Johnstone had vacated. With that, West Brom's Premier League journey has surely come to a close.
5 added minutes here.
87 mins Arsenal 2 West Brom 1
West Brom are throwing bodies forward, but they can't get within 20 yards of the Arsenal goal at the moment. They've put up a fight in this second half, but they don't have the quality to make the final pass
84 mins Arsenal 2 West Brom 1
Arsenal are looking to see this game out, but don't look entirely confident doing so. Lacazette is dropping very deep, almost alongside Elneny and Partey, to get on the ball and recycle it
81 mins Arsenal 2 West Brom 1
Willian is down injured, looks like a knee issue. Pereira delivers a good free kick, but Furlong balloons this header over the bar. Couple of chances for the right back to nod in an equaliser in the last ten minutes or so.
78 mins Arsenal 2 West Brom 1
Here is that marvellous Pereira run and finish for you to enjoy. Some great goals tonight, it must be said:
Connor Gallagher is in the book for West Brom while Thomas Partey is on for Arsenal, replacing Dani Ceballos, who's had a good game as the metronome in the heart of the Arsenal midfield.
75 mins Arsenal 2 West Brom 1
In typical Arsenal fashion, they're making much harder work of this than needs be. They've gone off the boil in the last few minutes.
Phillips whips in a delicious cross from the left and Furlong rises to meet it, but he doesn't connect properly and it flashes past the far post. That was a great chance to level things up.
72 mins Arsenal 2 West Brom 1
In the aftermath of the goal, Diangana comes on to replace Robinson for West Brom.
Sam Allardyce remains with his bum firmly parked in his seat, as he sends his attack-dog-in-shorts Sammy Lee out to bark instructions from the touchline.
Ceballos is booked for a niggly foul.
Fantastic solo effort from Pereira and West Brom aren't dead (yet). He collects the ball about 20 yards deep in his own half and the Arsenal midfield is all at sea. He carries all the way to the edge of the Arsenal area and Gabriel fails to close down in time, so the Brazilian Baggy shoots and finds the bottom corner. Great individual effort, he's the only West Brom player who's looked vaguely capable of anything today.
66 mins Arsenal 2 West Brom 0
Emile Smith-Rowe's tidy evening of work is complete, he's replaced by Kieran Tierney. The Scotsman will slot in at left back. Saka will push up to left wing and Willian slides into the middle of the attacking three.
West Brom have been poor this half, showing very little fight. They look resigned to their inevitable fate.
63 mins Arsenal 2 West Brom 0
Saka has been absolutely superb at left-back tonight, he looks tailor made for the position. Arsenal fans will be questioning why it's taken Arteta so long to play him there.
Robson-Kanu's first act is to be booked for slamming his arm into Elneny's face as they both jump for a header. The Egyptian midfielder is bleeding from the mouth and requires some medical attention.
60 mins Arsenal 2 West Brom 0
West Brom launch a foray down the right and Phillips is in space, but he takes too long to deliver the cross and Ceballos gets back to block.
West Brom then launch a series of corners, four in a row in fact, but Arsenal stand up and defend them all with relative ease.
Arsenal then counter down the left and it comes to Saka, again, who's glorious cross somehow evades Martinelli and Smith-Rowe at the back post. The Brazilian striker has to get there and score, it was an absolute tap in. That will be his last act, as he's replaced by Lacazette.
57 mins Arsenal 2 West Brom 0
Hal Robson-Kanu is stripped and enters the fray for West Brom as they go in search of the two goals (minimum) needed to keep them in the division for another couple of days. He replaces Diagne.
Alex Lacazette will also be coming on for Arsenal.
54 mins Arsenal 2 West Brom 0
Martinelli has been the only worrying sign for Arsenal tonight, he has been completely absent so far tonight. You would have hoped to have seen more from him, given Aubameyang and Lacazette are waiting on the bench.
51 mins Arsenal 2 West Brom 0
Pepe is gifted the ball down the left and he charges inside before unleashing a crack at goal. It's straight at Johnstone at the near post and he palms away for a corner. From that, Smith-Rowe takes a deflected effort and Johnstone does well to watch it and catch.
48 mins Arsenal 2 West Brom 0
West Brom were out very early after half time, you feel a rocket or two was fired out of Sam Allardyce's mouth to go along with the half time oranges.
46 mins Arsenal 2 West Brom 0
We're back underway at the Emirates, with West Brom needing a minor miracle to still be a Premier League team in 45 minutes time.
And the Smith-Rowe opener
His first Premier League goal for Arsenal...
