Fairweather footballers? Not Arsenal, at least not here. Mikel Arteta’s team made light of fierce conditions and desperate opponents to produce possibly their best performance of the season. Kieran Tierney, Bukayo Saka and Alexandre Lacazette scored beautiful goals and, along with 20-year-old Emile Smith Rowe, delivered outstanding displays, helping to give Arsenal a third consecutive victory and renewed hope of a bright future. For West Brom the forecast is bleak.
Sam Allardyce has relished jabbing at the fragilities of Arsenal teams down the years and must have been rubbing his hands before kick-off here, and not just to keep warm. Heavy snow around the Hawthorns put a bracing new twist on the wet-and-windy-night-in-Stoke maxim, and although the pitch was cleared by the time the match began, Allardyce no doubt urged his side to test how much Arsenal fancied going into battle on a freezing night when even the air felt like it had fangs.
West Brom found the going humiliatingly tough in their three previous outings here, with the concept of home comforts looking alien to them as they shipped 13 goals en route to heavy defeats. Allardyce made just two adjustments to the lineup that began Tuesday’s 5-0 beating by Leeds.
Sam Johnstone has been the Premier League’s busiest goalkeeper this season and it took less than three minutes for Arsenal to force him into another save, with the keeper using his feet to block a shot from 15 yards by Héctor Bellerín following a cross form the left by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Seven minutes later Johnstone foiled Saka, who rasped in a low drive from the edge of the area after neat service by Lacazette. Arsenal looked smooth, as unperturbed by the elements as they were by opponents who played some pretty stuff at times but had neither the precision nor physicality to unsettle the visitors.
When Saka curled a cross from the corner of the box towards the back post after a fetching pass by Dani Ceballos in the 15th minute, Aubameyang came within inches of poking into the net.
Saka continued to thrive down the right, tormenting Grady Diangana, who was playing in an unfamiliar left wing-back role.
But Arsenal’s breakthrough came from the other flank, from where Tierney produced a brilliant solo goal in the 23rd minute. After knocking the ball past Darnell Furlong, Tierney scampered to retrieve it and then veered into the box and curled a superb right-footed shot into the far corner. The snow, having suddenly resumed, fell like confetti on Arsenal’s celebrating players.
They rejoiced again five minutes later after increasing their lead thanks to a glorious collective move orchestrated by two of their youngest and most exciting talents. Smith Rowe and Saka combined with Lacazette to cut through the heart of the nonplussed home defence before Smith Rowe squared for Saka to prod into the net from close range.
Allardyce put Diangana out of his misery at half-time as West Brom switched to a back four. Callum Robinson thought he had got the hosts back in the game within two minutes of the restart, only for his goal to be ruled out for offside. West Brom briefly looked more coherent.
But Arsenal plundered a third goal on the hour thanks to a blend of their own excellent play and slapstick defending. Saka instigated it, gliding down the right and floating over a cross that Semi Ayaji smashed against his own post. Johnstone saved Smth Rowe’s follow-up but could not stop Lacazette from whacking the rebound into the net. West Brom have a tendency to concede goals in clusters and Lacazette soon struck again, escaping his markers to prod a cross by Tierney into the net from close range. Johnstone remained the main barrier between Arsenal and a fifth goal, and did deny them that.