Tomas Rosicky fired a timely double for Arsene Wenger’s men, reminding Gunners fans of his importance as Laurent Koscielny, Lukasz Fabianski and Gervinho also came good
By Tom Marshall-Bailey at the Hawthorns
It was a must-win, by all accounts. A game Arsenal simply could not slip-up in if they were to convince those above them of their credentials for a Champions League spot.
The Gunners stretched their winning run to an impressive seven in nine league games thanks to a Tomas Rosicky-inspired display against West Brom and although not a vintage win, the manner in which they resolutely held on against a late barrage provides Arsene Wenger with something of a selection dilemma.
The Frenchman revealed after Saturday’s win that Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott are likely to make comebacks in next weekend’s clash with Norwich. It would be safe to assume the duo would be instantly restored to the line-up.
This may well be the case and Arsenal are sure to benefit from the returning presence of the talismanic Wilshere in particular.
But equally, applause must go out to the supporting cast who have acted exceptionally and proved far more than mere stand-ins in their team-mates’ absences.
While Rosicky naturally stole the headlines with his match-winning contribution, Wenger was quick to praise the likes of Gervinho and Laurent Koscielny for their contributions.
Gervinho has defied the critics in recent weeks and produced a string of performances that have partly illustrated the reason Arsenal were willing to shell out around €13 million on him.
Koscielny’s quality is undoubted, but his performances at times have left him looking on from the bench at the inconsistent displays Per Mertesacker and Thomas Vermaelen have produced this season rather than being on the field to address the glaring deficiencies in the Arsenal backline.
Bayern Munich was the turning point in Koscielny’s season with Wenger axing Vermaelen for the Champions League round of 16 second leg. The Frenchman has subsequently excelled and he marshalled the defence superbly again at West Brom. Indeed, a visibly frustrated Shane Long chose to pick on Mertesacker instead, and with reward, as the German hauled the striker down before receiving his marching orders.
Vermaelen came on for the nail-biting finale, at least from an Arsenal perspective, as Steve Clarke’s side threw everything at the Gunners in search of an equaliser. It was not forthcoming as Koscielny and the club captain teamed up to keep the hosts at bay and seal a potentially pivotal win.
And the performance of Rosicky would have left Gunners fans questioning what might have been but for a desperately unlucky succession of injuries that have plagued the Czech during his time at the club.
“I rate him very highly,” said Wenger in his post-match press conference when discussing the midfielder, before going on to declare he would like to keep Rosicky at the club until he retires.
The aplomb with which he tucked away both goals was fitting considering some of the overly-intricate play the Gunners are guilty of producing in the final third. His first, a bullet header, caught out Ben Foster and the Baggies backline as he reacted superbly to divert Gervinho’s cross into the bottom corner.
The second was trademark from the attacking midfielder. Having latched on to Ramsey’s through-ball and delivered a stinging drive at Foster, Rosicky was the most alert to follow in and smash beyond the helpless keeper. The finish was as heartfelt as it was emphatic, as if frustration was being taken out on the fact Aaron Ramsey had managed to miss from similar range prior to the break.
Rosicky perhaps best epitomises Arsenal’s traditional strong finish to the season, coming good for the final months and producing when it matters most. It had been the same story last season.
A quick glance at his far-from-prolific scoring record shows his last Premier League strike was the crucial third in the catalyst for the charge past Tottenham in 2011-12 – a 5-2 win over their north London rivals. Indeed, it was the first time Rosicky had ever struck twice in one league game for the club. And what a time to do so.
While Rosicky is often the subject of sympathy from Gunners fans, Gervinho has certainly endured the season from hell and the crowd’s exasperation has largely been targeted at the much-maligned Ivorian. Credit him, then, for sticking to his guns and proving his worth in a squad finally beginning to live up to the potential Wenger always knew it had.
Wojciech Szczesny’s absence from the match day squad was intriguing, but in turn, it offered a chance to Lukasz Fabianski to impose himself once more. Koscielny and Co. made sure the Pole was never under concerted pressure, but some of his saves and general organisation of his defence will have left Wenger pondering whether to keep faith in him for the rest of the season.
Injuries and loss of form have presented last chance saloon meetings for Fabianski and Gervinho in particular, and with Rosicky having just a year left on his current deal, the Czech looked as if he was playing for his future too. Each of them passed the test with flying colours and proved one by one that they are no flash in the pan.
It would be naive to suggest Arsenal have been, or actually are, better equipped without the likes of Wilshere et al, but as the charge towards the top four continues for Wenger and his men, the Frenchman can be sure to count on the supporting cast to come up with the goods when they are needed.