Nicholas Pepe scores a worldie
West Brom are 45 minutes form the Championship. After a bright opening 10 or so minutes, they've been overwhelmed by Arsenal, particularly by the excellent Bukayo Saka down the left.
Arsenal look much brighter this evening, playing at a better tempo. They lead through a Smith-Rowe volley and an outstanding Nicholas Pepe goal.
45 mins Arsenal 2 West Brom 0
West Brom are in real need of the half-time whistle. Pereira has come over to this right hand side in an effort to track Saka's relentless running. However, he goes down under a tackle and Arsenal bomb down their left side again. Saka and Willian work the two-on-one well and the Englishman fires a shot at the near post, which is pushed out for a corner by Johnstone.
One minute of added time.
42 mins Arsenal 2 West Brom 0
Darnell Furlong is being run ragged at right back for West Brom. Saka is bombing beyond Willian and the two of them are overwhelming the Baggies defender. Robinson must do a better job of tracking back and helping out or this could turn into a bit of a cricket score.
39 mins Arsenal 2 West Brom 0
Oh dear, oh dear, it's looking very bleak for the Baggies. Arsenal fans on the other hand will be wondering why they couldn't have played like this on Thursday, when it really mattered...
Arsenal look comfortable now, playing effortlessly around West Brom's high press and desperate attempts to win the ball back.
THAT IS SPECIAL. What an outstanding finish from Nicholas Pepe! The Frenchman picks up the ball on the right and carries about 15 yards, before cutting inside. He finds himself at the corner of the box and unleashes an absolute bullet off his left peg which nestles sweetly in the far corner.
33 mins Arsenal 1 West Brom 0
That goal seems to have settled Arsenal, they've grown into the game as Ceballos is getting on the ball more and is starting to pop it about nicely.
Fantastic running from Saka and he provides the assist for the opening goal. Saka peels off down the left and is found with a tidy through ball from Willian. The young Englishman cuts back a great cross and Emile Smith-Rowe is there to volley home at the near post. The Croydon De Bruyne gives the Gunners the lead and West Brom are staring down the barrel at the drop.
That's Smith-Rowe's first Premier League goal for Arsenal.
27 mins Arsenal 0 West Brom 0
Phillips upends Ceballos, giving Willian an opportunity to line up a long range free kick. Instead, he opts to float one over to Chambers who volleys a cross in, but it's blocked. Corner to Arsenal, which is defended by Ajayi.
24 mins Arsenal 0 West Brom 0
Elneny shoots from range but it's a comfortable save for Johnstone, straight at him. Apart from Saka, Arsenal have looked slow and ponderous on the ball so far.
Arsenal have the chance to counter-attack, but Willian plays a sloppy pass to Martinelli and Bartley can get across to cover.
21 mins Arsenal 0 West Brom 0
Pereira v Saka down the Arsenal left is shaping up to be a tasty battle, they've both been their respective side's most threatening players so far.
A tantilising cross from Pereira just evades the outstretched boot of Diagne, and another great chance goes begging.
18 mins Arsenal 0 West Brom 0
Saka burns past Robinson and fires a powerful cross into the corridor of uncertainty, but no Arsenal player gambles and the cross flashes across the face.
Saka comes again down the left and gets in behind. He's about to pull the trigger, but Furlong comes sliding back and nicks it off the youngsters toe before he can get the shot off. Terrific defending.
16 mins Arsenal 0 West Brom 0
Close! A wicked cross from Townsend, who finds Robinson all alone in the middle. He takes a touch and lifts it over an on-rushing Leno, but his shot clatters off the bar. The offside flag goes up, wouldn't have counted, but he was left in acres there.
Arsenal look nervy in possession, as if they're confidence has been shot by Thursday's exit from the Europa League. By contrast, the visitors have started brightly, knowing they have nothing to lose.
13 mins Arsenal 0 West Brom 0
Pereira has switched flanks for West Borm, trying his luck down the right. He collects the ball 25 yards out and turns. He is not closed down, so he tries his luck from range and it whistles just past Leno's post. A good effort.
11 mins Arsenal 0 West Brom 0
West Brom are looking to play route one to get themselves up the pitch quickly. They're consistently looking to knock the ball over Chambers' head and into the path of Pereira, but the Arsenal right-back has stood firm so far, heading a couple of long pumps clear.
8 mins Arsenal 0 West Brom 0
Saka cuts back a cross after a nice pass from Ceballos. The ball ends up at Chambers' feet, who smashes a cross-cum-shot first time, that bounces off Martinelli and falls to Pepe. The Frenchman shoots, but he snatched at it and blazed it over the bar. That was half a chance.
