Arsenal 3 West Brom 1: Smith Rowe and Pepe’s screamer relegate Baggies to the Championship...
TOO little too late at the Emirates as Arsenal condemned West Brom to relegation and hardly anyone cared.
Mikel Arteta had challenged his team to show their mettle after Thursday’s painful defeat in the Europa League semi-finals.
And they were just about able to summon up enough fighting spirit to secure a first home victory in seven games.
But even with Tottenham doing their level best to avoid qualification for next season’s Uefa Conference League, this was a win which is close to meaningless for the Gunners.
West Brom went down with barely a whimper and a shrug of the shoulders, resigned to their fate a long time ago.
There were no tears at the final whistle from a team who in recent years have proved to be too good for the Championship but not good enough for the Premier League.
But Sam Allardyce’s men still managed to cause problems for an Arsenal team who could yet beat last season’s 56-point tally and still finish nowhere.
Emirates apologists have spent the last few days pointing out how Chelsea won the League the last time they were not in Europe.
What they fail to mention is the fact that they also sacked the manager who missed out on qualification.
Arsenal don’t have any plans to pull the trigger on Arteta just yet and are prepared to give him more time to prove he can become the manager they thought they were getting.
But to many outside observers it seems the Spaniard is in danger of turning into the football equivalent of Keir Starmer, full of good intentions but with no idea of how to achieve his goals.
Just like the Labour leader, Arteta has been charged with restoring a once great institution to its former glories.
But followed by a bunch of rabid North Londoners who are never happier than when they split into factions to rip each other apart, both are in danger of becoming irrelevant.
And it’s a good job for Arteta that he doesn’t have to put himself up for election because he’d probably be voted out of office.
Once again a small gathering of malcontents congregated outside the Emirates to voice their discontent at the way things are going.
And they would not have been placated when they saw Arsenal’s starting line-up, with Willian back by unpopular demand while Aubameyang, Partey, Lacazette, Odegaard, Tierney and Bellerin were all on the bench.
Allardyce was working to his tried and trusted principle of ‘they don’t like it up em’ as he looked to overpower Arsenal’s fragile defence.
And for the first 15 minutes it almost worked as Matheus Pereira shaved the angle of post and bar from distance and Matt Phillips’ close-range chip came back off the crossbar.
Yet even without most of their big-name stars, Arsenal still had too much for the industrious but limited visitors.
Bukayo Saka was causing havoc down the left and it took a brilliant last-ditch tackle by Darnell Furlong to deny the teenager just as he was about to pull the trigger.
But there was to be no stopping Saka the next time he broke free before teeing up Emile Smith Rowe for his first Premier League with a smart 30th minute volley at the near post.
And Albion’s fate was sealed five minutes later when Conor Townsend allowed Nicolas Pepe to cut onto his left foot and let fly into the far right right corner.
Townsend must be the only player in the Premier League who doesn’t realise what Pepe is looking to do every time he gets the ball on the right wing.
And Allardyce, slumped deep into his chair, knew then and there that the game was up.
He had been promised a £1.5million bonus if he managed to keep the team up against all odds.
But he took charge too late to stand any realistic chance of enjoying that unlikely payday.
West Brom were 19th when he was appointed in December and remain 19th in spite of their recent improvement.
They gave themselves a brief glimmer of securing a stay of execution when Pereira was allowed to run from deep inside his own half before beating Bernd Leno with a 67th shot from the edge of the area.
But Furlong missed a glorious chance to level and the last rites were delivered by Willian finally opening his Arsenal account with a stunning 89th minute free-kick.
Now the Baggies are leaving the Premier League for a fifth time, an unwanted record which they share with Norwich.
Whether they will be able to return quite so quickly must be open to doubt.