West Bromwich Albion 2 Arsenal 3

It was always going to be a nervous afternoon at the Hawthorns. In front of a raucous West Bromwich Albion crowd determined to give Roy Hodgson a deserved send off before he takes up his new post as England coach, Arsenal had the not so insignificant task of needing to get a win to ensure Champions League qualification next season. The win was achieved, but it was a nervous Arsenal display, with the hitherto confident Wojciech Szczesny having one of those games that used to be the trademark of his predecessor.

The Gunners’ saving grace was that actually Albion ‘keeper Marton Fulop had an even worse afternoon than his Arsenal counterpart, being at fault for all three of the Gunners’ goals. Fortunately the north London side who were still in control of their European ambitions going into this game were able to hold onto a 3-2 win, courtesy of Yossi Benayoun, Andre Santos and Laurent Koscielny strikes. Albion had levelled through Shane Long at 1-1 ,and then took the lead with Graham Dorrans getting Albions second of the afternoon in the most clumsy of defensive performances.

For the second consecutive game, Yossi Benayoun netted the opener. Tomas Rosicky battled for the ball, but Billy Jones and Fulop seemed to be in control of the ball. But in a moment similar to that which saw Arsenal lose last year’s Carling Cup final, Fulop and Jones dithered, and Benayoun was alert to hit into the open net, after just four minutes.

You always sensed that there would be more goals in the game, and with Carl Jenkinson looking hopelessly out of form, so it proved to be. Defending high, Albion pushed with James Morrison’s pass falling kindly for the unmarked Long to place past an exposed Szczesny on 11 minutes. Albion had already threatened when Marc-Antoine Fortune almost caught Szczesny at his near post, but their second goal was not too far in coming. A mere four minutes later, their leveller arrived and Albion were ahead.

Again it was the same route. Morrison found Long the only advanced Albion player. With a cushioned header, Long had nullified the presence of Thomas Vermaelen and with Szczesny reluctant to come off his line, as Dorrans found the target again.

At that stage and having taken the lead against Fulham, it was Spurs who lay in the coveted third Premiership place, and that nervousness transmitted to the huge ranks of travelling Arsenal fans.

On the half hour however, Arsenal levelled. Youssouf Mulumbu tried to play the ball out, but was caught by Alex Song. Santos pounced just on the eighteen yard line, and with a shifting of his feet, drilled the ball low and with power past Fulop, even though the Albion ‘keeper got a hand to the ball.

Still it did not feel right for the Gunners and the sight of Rosicky running over to have a word with Arsene Wenger was a sight that did not bode too well, even though Gervinho saw a lot of the ball without creating any end product. Robin Van Persie cut a lonely figure in attack, and any scraps that he had top feed off were nullified by the commanding performance of Jonas Olsson.

After the break, Wenger brought on Theo Walcott for Rosicky, but the fragile defence was still the cause for concern. Ten minutes after the re-start however, Arsenal took the lead again. Van Persie swung in a corner that Fulop did not reach, the ball falling to Koscielny to stab into the empty net. The Arsenal fans celebrated knowing that third spot was theirs again.

There were still worrying times for Arsenal though with Fortune holding off Jenkinson for a shot that Szczesny had to deal with. A succession of Albion corners were also dealt with, with Szczesny punching away substitute Keith Andrews’ drive. Wenger replaced Gervinho with Kieran Gibbs, and his block deep into stoppage time could ion effect have been worth £40 million to Arsenal. as they celebrated this significant win, the players lifted Assistant coach Pat Rice after his final game, and the win was an apt way to send off the former Gunners’ double winner.

Given the start that Wenger had to endure and the injuries that he had to deal with, amassing 70 points and finishing third in the Premiership represents a huge recovery for an Arsenal side that were once lying in 17th place. The trick for Wenger is to now push on with the signing of another quality defender at least to add to Lukas Posolski’s signing. Another season of mediocrity tinged with moments of excitement will no longer wash with the patient Arsenal fans. Wenger who in Van Persie has the Premiership’s Golden Boot winner will know that.