Arsenal 1 West Brom 0: Giroud gets Gunners back on track
Olivier Giroud dragged Arsenal back to winning ways as his 86th-minute header snatched a 1-0 win over West Brom at Emirates Stadium.
Tony Pulis’ visitors held Arsene Wenger’s men at arm’s length during a dour first period on Monday but were indebted to goalkeeper Ben Foster after the interval.
The 33-year-old marked a fresh contract extension with West Brom by making impressive stops from Giroud, Alex Iwobi and Alexis Sanchez, while the latter also rattled the post.
It meant Arsenal left it late to maintain their record of scoring in each of their 21 Premier League encounters with Albion – who ultimately rued Claudio Yacob failing to punish Petr Cech’s misjudgement at a 70th-minute corner – as Giroud grappled with Gareth McAuley to steer a fine header over Foster from Mesut Ozil’s searching cross.
The late winner provided a welcome dose of seasonal goodwill for Wenger at the final whistle, something that had been lacking from sections of the Arsenal faithful on the back of consecutive defeats to Everton and Manchester City.
In-form West Brom winger Matt Phillips got back to make a vital challenge on Hector Bellerin inside the visitors’ penalty area early on and Ozil – on his 100th Premier League appearance for Arsenal – had a ninth-minute shot blocked.
Arsenal centre-back Gabriel was fortunate to escape censure for leaping into a challenge on Phillips, curtailing a rare early attack for West Brom.
Sanchez, operating from the left flank as Giroud came in for the injured Theo Walcott to lead the line, arced a shot narrowly past the far post but Arsenal were struggling for clear chances as their opponents settled comfortably into the game.
Cech held a glancing header from Nacer Chadli before his opposite number Foster denied Sanchez and a jinking Iwobi lifted one over.
Iwobi had an attempt blocked at close quarters by Yacob as Arsenal applied more sustained pressure before half-time but the deadlock remained intact at the interval.
Four minutes into the second period, Foster produced his best work of the match – getting down to Iwobi’s low volley and thwarting Sanchez on the follow-up. From the resulting corner, Sanchez barrelled into room on the edge of the six-yard box but crashed his shot against the right-hand upright.
The irrepressible Chile star appeared Arsenal’s most likely source of a breakthrough and touched the ball cleverly around Chris Brunt to fizz a 20-yard drive over in the 56th minute.
Giroud was the next man to be frustrated by Foster when the goalkeeper propped out a boot at the end of an attack that began when Fletcher sold Yacob short inside his own half.
The ex-Manchester United midfielder had a header deflected behind from a Phillips corner and the subsequent set-play saw Cech’s normally assured handling desert him, with Yacob wastefully unable to capitalise.
Wenger sent on Lucas Perez in an attempt to unlock West Brom and the Spanish forward cut the ball across the six-yard box, where Foster did enough to put Giroud off.
But the France international finally got the better of West Brom’s star performer to ensure the deficit to leaders Chelsea remains at nine points.