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5 talking points as Willian nets first Arsenal goal to condemn West Brom to drop


Arsenal returned to winning ways with a 3-1 victory over West Brom which condemned the Baggies to relegation back to the Championship.

Emile Smith Rowe and Nicolas Pepe struck in the first half before Matheus Pereira scored a fantastic goal to give West Brom hope, only for Willian to open his Gunners account with a free kick in the 90th minute.

Both sides had arrived at the Emirates in dire need of a result, with Arsenal’s Europa League exit fresh in the memory and the Baggies needing a win to survive in the top flight, at least for another few days.

But it was Arsenal who prevailed on Sunday night as Smith Rowe tucked from Bukayo Saka’s pull-back and Nicolas Pepe whipped a stunning effort into the top corner.

It appeared to be routine for Arsenal from there on, with the two quick-fire goals knocking the stuffing out of Sam Allardyce’s side. But Matheus Pereira weaved through the defence and found the bottom corner with an excellent finish in the 67th minute to unsettle the hosts.

Arsenal had little trouble defending their slender lead in the closing stages, however, and secured the three points through Willian’s brilliant free kick to move ninth in the Premier League table.

Here are five talking points from north London.

1. Arsenal’s alterations



The Spaniard responded to Thursday's dismal draw with sweeping changes
The Spaniard responded to Thursday’s dismal draw with sweeping changes

Mikel Arteta made six changes to the XI which drew 0-0 with Villarreal on Thursday for the visit of West Brom.

Among the starting line-up regulars to make way were Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Thomas Partey, Kieran Tierney and Hector Bellerin.

Gabriel Martinelli came into the side for a rare start up front, while Willian took up a spot on the wing and Mohamed Elneny and Dani Ceballos formed the midfield pivot.

Arsenal were in dire need of a victory to bring some semblance of cheer back to the Emirates, and Arteta decided the way to bring this about was by axing the under-performers from midweek.

Yet it was three of the four outfield players who kept their spots in the XI who helped the Gunners go 2-0 up by half-time.

First, Bukayo Saka teed-up Emile Smith Rowe for the opener in the 29th minute, before Nicolas Pepe curled into the top corner six minutes later.

The impressive performances of the trio suggested that Arteta’s policy of chopping and changing may be misguided, as it is denying his players the rhythm they need.

2. Saka shines



Saka - from left-back - was Arsenal's most potent creative force
Saka – from left-back – was Arsenal’s most potent creative force

After starting on the right wing against Villarreal, Bukayo Saka was deployed at left-back as Mikel Arteta continues to ease Kieran Tierney back into action following his knee injury.

Ever-dependable and constantly creative, Saka flourished on the flank with his runs to the byline and his exquisite delivery to the box.

His cross to set up Emile Smith Rowe was just one of many probing deliveries he produced throughout the match which could – and often should – have led to goals.

3. Phenomenal Pepe



Pepe converted a bending effort from the edge of the area
Pepe converted a bending effort from the edge of the area

This will be right up there in the voting for the Premier League Goal of the Month.

Give Nicolas Pepe time in the box on his left foot at your peril, because he is capable of the sublime.

The Ivorian dealt a sucker punch to West Brom shortly after Emile Smith Rowe’s opener with a delightful, powerful finish into the far corner after cutting into the box.

Given right wing is arguably Bukayo Saka’s best position, Pepe has often had to settle for a spot on the opposite flank this season.

This was the case against Villarreal on Thursday, but Pepe clearly favours lining up on the right where is able to score goals like this.

The 25-year-old’s strike against West Brom takes his tally for the season to 12, which is four more than he managed in his debut season with the Gunners.

4. Arteta acts

The moment Arsenal lost their grip on their Europa League tie with Villarreal came in the first leg, when Dani Ceballos was shown a second yellow card early in the second half.

The Spaniard was booked just before the interval and it was clear for all to see he was on course for a dismissal.

Yet Mikel Arteta failed to take him off until the inevitable occurred and Ceballos was given his marching orders.

He made no such mistake on Sunday night.

Ceballos was shown a yellow card for a poor tackle on Conor Gallagher in midfield and it took just six minutes before Arteta replaced the on-loan Real Madrid man with Thomas Partey.

With West Brom growing in confidence after pulling a goal back, it was sensible game management by the Gunners boss – and evidence he is continuing to learn at this early stage of his career.

5. Goodbye Baggies – and Allardyce?



Allardyce's future in the Baggies dugout is uncertain
Allardyce’s future in the Baggies dugout is uncertain

Despite a valiant fightback in early April, defeat by Arsenal seals West Brom’s fate and they will be playing Championship football next season.

Sam Allardyce has brought about some improvement since the turn of the year, but he was always up against it after replacing Slaven Bilic in December

Attention now turns to whether the former England boss will remain at the Hawthorns and see out the remaining year on his contract.

West Brom have a habit of bouncing back to the Premier League shortly after their relegations and there is talent in the squad – with Matheus Pereira undoubtedly the talisman.

But, like his manager, it remains to be seen whether the maestro – who has 10 top-flight goals this season – will stick around beyond the summer.

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