Arsenal have surrendered yet more ground to its top four competitors in the Premier League, as controversy at the death gifted West Brom a 1-1 draw from the penalty spot at the Hawthorns.
The visitors were out to mark Arsène Wenger’s record-breaking 811th Premier League game with a win, taking a lead as late as the 83rd minute through Alexis Sanchez’s deflected free kick.
A late penalty, awarded by Mike Dean after Kieran Gibbs’ cross hit Calum Chambers on the arm, would scupper those chances, with Jay Rodriguez converting from the spot in the 89th minute.
Barring Mesut Özil’s absence through injury, to which Wenger replied with Alex Iwobi’s involvement, the Gunners would name the same side that defeated Crystal Palace 3-2 at Selhurst Park on Thursday night.
Keen to spoil the Arsenal boss’ celebrations, West Brom took just six minutes to set their sights on goal with a hanging Matt Phillips cross for Rodriguez to attack, forcing Petr Čech to get down well and smother the ball.
The North Londoners replied with good possession and an opportunity for Alex Iwobi to bend and effort in from the edge of the box, with the academy graduate leaning back too much when combing his shot over the bar.
It was Iwobi who would try his luck once more from range in the 30th minute, with Ben Foster struggling more than anticipated when parrying the shot wide.
Arsenal would offer little else by the way of sharpness, however, with both sides heading into half-time at 0-0.
Slow production continued to be a theme in the second-half until a neat give-and-go between Alexandre Lacazette and Iwobi enabled the former to fire low on his left foot, calling Foster into action at his near-post.
Lacazette was alert again in the 61st minute, as Alexis Sanchez read the striker’s movement across West Brom’s backline and feed a pass in to be flicked at the near-post, as the effort rolled just wide of the goal.
With Özil sorely missed in the final third, it was through Sanchez that Arsenal would manage to crack the Baggies’ code, as the Chilean’s free-kick in the 83rd minute squeezed through the wall and into the bottom corner off James McClean.
That goal would be cancelled out in dramatic circumstances, however, as Mike Dean judged Gibbs’ cutback onto Chambers’ arm to be a deliberate handball and award West Brom a late penalty.
Rodriguez stepped up to the plate and made no mistake when firing down the middle, as the Gunners rounded off a frustrating end to the year with a 1-1 draw away from home.
By Patrick Ribeiro
Player Ratings: Petr Čech (5) – Calum Chambers (6), Shkodran Mustafi (5), Laurent Koscielny (6) – Héctor Bellerín (5), Jack Wilshere (6), Granit Xhaka (6), Sead Kolasinac (5) – Alex Iwobi (6), Alexis Sanchez (7), Alexandre Lacazette (6)
Subs: Ainsley Maitland-Niles (6), Danny Welbeck (5)