Fairweather footballers? Not Arsenal, at least not here. Mikel Arteta’s team made light of fierce conditions and desperate opponents to produce possibly their best performance of the season.
Kieran Tierney, Bukayo Saka and Alexandre Lacazette scored beautiful goals and, along with 20-year-old Emile Smith Rowe, delivered outstanding displays, helping to give Arsenal a third consecutive victory and renewed hope of a bright future. For West Brom the forecast is bleak.
Sam Allardyce has relished jabbing at the fragilities of Arsenal teams down the years and must have been rubbing his hands before kick-off here, and not just to keep warm. Heavy snow around the Hawthorns put a bracing new twist on the wet-and-windy-night-in-Stoke maxim, and although the pitch was cleared by the time the match began, Allardyce no doubt urged his side to test how much Arsenal fancied going into battle on a freezing night when even the air felt like it had fangs.
The visitors took it all in their stride, outclassing West Brom, who have conceded 17 goals in their last four home matches. Allardyce was brought in last month to guide this team to survival but has yet to find a way to stop them bleeding goals.
Allardyce had billed this as a fight between relegation rivals but Arteta is looking up after three wins in a week. “The table looks much better,” said Arteta. “Wins bring a different momentum and energy and the players have the handbrake off.
“We were very close against West Brom to what I want. There was a lot of movement, good energy and real purpose.”
Sam Johnstone has been the Premier League’s busiest goalkeeper this season and it took less than three minutes for Arsenal to force him into another save, with the keeper using his feet to deny Hector Bellerin. He then had to deny Saka as Arsenal looked smooth, as unperturbed by the elements as they were by opponents who played some pretty stuff at times but had neither the precision nor physicality to unsettle the visitors.
Although Saka tormented the makeshift wing-back Grady Diangana, Arsenal’s breakthrough came from the other flank, from where Tierney produced a brilliant solo goal in the 23rd minute. After knocking the ball past Darnell Furlong, Tierney dashed to retrieve it and then tricked his way into the box and curled a superb right-footed shot into the far corner. The snow, having suddenly resumed, fell like confetti on Arsenal’s celebrating players.
They rejoiced again five minutes later after increasing their lead thanks to a glorious collective move orchestrated by two of their youngest and most exciting talents. Smith Rowe and Saka combined with Lacazette to cut through the heart of the nonplussed home defence before Smith Rowe squared for Saka to prod into the net from close range.
Allardyce put Diangana out of his misery at half-time as West Brom switched to a back four. They briefly looked more coherent. But Arsenal plundered a third goal on the hour thanks to a blend of their own excellent play and slapstick defending. Saka instigated it, gliding down the right and floating over a cross that Sami Ayaji smashed against his own post. Johnstone saved Smith Rowe’s follow-up but could not stop Lacazette from whacking the rebound into the net.
West Brom have a tendency to concede goals in clusters and Arsenal soon struck another, Lacazette escaping his markers to prod a cross by Tierney into the net from close range.
Johnstone remained the main barrier in preventing Arsenal scoring a fifth goal, while at the other end Bernd Leno denied Rekeem Harper a crumb of comfort in the last minute, tipping away a fine shot from distance by the substitute.