Arsenal 2-0 West Bromwich Albion: Sánchez’ brace gives Emirates crowd much-needed respite

Arsenal 2-0 West Bromwich Albion: Sánchez' brace gives Emirates crowd much-needed respite

Following their disappointing 1-1 draw on Sunday against Palace, Alexis Sánchez came to the fore and netted a well-taken brace to give the edgy Emirates crowd much-needed respite on Thursday evening.

Considering Arsenal‘s shortcomings of late, and the way they’ve managed to slip away from the title challenge following a succession of frustrating results, it was a must-win game for them on Thursday evening. West Bromwich Albion are again, by no means, an easy side to beat: but one that the Gunners should’ve had no trouble prevailing against.

Alexis’ brace gives Gunners some welcome cheer

A well-taken brace courtesy of Alexis Sánchez either side of the half-time interval, helped Arséne Wenger‘s side to victory. Given the occasion, and following recent results, this fixture had an end-of-season feel to it. On a school night, plenty of home supporters were eager to voice their concerns over the nature of progression – or seemingly lack of – from their side.

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Arsenal 1-1 Crystal Palace: Bolasie ensures Gunners squander yet more points

Arsenal 1-1 Crystal Palace: Bolasie ensures Gunners squander yet more points

Despite their dominance, as well as chances created in the final third, Arsenal squandered yet more points courtesy of Yannick Bolasie’s second-half strike – in a season that is becoming one to forget.

Goals from Alexis Sánchez and Yannick Bolasie ensured that both sides shared the spoils in this London derby – but it was yet another game that Arsenal themselves really should’ve won.

It was a must-win match for Arsenal, make no mistake about that. Considering their inconsistent form saw them drop rather dramatically from the Premier League title race, they needed to keep pace with Manchester City and Tottenham to avoid falling away in quite frustrating fashion – something that has happened all-too-often in previous seasons. From the early exchanges, you would’ve felt it was inevitable that the Gunners would seal the victory too – but Crystal Palace, in spite of their faltering league form since the start of 2016, were always going to pose a threat against their London counterparts.

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Tottenham Hotspur 2-2 Arsenal: Sánchez saves Coquelin’s blushes in frantic North London Derby

Tottenham Hotspur 2-2 Arsenal: Sánchez saves Coquelin's blushes in frantic North London Derby

A late equaliser from Alexis Sánchez helped to save Francis Coquelin’s blushes following the Frenchman’s second-half dismissal: at a point where the Gunners were in the ascendancy and looked certain to secure all three points.

Alexis to the rescue for travelling Gunners

A late equaliser courtesy of Alexis Sánchez – with his first league goal since October – was enough to salvage a point for Arsenal in an unpredictable, yet frustrating North London Derby at White Hart Lane.

Having broken the deadlock on the stroke of half-time courtesy of a deft backheel finish from Aaron Ramsey, the Gunners enjoyed some counter-attacking freedom of their own – the momentum shifted as Spurs were eagerly anticipating the referee’s whistle to signal the half-time interval.

Ramsey (pictured, middle) broke the deadlock with an excellent improvised backheel flick from Bellerín’s pass | Photo: Getty

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Tottenham Hotspur 2-2 Arsenal: As it happened

Tottenham Hotspur 2-2 Arsenal: As it happened

Hello everyone! My name is Mosope Ominiyi and I’ll be guiding you through the action as it unfolds, in what promises to be one of – if not the biggest North London Derby in recent history this afternoon. Tottenham Hotspur – Arsenal, and both rival sides have their eyes firmly fixated on the prize: the Premier League trophy come the middle of May.

Kick-off is scheduled for a 12:45PM BST start, so keep following along as I deliver all of the pre-match build-up ahead of the action at White Hart Lane.

The atmosphere promises to be a lively, but tense one in north London today – plenty at stake, and not just bragging rights either. Here’s a picture of how the Premier League table looks at the moment, with all of the top six (apart from Manchester City) having played 28 games.

Arsenal could go level on points with their rivals Spurs, provided they win today | Photo: LiveScore

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Player focus: Alexis at his mercurial best against sloppy Manchester United

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 04:  Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal celebrates scoring their third goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Manchester United at Emirates Stadium on October 4, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Questions were asked of Alexis Sánchez, after a relatively slow start to the 2015/16 campaign.

Taking everything into account, it was a harsh assessment of a player who missed their pre-season preparations after his exploits with Chile at the Copa América.

Against Tottenham in the Capital One Cup, once introduced, Alexis looked lively, full of energy, and unpredictable in attack – a joy to watch. Away at Leicester, he scored his first hat-trick of his Arsenal career. All three of his goals were well-taken, and plenty of critics began suggesting, perhaps the electrifying Chilean is back after all?

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 04:  Luis Antonio Valencia of Manchester United is tackled by Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Manchester United at Emirates Stadium on October 4, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Manchester United started slowly today. They were comprehensively punished as a result, and Sánchez was unsurprisingly at the forefront of this. Scoring the opener, he was cheeky but also subtle. His movement was excellent to pinpoint his run in the box – and latching onto Mesut’s low ball, he still had a lot to do with his back to goal.

But, it’s Alexis. Nothing fazes him. With his back to David de Gea, his backflick nestled into the bottom corner and sent the home supporters into raptures.

He wasn’t finished there, either. Just a minute later, his audacious skill chop fell into the path of Ozil – whose one-two with Walcott was clinically finished off seconds afterwards.

Working hard for the side throughout until he was withdrawn with ten minutes to play, he’d shown his desire to get forward at speed – which was reiterated in the build-up to completing his brace.

