Football - Premier League

Arsenal fight back to rescue point

West Bromwich Albion2 - 2Arsenal

Premier League title-chasers Arsenal overcame a two-goal deficit and a calamitous error from Manuel Almunia to salvage a 2-2 draw with West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns.

 
Arsenal fight back - Football - Premier LeagueReuters
 

Steven Reid scored his first league goal for almost a year to give the Baggies a third-minute lead, before a repeat of Manuel Almunia's antics from the 3-2 defeat at the Emirates Stadium allowed Peter Odemwingie to double the home side's advantage as the hour mark approached.

Andrei Arshavin reduced the deficit with a high-quality strike before Robin van Persie pounced from close range to score a scrappy leveller that keeps Arsenal's title hopes alive.

The draw sees the gap between Arsenal and leaders Manchester United increase to five points following the Red Devils' win over Bolton, while West Brom remain just a point above the relegation zone.

Arsenal's FA Cup defeat to Manchester United last weekend resulted in defender Johan Djourou being added to their lengthy list of key players out injured, a crisis which has led to 41-year-old goalkeeper Jens Lehmann signing a short-term deal, and the veteran took his place on the bench as Almunia's understudy.

Almunia's disastrous performance against West Brom back in September could well have been his last appearance for the club. Instead, he has returned to the side and hampered his team's bid for the only trophy they remain in contention for this season.

The absence of midfielders Cesc Fabrgeas, Alex Song and Theo Walcott also resulted in the inclusion of Aaron Ramsey, making his first start for Arsenal since breaking his leg against Stoke in February of last year.

West Brom were denied the services of striker Carlos Vela under the terms of his loan from Arsenal, but they soon found themselves ahead nonetheless.

Republic of Ireland international Reid easily rose above his marker Jack Wilshere - who at five-foot-seven is a full five inches shorter than Reid - to send a solid header past Almunia. That goal means that Arsenal have only kept one clean sheet in the 12 Premier League matches which Laurent Koscielny and Sebastien Squillaci have started together.

As is so often the case when things are not going right for Arsenal, they controlled the majority of the possession but struggled to break into the final third of the opposition half. In fact, it took James Morrison's 10-minute removal from play for the Gunners to fashion their only clear chance of the first half.

Scotland midfielder Morrison clashed heads with Koscielny, and was led down the tunnel to have his cut treated and head bandaged.

In his absence, Gael Clichy motored down the left wing and chipped his cross in to Robin van Persie. The Dutch striker saw his looping header come back off the crossbar, and Ramsey's follow-up effort was blocked by goalkeeper Scott Carson.

Both managers made changes at the break, with Roy Hodgson swapping the combative Paul Scharner with Marek Cech while Arsene Wenger introduced Marouane Chamakh for the ineffectual Denilson.

Wenger then threw on Nicklas Bendtner too after seeing Chris Brunt slide in and send Cech's low cross wide from close range and Van Persie head Ramsey's free-kick wide.

Just moments after the Dane's introduction, however, Arsenal were two down. Odemwingie beat Squillaci to a long ball forward and Almunia inexplicably came racing out of his area to try and intercept it. Odemwingie knocked the ball round the faltering pair and rolled it into the empty net for his 10th league goal of the season.

West Brom continued to frustrate Arsenal at the other end and it took something special for the Gunners to make the breakthrough.

That came on 70 minutes when Arshavin exchanged passes with Chamakh on the edge of the box before hammering a strike past Carson to give Arsenal hope of a comeback.

Van Persie then pulled them level in far less spectacular fashion eight minutes later. Bendtner nodded Arshavin's cross back in from the far post, and the ball got stuck under Abdoulaye Meite's feet. Van Persie pounced to see the ball trickle agonisingly over the line for his 15th goal of the season and 14th of 2011.

Both sides had chances to claim victory, with substitute Marc-Antoine Fortune's mesmerising run through Koscielny and Samir Nasri only denied a goal by Squillaci's diving block before Clichy had a half-volleyed effort saved by Carson.

But, in the end, the sides each left with a point. While that may not aid either's cause as much as they would have hoped, it certainly left Almunia a very relieved man.

 - Eurosport
 
 
 
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