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If I had told Arsenal supporters before their match with West Bromwich Albion that they would be facing a disciplined team led by the great Sam Allardyce on a freezing, snowy night at The Hawthorns, they probably would have asked if there was any possibility of a postponement. .
Unfortunately for those pessimistic bullies, the field and weather conditions were deemed suitable for a duel, and this fragile set of trusted players were forced out of their dressing rooms and into the lions’ den.
For many teams, this opposition combined with these almost unplayable conditions would be considered a potential banana skin. For Mikel Arteta, it was a freshly waxed marble floor, covered in oil, with a single banana peel on top. Oh, and they all wear bowling shoes.
What was needed Saturday night more than ever was courage, heart, and a harvest of starving young stars, willing to stick two fingers in the snow and skeptics. Fortunately for Arteta and Gooners everywhere, Arsenal had enough diamonds in the rough to surpass West Brom and take another step towards a full recovery.
The visitors were still far from full force, with Pablo Mari and Emile Smith Rowe continuing their rare runs on the side. But Arteta opted for an adventurous front four, consisting of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Bukayo Saka on the left and right flanks, and Smith Rowe operating just behind Alexandre Lacazette in attack.
It was a front line full of rhythm, experience, sagacity and youthful exuberance, and pockets of potential. This time, everything fell into place and the Gunners invited their followers to a master class on the attack movement.
The four forwards threatened to come to life on a couple of occasions, with the wingers regularly leaving the flanks for their wings to lunge forward. Hector Bellerin had an early shot blocked from one of his prowling adventures in the West Brom penalty area, but it was just a sign of things to come.
Teammate Kieran Tierney broke the deadlock in the 20th minute, benefiting from being given the freedom of the left flank to bombard forward, cut inside and crash with an impressive blow past Sam Johnstone.
The true masterpiece came a few minutes later, when the four forwards combined majestically to double the lead. Lacazette received the ball with his back to the goal and brazenly threw a pass around the corner to Smith Rowe, who was on his bike by the time he saw the action unfold.
The youngster’s fluid movement and quick thinking surprised the entire West Brom defense, and they could only watch him roll the ball into the path of Saka, who hit an empty net. For a few brief seconds, all the troubles of the past five months vanished like snow underfoot.
The gooners got their Arsenal back.
To be fair, Areta’s men did not take their foot off the pedal, and having survived a nervous opening ten minutes into the second half, Lacazette killed the game with a hit from his boot. The Frenchman took his second and fourth from Arsenal minutes later, pushing the ball over the line from another Tierney center.
The Scottish defender was imperious on that left flank, and even at 4-0, he never allowed West Brom’s rear to rest. Overall, it was an impressive display from Arsenal, from start to finish. They were confident, disciplined, fluid, and creative.
They were everything they haven’t been in recent weeks, save for their impressive win over Chelsea. But his second win on the rebound proved one thing: that the performance against the Blues was no fluke: this group of players is back to normal, and just in time too.