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It was a strange night for Wenger and his players as fan unrest was clear but Alexis Sanchez’s double at least moved the Gunners up to third in the Premier League table.
Here’s what we learned from a subdued Emirates Stadium.
ARSENAL UNREST GROWING
About a minute before the game kicked off it was clear that Arsenal’s fans were making their feelings well known about recent results.
Following the 1-1 draw at home against Crystal Palace last Sunday unrest among Arsenal fans has reached almost unprecedented levels during Wenger’s reign. The Arsenal boss knows it and had this to say before the West Brom game.
“I want our fans to be happy and when they are not it affects me. Ideally, yes, you want to play in a positive environment,” Wenger said. “You do not want to play in a negative environment, but if we do we can still perform. ‘We are responsible for the performance of the team and it is true that at the moment it is not a highlight but we have to take a distance with that.”
The “tickets sold” sign said 59,568 but if the crowd at the Emirates was over 55,000 I’d be surprised. Sure, it was a Thursday night, it was West Brom and it was slightly chilly for April, but fans of Arsenal showed their disdain for the way this season has panned out in the best way they knew how. Staying at home.
If this continues to happen in the coming games and maybe into the start of next season then the pressure on Wenger from the board, not just the fans, will grow. Arsenal has become an incredibly successful business over recent years and one of the main reasons is their ability to charge top dollar in a stadium a few stops away from Central London on the tube and each and every week the stadium is sold out. Now that attendances are showing small signs of regression, Wenger and the club will need to address their needs this summer and buy in central defense and in central midfield to strengthen. A top four finish is still not guaranteed but they are four points clear of fifth place with four games to go.
Make no mistake about it, 20-straight seasons in the top four under Wenger is an incredible record and Arsenal fans calling for him to be fired should be careful what they wish for. However, they are also entitled to ask for more. In each of the last 10 campaigns they’ve ever finished third or fourth. They’ll likely do the same again this season. Usually that’s enough to ward off the critics but with all of the perennial big boys faltering below them and only Leicester City and bitter rivals Tottnham Hotspur above them, the mood at the Emirates on Thursday summed up how Arsenal’s fans are feeling overall.
This season is a huge opportunity missed. That, plus Spurs pushing for the title, has accelerated the unrest among Arsenal’s fans. “Arsene Wenger, we will support you ever more,” said an Arsenal fan, sarcastically, as he walked past the press box at the full time whistle. That about summed it up.
SLICK SANCHEZ STREAKING
Alexis Sanchez has now scored in four consecutive games for Arsenal and the Chilean forward scored twice in the first half to set the Gunners on their way to victory. Arsenal’s fans should feel free to question tactical and personnel decisions from Wenger, but what they can’t question is Sanchez’s commitement to the cause. In his second season in the PL he’s gone through streaks. He started slowly, then scored in six-straight games, then cooled off in the middle as injuries took their toll. After a busy summer with Chile at the Copa America last year he’s faded in the last few months. Now he’s back to his best.
After just five minutes he swiveled past Sandro and smashed home low to put Arsenal 1-0 up and wheeled away with the same verve as if he’d just scored a crucial goal in an early season win. He was everywhere in the first half. Sanchez double-dummied Saido Berhaino on the halfway line, produced a majestic flick to Hector Bellerin who drove forward and smashed just over, then he scored the second with a clever free kick through a gap in the wall.
When Arsenal purr it’s because Sanchez is gently rubbing their belly and soothing them into action. In the second half he tiptoed around two defenders and sent a back heel perfectly into the path of Bellerin. It draw admiration and gasps from the home fans. On a difficult night for Wenger and Arsenal, that man Alexis delivered some cheer to liven up the mainly melancholy crowd.
PERFECT RETURN FOR MOSS
Following his eventful outing at the King Power Stadium last Sunday, this was the perfect game for referee Jon Moss to make his return to the middle.
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The referee is currently public enemy number one in Leicester after sending off Jamie Vardy last Sunday and then mentioning in his match report that Vardy had been abusive towards him when leaving the field of play. That led to an FA charge and will likely cost Leicester its star man for at least the next two games as Vardy accepted the FA’s improper conduct charge on Thursday. On top of his automatic one-match ban for picking up two yellow cards — the second of which came for simulation after Vardy went down in the box — the England international could miss an extra game, or even two, for pointing in the face of Moss and allegedly swearing at the official. Vardy, Leicester’s top goalscorer, has requested to speak to an FA panel early next week to try and reduce any extra ban. His important to Leicester is clear and Moss’ decision will have a huge say in whether or not Leicester win the title.
This outing for Moss was much less eventful. An Arsenal side stumbling for fourth and a West Brom side in midtable promised as much. He gave two penalties last weekend at Leicester, one correctly for a tug on Winston Reid and then another incorrectly in stoppage time after Jeffrey Schlupp went down under contact from Andy Carroll. On Thursday both Alex Iwobi and Mohamed Elneny went down in the box under slight contact but halfhearted appeals were waved away by Moss. He made the correct calls and it was an uneventful game. He’s a good referee, one of the PL’s best, and doesn’t deserve some of the criticism he’s been getting. The only mistake he made was being too human and awarding Leicester a late penalty kick last weekend under intense pressure from the home fans.
On Thursday there was no pressure on him and it was a breeze. I bet he wishes every outing was like that…