With shades of his piledriver against Liverpool last term, he went on a marauding run towards the box, and despite getting his feet caught up initially, he maintained enough composure to fire home on the edge of the area with de Gea’s sprawling dive in vain.

3-0 and cruising, Sánchez was eager not to rest on his laurels. Defensively, he was always chasing after the ball, applying pressure to United as they tried to create chances of note for all the possession they had.

As he came off, he was given a standing ovation from the home supporters. Deservedly the Man of the Match, he’s quite simply the driving force behind the Gunners attack. Sublime to watch, as usual.

With the impending international break on the horizon, it’s come at the wrong time from an Arsenal perspective. Alexis back firing on all cylinders, a morale-boosting victory after their disappointing defeat during midweek, what more could you ask for? No players to get injured, I suppose.

Arsenal 2-1 Reading: Five thoughts

FA Cup holders Arsenal narrowly progressed through to this year’s final of the competition, and are set to face giant-killers Aston Villa on May 30th after a 2-1 victory over Reading on Saturday evening. Steve Clarke‘s men had nothing to lose, and gave it all they had, but in the end, were unlucky not to prevail courtesy of a brace from Chilean forward Alexis Sanchez, cancelling out an second-half equaliser from Garath McCleary.

1. Should Bellerín have started over the returning Debuchy?

When the team line-ups were initially announced ahead of kick-off on Saturday, I must admit that was surprised. Not because Danny Welbeck was preferred to Olivier Giroud in a central striking role, no, but because Mathieu Debuchy, recently returning from a long-term injury lay-off, replaced Hector Bellerín in the starting line-up. The 20-year-old Spaniard has asserted his role in the team over the past few months of the season with a number of consistent displays, so it was a real surprise that the experienced Frenchman was brought back into the fray, in a game of such magnitude, without having much first-team action elsewhere in the past few weeks to prove he was ready.

Debuchy’s performance overall was solid, although it was evident as the game continued, he looked slightly lethargic and he was reluctant to get forward much. This can be viewed as both an advantage as well as a disadvantage, because on the counter attack, Arsenal need men forward, but also require a few players to stay back in-case they lose possession. Bellerín’s energy would have been beneficial all-round as he knows how to get himself into good attacking positions with relative ease given his blistering pace, as well as knowing how to defend.

2. Lack of clinical edge almost cost the Gunners

I’m almost certain, with no intended disrespect to Reading, if Arsenal were playing against a world-class club on Saturday, they probably would have lost over the 90 minute spell. Not because they were not good enough, which they weren’t, but because they failed to take their chances. Wenger’s men started slowly, and Reading did well to assert themselves in the early going. Apart from an early headed effort from Mertesacker, Arsenal did not offer much attacking threat up until Alexis’ opener. Reading had a few clear-cut opportunities to split the Premier League side apart, but for one reason or another, failed to take them.

3. Walcott deserves more minutes to prove his match sharpness

With the scores level at 1-1 with 35 minutes left to play, Arsenal were in desperate need of a pace injection to see them through. Walcott, sat patiently waiting for his chance amongst the substitutes. The clock ticked and continued to do so, and it was only until halfway through extra time where the English forward eventually got his chance to spring the Gunners ahead.

Many rumours have been circulating in recent weeks about the pacey winger’s future, and it is no secret that he is disgruntled with his lack of first-team minutes. He was introduced in place of Francis Coquelin, and looked threatening a few times, especially where he won a free-kick an inch or two away from the penalty-area to give the Gunners breathing space with time running out, after Sanchez scored his second.

If Theo is to stay at Arsenal, and frankly improve as a player, Wenger needs to put his faith in him. I totally understand why the experienced Frenchman would be reluctant to push Walcott back into the fray after having a few long-term injuries, but he deserves more minutes to show he is still an important player in this Arsenal team, not just a ‘sub’ or a back-up to the likes of Welbeck and Giroud, if they get injured for example.

4. Adam Federici kept Reading in the game, but ironically was the man to seal their exit

The headlines will of course be focussed on the “howler” that saw his side cruelly knocked out of the FA Cup, but 30-year-old Australian Adam Federici had an impressive game up until that point, and should be proud of his performance, which kept his side in the tie on a number of different occasions. He made a few important saves, including one to deny Gabriel’s powerful header with a hand parrying the headed effort off the crossbar and out to safety.

Unfortunately, the goalkeeping position is one where even the slightest of mistakes will end up in harsh scrutiny. Just ask Wojciech Szczesny, who the media and fans alike have combined to state McCleary’s effort was his fault, and a shot he should really have been saving.

5. Alexis Sánchez: one of Arséne’s best signings

Even when he doesn’t score, Alexis offers so much to the team. His energy, work-rate, electric pace, close-control dribbling, and impressive finishing ability are all qualities for Arsenal supporters to savour as they watch the Chilean play on a weekly basis. He’s scored 22 goals in all competitions, which is quite a feat for someone in his debut season in the country, and he completed a clinical brace to seal the Gunners place in the Wembley final next month.

Arséne Wenger has signed quite a few gems in his tenure as Arsenal boss, and Alexis is another one to add to the coveted list. Not only is he technically gifted, but his positive attitude towards football in general and his work-ethic spurs his team-mates on to up the intensity of their individual game, which is a quality not many possess.

The more I watch him, the more I wonder, how on earth Arsenal managed to sign him for only £30million pounds?! In this day and age, with the inflated transfer market as it is, the 26-year-old has already proven himself as a steal from La Liga giants Barcelona, and a real coup that shows a signal of intent to the rest of Europe in terms of Arsenal’s aspirations for the future.