London: Three errors from goalkeeper Marton Fulop handed Arsenal a vital 3-2 victory over West Bromwich Albion at The Hawthorns, securing Champions League football for the away side and ensuring Roy Hodgson’s last game in charge of the Baggies ended in defeat.
The first half began in frenetic fashion as the Gunners took the lead through Yossi Benayoun taking advantage of Marton Fulop’s error in goal. However, the Baggies hit back through goals from Shane Long and Graham Dorrans, before Andre Santos benefited from another Fulop error and made the score 2-2, all within half an hour.
By contrast, the second period was a lot calmer and saw both sides defend doggedly without creating many clear chances. Yet another Fulop error, this time from a corner, handed Laurent Koscielny the chance to give Arsenal the lead, which he took gratefully.
The Baggies’ goalkeeper Ben Foster suffered an injury in training and missed out, so Marton Fulop made his Premier League debut for the home side between the posts. Meanwhile, Chris Brunt missed out having had his tonsils removed, and was replaced by Simon Cox.
For the Gunners, Bacary Sagna’s broken fibula has ruled him out of Euro 2012, and his place at right back was taken by Carl Jenkinson. Francis Coquelin also started in the midfield for the away side in place of Aaron Ramsey.
Both teams started the first half brightly, but it was Arsenal who had the first chance in just the third minute. Baggies goalkeeper Marton Fulop was indecisive as a pass came back to him from his defender, and Benayoun took advantage to take the ball past him and slot into an empty net.
However, the Baggies clearly wanted to give manager Roy Hodgson the best send-off possible in his last game in charge, and in the 11th minute they drew level. James Morrison went on a weaving run through the heart of the midfield, and his through ball found Shane Long in acres of space. Long placed his finish calmly into the net despite looking like he was running from an offside position and West Brom were back on level terms.
Just three minutes later, the home side found themselves ahead, with Morrison again playing a key role. His lofted pass found Graham Dorrans, who skilfully flicked the ball over Koscielny and hit a shot on the half-volley past Szczesny to give West Brom a 2-1 lead.
The game was now being played at a very high tempo, with both sides looking to attack at every opportunity. However, the next clear chance was not until the 24th minute, when a cross from Carl Jenkinson on the right found Benayoun in the box, whose shot was blocked heroically by Gareth McAuley.
However, both defences were holding firm, but in the 29th minute, another disappointing effort from Fulop handed Arsenal an equaliser. The ball made its way to Andre Santos, and his speculative effort from just outside the penalty area found its way into the net despite the Hungarian getting a hand to the shot.
After what was a highly entertaining opening half an hour, the game eventually settled into something of a midfield battle, which neither could dominate, and the half ended with the score tied at 2-2.
The second half began in a cagier manner, with the game interrupted somewhat by an injury to James Morrison that forced him to be replaced by Keith Andrews in West Brom’s midfield.
This changed in the 54th minute as Fulop once again proved to be problematic in the Baggies’ goal. A corner came in from the left, and he could have caught the ball under no pressure from any Arsenal attacker. However, he failed to gather the cross cleanly, and punched it into the path of Koscielny, who gleefully swept the ball home to give the away side a 3-2 lead.
For the subsequent 15 minutes, neither side could create any clear chances until the 70th minute, when substitute Andrews let fly with a stinging shot on goal that could only be palmed away by Szczesny.
However, West Brom could not find a way through a resolute Arsenal defence, and the Gunners were happy to hold onto their 3-2 victory and secure third place in the Premier League table.