Sitting in 10th position in the English Premier League table, it was desperation time for Arsenal on Saturday against West Bromwich Albion. Thanks largely to a stellar acting job by attacking midfielder Santi Cazorla, the Gunners grabbed early momentum and notched a critical three points with a 2-0 home victory at Emirates Stadium.
Despite dominating possession with a commanding 61 percent in the first half, the Gunners continued their recent struggle to find the net. That is, until some theatrics by Cazorla.
In the 25th minute, Baggies defender Steven Reid went after Cazorla on the left side of the box, and his swinging leg completely missed the shin of the Gunner. In spite of that, the winger took a dive in apparent pain, which resulted in a free kick for Mikel Arteta.
Note: GIF Courtesy of balls.ie
West Brom goalkeeper Boaz Myhill dove to his right, and the Gunners striker calmly shot it into the middle of the net to give Arsenal the eventual halftime advantage.
Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated approved of the studio crew for FOX Soccer heavily criticizing Cazorla's move after the first 45 minutes had expired:
Excellent work by the @foxsoccer halftime crew of Arsenal-West Brom. You have to come down hard on diving and they did. Well done.— Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) December 8, 2012
Arsenal had just one combined goal in three previous matches, and had only won one of six EPL fixtures prior to its matchup with Albion. Arsene Wenger's club was clearly desperate to manufacture a goal any way it could, and Cazorla's maneuver got it done—even though it wasn't necessarily ethical.
The controversy didn't end there. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain essentially tackled possession away with his arms from Albion's Goran Popov, which ultimately resulted in another penalty kick.
Myhill dove to his left this time, but Arteta again chipped it into the middle of the goal to build Arsenal an insurmountable 2-0 lead at 64'.
The Baggies' attack could not generate any push until it was too late, which is a credit to the stonewall Gunners defense and dominance of possession. While manager Steve Clarke's team was outplayed to be certain, the two goals Arsenal notched came as a result of questionable officiating.
It could have been a great match, but the fifth-place Baggies simply didn't play their best football by any stretch. Here is a look at some player grades from Saturday's key EPL showdown.
Santi Cazorla: A
While there will be plenty of polarization surrounding his dive, Cazorla was the catalyst for the Arsenal attack. As attacking midfielder, he kept the ball in West Brom territory throughout the match and continually applied pressure on the Baggies.
Unfortunately for Arsenal, Gervinho hasn't been able to provide the spark the Gunners desperately need on the attack.
An early chance in the first half was pulled wide of an open net to the far post, and Gervinho also missed a golden opportunity by completely whiffing from close range in the 59th minute. The generation of scoring chances is impressive, but the forward must capitalize more frequently.
Boaz Myhill: B+
The Albion netminder played exceptionally well, save for the two PKs allowed to Arteta, who simply outfoxed Myhill in very tight quarters. Possession was dominated by the Gunners all game, and Myhill held his own relatively well again in place of injured starter Ben Foster.
Mikel Arteta: A
It's hard to neglect mentioning the man who put Arsenal on the board twice—even if it was from close range. Penalties can be nerve-wracking, and Arteta remained composed to convert both of his chances, keying the Gunners to a home triumph.