On Thursday, Arsenal supporters were subjected to 90 minutes of pure, unadulterated crap.
With their season on the line, the Gunners bowed out of the Europa League semi-finals with a whimper. Their display lacked intensity, invention and desire, and the fact that former boss Unai Emery was the man to end their Champions League dreams made it even more humiliating.
After one of the lowest moments of the post-Arsene Wenger era, Arsenal needed a response against struggling West Brom. Despite the Baggies’ league position, a win was anything but assured. The Gunners home record going into the bout was shoddy and Sam Allardyce’s charges have showed themselves capable of springing an upset this season.
For once though, Arsenal did put in a performance worthy of a club of their stature. Their 3-1 win was much needed and the performances of a few players in particular offered Gunners fans hope that a brighter future might be over the horizon.
Right from the off Bukayo Saka caught the eye. Operating at left-back – something supporters have been crying out for for weeks – he was no less influential in the final third than he has been for the majority of the season. With just under half an hour on the clock Callum Robinson could only gaze on in awe as Saka glided past him and laid one on a plate for Emile Smith Rowe to guide home on the volley.
The goal saw two academy graduates combine. In other words, a feel-good moment that acted as the perfect tonic to Thursday’s debacle.
It would not be the last time that Saka would inject some joy into proceedings. Throughout the contest he made the left-hand side his personal playground, having both Robinson and Darnell Furlong on toast so frequently it was like he was at an all-you-can-eat Premier Inn breakfast buffet.
Smith Rowe’s display was similarly fun. Finding bright spots in Arsenal’s season has been challenging at times but whenever he and Saka have been fit they have played with a youthful exuberance unparalleled across most of the Premier League.
The young pair’s performances were not the only positives to take away from the West Brom win either; Nicolas Pepe has failed to justify his hefty £70m+ price tag since arriving in north London. However, he looked worth every penny when he bent an unstoppable drive past Sam Johnstone to make it 2-0 before the break. If he can start producing this sort of thing ten times as often, Arsenal will be very happy.
Willian finally ended his wait for a Premier League goal just before full-time as well, and for a brief moment Arsenal fans stopped counting down the days until his contract expires (it’s 782, by the way) and simply enjoyed the Brazilian’s talent.
Things may not be perfect at the Emirates Stadium, they’re anything but in fact, but this victory should have been enough to put a smile on even the most stony-hearted Gunners supporter’s face.