Match Reports

Albion end year with narrow defeat

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Lacazette wins it for Arsenal seconds after coming off the bench.

By Bruce Talbot • 29 December 2020

By Paul Hazlewood
Alireza Jahanbakhsh made his second Premier League start of the campaign in the defeat to Arsenal.

Albion will be hoping a change of year will bring better fortune at home after they finished 2020 with a 1-0 loss to Arsenal at the Amex.

A much-changed team gave the Gunners some anxious moments, particularly in the first half, but Arsenal found another gear after the break and Alexandre Lacazette got the only goal 21 seconds after coming off the bench midway through the second period.

With Burnley beating Sheffield United, Albion dropped to 17th in the table and they finished 2020 with just one win at the Amex. There is a quick opportunity to improve that record against Wolves on Saturday.

What happened...

There were six changes for Albion's second game in 48 hours. In came Alexis Mac Allister, Davy Propper, Pascal Gross, Alireza Jahanbakhsh, Bernardo and Joel Veltman. Mac Allister, Propper and Bernardo were making their first league starts and Jahanbakhsh only his second.

It may have been a very unfamiliar line-up but with so many players getting rare minutes, there was plenty of energy from Albion and in the first half when they created the better chances despite not starting with a recognised forward.

By Paul Hazlewood
Alireza Jahanbakhsh saw his low drive saved by Arsenal keeper Bernd Leno.

There was an early sight of goal for Jahanbakhsh but he steered Bernardo's 12th-minute cross wide before Yves Bissouma clipped a cross into the box which Dan Burn headed over.

Albion zipped the ball about nicely and only had one moment of alarm before the break when Gross conceded a free kick on the corner of the box but Granit Xhaka failed to test Rob Sanchez.

The hosts upped the pressure and had their best chance of the half in the 36th minute. Mac Allister had just fired over when Mohamed Elneny gave the ball away when Albion worked the ball from right to left. Bernardo's pass found Jahanbakhsh and his powerful low drive forced Bernd Leno into a smart save low to his right.

There was a lively start to the second half with incidents at both ends.

The VAR checked for an Albion penalty a minute into the second half after Lewis Dunk went down clutching his head as he attacked a corner, before Robert Sanchez produced a superb save with his leg to thwart Emerick Aubameyang when the Arsenal captain looked odds-on to convert Saka's left-wing cross at point-blank range.

By Paul Hazlewood
Robert Sanchez put in another strong performance, including a fantastic save from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's effort.

Suddenly the Gunners were attacking at pace. Gabriel Martinelli only just cleared the bar with a curling effort from just inside the box before Aubameyang cut in from the right and tried to find the far corner, but instead his right-footer drifted wide of the post.

Dunk was booked for a foul on Xkaha as he broke down the right but Albion regrouped and in the 64th minute Yves Bissouma's pass sent Propper racing into the box but his first-time effort was saved at the near post by Leno.

A minute later, however, Arsenal took the lead. Sako outpaced Burn and found Lacazette in space 15 yards out. He had time to take a touch before sweeping it past Sanchez with his second.

Potter sent on Neal Maupay, Solly March and Leandro Trossard to try and rescue the game in the closing stages but although they often got into some promising positions, the final ball lacked the necessary quality to penetrate what was a packed Arsenal defence in the closing stages.

By Paul Hazlewood
Yves Bissouma covered plenty of ground for Albion in the middle of the park.

Cosmopolitan Albion

Albion's starting line-up contained only three Englishmen with the other eight representing seven countries: Rob Sanchez (Spain), Joel Veltman and Davy Propper (Holland), Pascal Gross (Germany), Alireza Jahanbakhsh (Iran), Yves Bissouma (Mali), Alexis Mac Allister (Argentina) and Bernardo (Brazil). With two Irishmen, a Frenchman and a Swiss on the bench it truly was a cosmopolitan squad.

Flexible formation

There was much speculation as to how a side without a specialist striker might line up. In the end Albion started with a 4-4-1-1, Bernardo operating on the left of midfield and Mac Allister tucked in behind Jahanbakhsh. Bernardo's defensive qualities were needed when Arsenal looked to unleash the pace of Bakary Saka, but Albion often used Bernardo to isolate Hector Bellerin in the air.

The line-up

Sanchez; Veltman, Webster, Dunk (capt), Burn, Gross, Propper (March 66), Bissouma, Bernardo, Mac Allister (Maupay 66), Jahanbakhsh (Trossard 75).

Unused subs: Steele, White, Connolly, Welbeck, Zeqiri, Molumby.

Referee: Martin Atkinson