Arsenal 4 West Brom 1: There is nothing like an impending FA Cup final to put a bit of zing into an otherwise flat end-of-season match.
Wembley places are up for grabs at Arsenal and it was clear who was keen to make a mark. Arsenal, who had not scored in their previous three matches, were four up by half-time including a 33-minute Theo Walcott hat-trick and a Jack Wilshere wonder goal.
Both players have given Wenger fresh options ahead of Saturday’s Wembley showdown with Aston Villa.
Even fit-again Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came on for his first appearance since the FA Cup quarter-final win at Manchester United.
Perhaps just as important for manager Arsene Wenger, as they secured third place in the Premier League, was the fact they did not suffer any new injuries in a season ravaged by bumps, bruises and a chorus of twanging hamstrings. No wonder Walcott and Wilshere ran to physio Declan Lynch to celebrate their goals with the man who has nursed them back to fitness. Lynch leaves for Bath Rugby this summer.
Something had to give after a recent goal drought for an Arsenal side beginning to look weary after a long season at home and in Europe. That something was the West Brom defence — not they could have done much to stop Wenger’s freshened-up starting XI.
First it was a Walcott wonderland for the Arsenal supporters as he struck two very good goals inside the opening 14 minutes and could have had a hat-trick and more well before half-time. The first was a goal of the highest order as he ran on to a perfectly weighted Santi Cazorla pass and put his right foot through the ball to send it across Boaz Myhill from the right and into opposite top corner of the net.
The second was a striker’s delight: a scrappy yet clinical effort from no more than six yards out.
Arsenal’s third, from Wilshere was the sweetest strike of all. The England midfielder, making only his second start since November, took full advantage of a weak clearance from an Arsenal free-kick and walloped a left foot half volley which left Myhill no chance to react. That this was only Wilshere’s 100th league appearances is testimony to his various injury problems to date.
Pulis said before the game he was worried Arsenal had failed to score in their three previous home games. He was right, as the Albion shipped three in the first 17 minutes.
They could easily have scored two or three more before Walcott did complete his first half hat-trick in the 37th minute. Wilshere played a one-two with Sanchez, slipped it left to Cazorla and his first time drive into the danger area was helped over the line from a yard out.
Baggies boss Tony Pulis made some changes in the second half and introduced all three of his substitutes with well over half an hour to go.
The third, Chris Baird, came on moments after his side had managed to pull a goal back through only their second attempt on target as Gareth McAuley out-jumped Arsenal keeper David Ospina to head in a 57th-minute Chris Brunt corner. With West Brom now trying to make a match of it, Wenger sent on another of his cup final hopefuls in Olivier Giroud for Walcott. At the same time Aaron Ramsey, scorer of the winner in last year’ final against Hull, replaced Coquelin.
Ramsey was quick to remind his boss he should be on the bus to Wembley too with a hat-trick of decent attempts on goal, including one which shook a post and another tipped on to the bar by Myhill.
Less convincing was Ospina, who is likely to make way for Wojciech Szczesny this weekend.
Wenger said afterwards: “I have always said Theo is a good finisher and he is the right age, at 26, to show that. I just wish he stays free of injuries now. We have already started contract negotiations with his agent. Jack is Arsenal through and through, he was educated here and we want him to stay, just as he does.”
ARSENAL: Ospina 6; Bellerin 6, Mertesacker 6, Gabriel 5, Gibbs 6; Cazorla 7, Coquelin 6 (Ramsey 67, 6); Wilshere 7(Oxlade-Chamberlain 77, 6 ), Ozil 7, Sanchez 6, Walcott 9 (Giroud 67, 6).
WBA: Myhill 7; Dawson 5, McAuley 5, Olsson 4 (Anichibe 51, 6), Lescott 5; Fletcher 6, Yacob 5 (Baird 57, 6), Morrison 5; McManaman 5 (Gardner 53, 6), Berahino 5, Brunt 6.
Referee: Bobby Madley 7/10
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