6 mins Arsenal 0 West Brom 0
Willian goes down after a stray arm from Furlong catches him in the back of the head, but he's back up on his feet and is fine to continue.
Pereira attacks down the left, and Pepe is forced to track back and double up on him with Chambers. The Arsenal players snuff out the channel and the Baggies' attack peters out into nothing.
3 mins Arsenal 0 West Brom 0
Arsenal setting up in their usual 4-2-3-1 formation, with Bukayo Saka starting at left-back and Martinelli leading the line.
West Brom have started on the front foot, earning an early corner, but Arsenal deal with it.
Arsenal get us under way at the Emirates this evening, kicking from right to left in this first half
5 minutes until kickoff...
...the teams are on their way out of the tunnel.
Arsenal winless in last 6 home matches
The stat of the day heading into this one: Arsenal are without a win at home since they beat Tottenham 2-1 on March 14.
During that time they have lost to Olympiacos, Liverpool and Everton and drawn with Slavia Prague, Villarreal and Fulham. Not a glittering record...
'We're still hurting', says Mohamed Elneny
The Egyptian midfielder says the whole Arsenal squad is "still hurting" after their Europa League exit on Thursday night.
"We couldn't sleep because we wanted to reach the final and we deserved to reach the final," he told Arsenal's in-house media. "We wanted to make our fans happy, but now we have to focus on the Premier League."
Emirates protest fails to materialise
It seems as though the planned protest at the Emirates stadium has all but fallen through. Pictures on social media outside the ground show very few fans have given up their Sunday night to call for the end of the Kroenke ownership.
Two changes for West Brom
Sam Allardyce has made two changes to the Baggies line-up, as he knows that defeat today will result in his first ever relegation from the top flight.
Phillips and Robinson come into the side for O'Shea and Ainsley Maitland-Niles, who is ineligible to play against his parent club.
Mikel Arteta makes six changes from the Europa League semi-final
The Arsenal manager has rung the changes as he looks for a response from his team following their devastating exit from the Europa League at the hands of Villarreal and former manager Unai Emery.
Calum Chambers and Gabriel come in for Bellerin and Pablo Mari at the back, while Ceballos, Elneny and the much-maligned Willian come into midfield for Kieran Tierney, Thomas Partey and Marin Odegaard. Gabriel Martinelli will lead the line in place of club captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
A very good Sunday evening to you, as we prepare for West Brom's visit to the Emirates where they face Arsenal.
Mikel Arteta has warned that the gap between Arsenal and the biggest sides in England could become “almost impossible” to close if the club does not implement major changes.
The Arsenal manager believes his project is “still on time” but said the first-team squad needs to be refreshed if they are to stand any chance of returning to former glories.
In the aftermath of Arsenal’s devastating Europa League defeat by Villarreal, Arteta said the club’s decline has been a trend over years.
He has now warned that the distance to the rest of the leading clubs, who stand to gain a financial advantage over Arsenal by qualifying for European football next season, could become too big if they do not make the right decisions in the coming months.
“Time is catching up right now,” said Arteta. “It is a trend. It is years now that this has been happening. If the distance and the margins with the rest becomes too big, then it’s almost impossible to do it.
“I think we are still on time and we have put some very strong pillars and foundations in the last few months to do what we have to do. I think we are in the right place to do it, and we have to do it.”
The Spaniard, who is facing mounting pressure from supporters ahead of Sunday’s meeting with West Bromwich Albion, added that the club’s under-fire Kroenke owners will support the squad rebuild this summer.
“I think the squad needs changing,” said Arteta. “There were already a lot of changes in December, something that has not been done in years, but it tells us where we were. Things are going to have to change and the owners are going to back it up.”
Arsenal’s players faced heavy criticism following their defeat on Thursday, with a small group of fans attempting to block the roads outside the Emirates after the game.
Arteta has called on his squad to respond to the European setback by winning the final four games of the season, starting with their match against West Brom. Arsenal have not won a home game since mid-March, when they beat Tottenham Hotspur.
“We need to win the four games and see where that takes us in the table,” said Arteta. “We need to see a strong reaction again on Sunday.
“I saw how much they [the players] care. But how much they care in the dressing room is not what we have to see. It’s how much they care when we go on to that pitch and how we put it right.
“I know that they all care. The ones that are here, I’m telling you, they care and they care a lot and they’ve shown me that time and time again.
“Results on some occasions, or a lot of occasions, this season haven’t been what we wanted. But I will defend them because they deserve to be defended by me.
“The level that we have shown, some days it wasn’t enough. But the intention, the purpose and the professionalism to do it has always been there.”