Baggies stun Gunners
By Tom Adams. Last Updated: January 1, 1970 1:00am
Arsenal's title aspirations were dealt a telling blow as they fell to their third defeat of the season in a 2-1 reverse at West Brom, leaving them floundering 14 points behind all-conquering Chelsea.
Dennis Bergkamp's 400th game for the club was conducted in a disparately different fashion to the glorious years he has enjoyed at Highbury, as a Chris Kirkland-inspired home side prevented Arsenal from shining in their trademark fashion.
Despite Philippe Senderos's opener Arsenal failed to push on, and Kanu's strike was added to by a sensational winner from Darren Carter as Bryan Robson's side earned a well-fought and unlikely three points that will do their own hopes no end of good.
Arsenal's young side missed the quality and composure of such players as Gilberto, Thierry Henry and Sol Campbell, but they started in a comfortable fashion with a patient passing game in the face of a resolute West Brom formation.
Their gentle probing bore fruit on 17 minutes as Bergkamp's close range effort was deflected over the bar by a sliding Paul Robinson.
From the resulting corner Senderos battled with Curtis Davies as he arrived at the back post, and the Swiss stopper beat the Albion man to the ball as he volleyed home from point blank range.
Now searching for a way back into the game, West Brom could have gone two down just a minute later when Freddie Ljungberg found Bergkamp in space on the edge of the box, but the Dutch master's lofted chip was turned over by Kirkland.
Both Mathieu Flamini and Ljungberg failed to call Kirkland into action from wide on the right, but the former Liverpool keeper looked sharp when at full stretch to block Robert Pires's curling effort after good persistence from Bergkamp.
However Arsenal failed to grab the game by the scruff of the neck and the home side, shifting Geoff Horsfield up front to partner Kanu, began to grow in assertiveness and provide a real threat from wide.
Robinson worried Jens Lehmann with a dangerous half-volley that just eluded the right-hand post before Lauren had to be on his toes to deflect a Jonathan Greening cross away from Steve Watson.
Bergkamp was allowed in by a lack of awareness from Neil Clement although the experienced forward could not find a way past the onrushing Kirkland and the tide was turning decisively in the home side's favour.
Senderos was called into action as he hacked away a threatening cross from Robinson, but the youngster was not so lucky for the equaliser as his clearing header from Martin Albrechtsen's centre found Kanu in space in the box. The Nigerian showed no mercy towards his former employers by bringing the ball down and driving smartly past Jens Lehmann.
A physical first-half saw Watson walking a tightrope after seeing yellow for an over-the-top tackle on Francesc Fabregas, and Arsenal's injury woes deepened as Swedish winger Ljungberg made way for Emmanuel Eboue.
West Brom again tested the nerves of the Arsenal defence early in the second half as Kanu headed wide from another Albrechten cross, and The Gunners were clearly missing the calming influence of Campbell at the back and the attacking voracity of Henry as they struggled to find their rhythm.
When they did find a path to goal Kirkland was invariably ready to repel the attack and the excellent England man pushed an ungainly volley from Kolo Toure round the post before rushing out quickly to smother the ball at Bergkamp's feet when Reyes's through ball eluded the West Brom backline.
The Spaniard was having another frustrating day in front of goal and could only offer weak attempts from two set-pieces, an effort from outside the box was stronger but still wayward.
The Gunners continued to exert pressure but Kirkland was an inspiration, and he served notice of how he has flourished during his loan spell as he showed great agility to stretch a palm out to deny a vigorous effort from Fabregas.
Wenger's side were employing their tried and tested methods but even a trademark break could not do the damage as Bergkamp cut back and curled over.
Although the tide of the game was against them West Brom then dealt Arsenal's title aspirations a major blow as Lauren's challenge saw the ball fall to substitute Carter on the edge of the box.
The former Birmingham man staked a claim for a more prominent role with a glorious goal as he controlled with his chest, allowed the ball to drop and then fired a spectacular volley into the top corner to leave Lehmann clutching at air.
The Hawthorns was bouncing, and Arsenal's frustration was clear as they saw their season slipping away from them.
Reyes again wasted a free kick in a good situation as Kirkland gathered easily, and things could have been even worse for Wenger's men in injury time as Lehmann parried Nathan Ellington's shot from a tight angle.
However it mattered little as Robson's men held on to record a famous victory that will raise serious questions about Arsenal's potential this season.
West Brom v Arsenal player ratings
|West Bromwich Albion||Team Name||Arsenal|
|4||Shots on target ( Inc Goals )||9|
|1||Shots off Target (inc woodwork)||4|
|23||Total Fouls Conceded||10|
Barclays Premier League
|8||West Bromwich Albion||38||49|
|10||West Ham United||38||46|
|20||Queens Park Rangers||38||25|