Koscielny winner ruins Hodgson's last game for West Brom
Marton Fulop endured a nightmare Premier League debut for West Bromwich Albion as Arsenal wrapped up third spot and automatic UEFA Champions League qualification after a 3-2 win at The Hawthorns.
In Roy Hodgson's final game as West Brom manager before he takes charge of England, Fulop gifted Arsenal their early opener and a second-half winner to ensure Arsenal held off the challenge of North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur. A comical gaffe from Fulop gifted Arsenal the lead after just four minutes when the goalkeeper, making his first Premier League appearance of the season in the absence of the injured Ben Foster, hesitated on the edge of the box and Yossi Benayoun nipped in to roll the ball into an empty net. Yet by the quarter-hour mark, West Brom were in front, although there was a suspicion of offside about the equaliser on 11 minutes when Shane Long raced on to James Morrison's pass to slip the ball past Wojciech Szczesny. Morrison was the provider for the Baggies' second goal four minutes later as his pass was cushioned under control by the head of Graham Dorrans and the Scot then rifled home from the edge of the box. Arsenal were level on the half-hour mark and were indebted to more questionable goalkeeping from Fulop, who was unable to get a strong enough hand to Andre Santos' left- foot shot from outside the box. Fulop, who joined West Brom from Ipswich Town last summer, was at it again nine minutes into the second half when he bizarrely elected to punch, rather than catch, an uncontested corner and the ball dropped sideways for Laurent Koscielny to bundle home. The Baggies had a couple of half-chances to equalise, but Arsenal saw out the closing stages before paying a full-time tribute to assistant manager Pat Rice, who is ending his 44-year association with the club.
Arsenal were the first to settle and a mistake by Fulop gifted Benayoun the opening goal after four minutes. Robin van Persie and James Morrison challenged for the ball in midfield and the ball ricocheted into the path of Fulop. But he appeared to stumble when under no pressure and Benayoun was left with the simplest of tasks to knock the ball into an empty net. Albion retaliated and Szczesny produced a fine low save to keep out a shot on the turn from a narrow angle by Marc-Antoine Fortune. But after 11 minutes the fit-again Long brought the Baggies on level terms. He chased down a pass from Morrison and hammered a low shot past Szczesny into the corner of the net. Just four minutes later an equally clinical finish from Dorrans put the Baggies in front. Morrison was again the creator and Dorrans gave Szczesny no chance of saving with a similar finish to that of Long. Gareth McAuley blocked an effort from Benayoun inside the box and a Van Persie free-kick hit the defensive wall, but after half an hour Santos brought the Gunners level. Fulop got a hand to his swerving left-footed drive from 20 yards out but could only parry it into the corner of the net. Play was moving from end to end and Van Persie became the first player to be booked seven minutes before half-time for a touchline challenge on McAuley.
Wenger brought on Theo Walcott in place of Tomas Rosicky for the second half, with the visitors starting the period on the offensive and a cross-shot from Santos was only just off target. Albion were forced to reshuffle after 51 minutes when the impressive Morrison limped out of the action to be replaced by Keith Andrews. Fulop's horror show continued when another mistake gifted Koscielny a goal after 54 minutes to restore Arsenal's lead. The former Sunderland goalkeeper punched a corner from Van Persie back towards his own goal and Koscielny made no mistake from four yards out. Albion tried to recover and a Jonas Olsson header was deflected over his own bar by Van Persie before Szczesny reacted quickly to turn aside a shot on the turn from Andrews. In injury-time substitute Kieran Gibbs produced a vital block on Billy Jones' shot after he burst into the box.