With Romelu Lukaku and Álvaro Morata blazing attacking trails since their spotlight Premier League moves, Alexandre Lacazette has had to be more patient, more steady, in his adaptation to the stage occupied by elite strikers.
Having scored with his first meaningful touch as an Arsenal player on the opening day of the season, it has been a slower burn introduction.
He excelled here against a dogged and robust West Brom. His two goals – one poached on the rebound and the other cracked in from the penalty spot, turned a potentially sticky encounter into a useful three points.
Lacazette has developed a handy penchant for scoring at home and in flashes his approach play is as impressive as his ruthlessness.
There still looks like more to come from him in terms of combination play, and often he and Alexis Sánchez looked for each other but there is still work to do on the blend.
All that was with Olivier Giroud in reserve and Danny Welbeck absent. It’s not the worst position for Arsène Wenger to be in regarding his front options. The win takes Arsenal a point behind Tottenham in fourth place. West Brom had to nurse their frustrations on a night when they did not feel decisions went their way.
Monday night football was not ideal from a logistical point of view for a team set to play away in Belarus on Thursday night in the Europa League and then back to Premiership action with a Sunday noon appointment. A hat-trick of graveyard slots if ever there was one.
That did nothing to dim the emphasis on chasing a much needed positive result. In a bid to halt a run of 10 straight losses here Tony Pulis chose a pragmatic line-up, well stocked defensively but with clear intent to do damage on the break. Sánchez, making his 100th Premier League start, came close early on when his dribbling run was interrupted by Craig Dawson, and he stood up to bend the free-kick narrowly wide.
West Brom responded sharply. Jay Rodriguez scampered down the left, chased in unconvincing fashion by Shkodran Mustafi, who was lulled into a desperate challenge in the penalty area. Mustafi’s luck that Bobby Madley did not award a penalty was enhanced when West Brom could not take advantage as they played on. Rodriguez regained his footing and shot crisply. Petr Cech’s reflex save deflected the ball on to a post, and Jake Livermore was frustrated as he screwed the rebound wide. Pulis steamed.
His mood worsened when Arsenal took the lead thanks to a generous free-kick given after Jonny Evans challenged Mohammed Elneny on the edge of the box – it was hardly an over-zealous attempt to win the ball. Sánchez stood ominously over the ball again, sizing up his chances. His set piece was executed brilliantly with zip and dip. Ben Foster did well to help iton to the crossbar, but Lacazette lurked with intent and nodded in the opening goal.
Arsenal probed for more, and Aaron Ramsey’s performance in a free role caused notable problems for West Brom. The Welshman was selected ahead of Mesut Özil and his runs proved tricky to track. In an energetic first half he headed over, made a lung-busting run on the break and almost teed up a goal after a darting run to the byline.
West Brom had to hang on in there to try to prevent the contest from easing out of reach. Grzegorz Krychowiak tugged at Sánchez’s shirt for another potential penalty flashpoint. Evans trod on Lacazette’s foot.
That fine balance was exposed for all to see when West Brom broke with power and precision with half-time approaching. Krychowiak bounded forward and stood his cross up delightfully for Rodriguez with the goal at his mercy. His downward header beat Cech but at that precise moment Nacho Monreal unveiled a stunning impression of Bruce Lee, deflecting the ball away with a mid-air kung-fu kick. The Spaniard looked absolutely pumped about that pivotal moment.
West Brom came again. Krychowiak picked out Gibbs, whose cross caused consternation for Héctor Bellerín and Cech who somehow averted the danger.
Lacazette was close to a second goal in the 51st minute after an attack inspired by one of Sead Kolasinac’s bulldozing runs. The ball fell to Lacazette after it was helped on by Elneny and the Frenchman almost looked surprised to see an accurate shot fail to ripple the net, but a deflection proved crucial.
This game marked Gareth Barry’s record breaking 633rd Premier League appearance, exceeding the benchmark set by Ryan Giggs. Perhaps fittingly it felt like standard fare for this competition, hotly competed and tense and tight in mood.
In the 65th minute the penalty that had been on the cards a couple of times materialised. Allan Nyom barged Ramsey over as the Arsenal midfielder ran in from a wide position.
Lacazette stood behind the spot wearing the expression of a man contemplating what colour socks to wear that day. If he felt any pressure he certainly did not show it, and duly slammed the ball low and hard into the bottom corner. Lacazette has scored 21 penalties in just over three seasons – only Cristiano Ronaldo, with 22, has succeeded with more from Europe’s top five leagues.