Jay Rodriguez hits controversial penalty as West Brom grab draw against Arsenal
A landmark game for Arsène Wenger will stay in the Frenchman’s memory for all the wrong reasons. The Arsenal manager ended up face-to-face with Mike Dean on the touchline, angry with the referee’s decision to award West Bromwich Albion a late penalty, and signed off 2017 with a furious attack on the standard of officiating in the Premier League and the manic festive fixture schedule. Happy New Year, Arsène.
It was that sort of evening for Wenger, who was in no mood to celebrate the fact that he had just clocked up his 811th Premier League game as manager to surpass Sir Alex Ferguson’s record. The Arsenal manager looked and sounded totally exasperated, his patience stretched to breaking point by the sight of Dean pointing to the spot in the 88th minute.
Arsenal had taken the lead only five minutes earlier, via a poorly taken free-kick from Alexis Sánchez that took a huge deflection off James McClean, and Wenger must have thought at that stage that his team were going to collect three points from a game where they had gone through the motions at times, never really playing with any conviction.
Dean, however, intervened with the sort of decision that leaves managers apoplectic. Kieran Gibbs – a former Arsenal player, to rub salt into Wenger’s wounds – broke into the area and tried to lift the ball over Calum Chambers. It struck the central defender on the arm and although there was hardly any space between Chambers and Gibbs and the ball – in other words, the Arsenal player could barely get out of the way – Dean gave a penalty.
Wenger was up in arms in his technical area and the Arsenal protests continued long after Jay Rodriguez had dispatched his kick to give Albion a precious point that lifts them off the bottom of the league, above Swansea on goal difference. Although Alan Pardew said that Albion deserved to come away from the game with something to show for their efforts, he admitted that he would have been “upset” if the penalty decision had been given against his team and he understood why Wenger was so angry.
A spotlight will shine on Dean’s performance – not for the first time – while Wenger’s scathing comments about England’s referees showing no improvement since they turned professional are sure to ignite a fresh debate about the level of officiating in the Premier League. Yet there is no escaping the fact that Arsenal were their own worst enemies at The Hawthorns.
They looked disjointed for long periods, there was no real tempo to their game and far too many passes went astray. Arsenal’s buildup play was slow, prosaic and predictable, and it was hard to see where a goal was coming from until Sánchez benefited from a slice of good fortune with his free-kick.
Wenger suggested that his players’ lack of rest had contributed to a flat performance – Albion had an extra 48 hours to recover from their last fixture than Arsenal did – yet the travelling supporters were still entitled to expect their team to attack with much more pace and belief. The game had reached the hour mark when Arsenal finally put together one of their trademark slick one-touch moves, which culminated in Alexandre Lacazette seeing his left-foot shot repelled by Ben Foster’s outstretched boot.
At the other end Albion threatened only sporadically, with Matty Phillips their most dangerous player by a distance. Phillips had the beating of Sead Kolasinac, who departed with a knee injury after 37 minutes, and the Albion winger delivered several dangerous crosses from the right that were crying out for a centre-forward to throw himself at the ball.
Pardew appeared to be settling for a stalemate the longer the game went on but then came Sánchez’s free-kick. It was a desperately poor goal for Albion to concede and McClean, who had come off the bench minutes earlier, hardly covered himself in glory. Stationed on the end of the Albion wall, McClean turned his back as Sánchez ran up to take the free-kick and the ball deflected off the substitute, leaving Foster stranded.
Just about every Arsenal player joined Sánchez to celebrate, in contrast to their muted response to the Chilean’s goals at Crystal Palace three days earlier, yet the visitors’ joy proved to be short-lived when Rodriguez converted that contentious penalty.
Although Albion’s wait for a first win since August goes on – it is now 19 Premier League matches since they last picked up three points – in many respects this felt like a victory for Pardew and his players. “We deserved that,” Pardew said. “There was a lot of pressure on us today, we had to get something, so fair play to the players.”