April 21, 2016

LONDON (AP) Alexis Sanchez was surrounded by thousands of empty seats inside Emirates Stadium as he scored twice against West Bromwich Albion to ease Arsenal back into third place with a 2-0 win on Thursday.

Because Arsenal announced 59,568 tickets were sold for the English Premier League game, the north London stadium should have been near capacity to see Sanchez make it five goals in four games.

But the swathes of unoccupied red seats told a different story, reflecting mounting unrest among fans frustrated that it is 12 years since Arsenal lifted the league trophy.

''If you love football, you go out there and I think you see quality football,'' Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said in a post-match message to fans who shunned this rare Thursday night domestic game.

Murmurs of discontent among fans have grown as Leicester has astonishingly climbed to the summit, with some calling for Wenger to go after nearly 20 years in charge.

Three months ago, the Gunners were ahead of Leicester at the top on goal difference but now they are 10 points adrift with only 12 points to play for.

''We are under permanent pressure,'' Wenger said. ''There are top teams who are behind us. Because Leicester is front everyone thinks we should have done it (won the title). But you can say that for any other team because Leicester was bottom of the table last year.''

Rather than ending the title drought, Arsenal is in a scrap just to qualify for the Champions League for a 19th consecutive season under Wenger.

Arsenal's back-to-back draws opened up the race for the top four. But Arsenal seized on Manchester City's draw at Newcastle on Tuesday by moving two points in front of Manuel Pellegrini's side and four ahead of fifth-place Manchester United.

The fans who did turn up on Thursday didn't have to wait long to see Arsenal go in front.

Sanchez received a pass from Aaron Ramsey in the sixth minute and spun past Sandro before picking a spot in the bottom corner of the net.

''It helped us to focus more on the way we played and not be anxious,'' Wenger said. ''(Sanchez) is back - sharper, more confident.''

Sanchez curled in his 15th goal of the season directly from a free kick before halftime, after his teammates in the defensive wall split for him.

With Arsenal enjoying more than 70 percent of possession, this was the type of game in which Arsenal should have secured a commanding scoreline. On other days, such as Sunday when Arsenal was held by Crystal Palace to 1-1, the team is made to pay for such wastefulness in front of goal.

''We haven't been up to that standard of late and it was important for us to put on a performance today - not just for our fans but for us as well,'' Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey said. ''We have been really frustrated with the way we have been playing but we have come back tonight ... maybe it's too little too late.''

There were a few scares caused by a West Brom team only three places above the relegation zone.

Before Sanchez scored his second, only the crossbar preserved Arsenal's lead with Gareth McAuley crashing a header against the woodwork from James McClean's corner.

''It might have given us a spark and lift which we needed,'' West Brom manager Tony Pulis.

Later in the second half, Salomon Rondon lifted the ball over at the back post from a corner rather than nudging it over the line to force West Brom back into contention.

You May Like

Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)