Arsene Wenger launched a withering attack on referee Mike Dean and the Premier League as his record 811th game in charge was soaked in controversy.
Wenger has endured a fractious relationship with officials during his 21 years as Arsenal manager and Dean’s dreadful decision to award West Bromwich Albion a late penalty brought a familiar tirade at refereeing standards.
The pivotal moment came in the 89th minute, when Calum Chambers was harshly penalised for an alleged handball and Jay Rodriguez put away the spot-kick to move Albion off the bottom of the table.
It had appeared that Arsenal would secure their manager a late victory in his landmark game after Alexis Sanchez’s free-kick was deflected off James McClean, with the Chilean attacker pursued to the corner flag in what appeared a clear message of unity.
Joined by nine of his Arsenal team-mates, this goal celebration certainly killed off the conspiracy theories after the incident at Crystal Palace, when he seemed to mark one of his goals in near isolation.
But it was the wild scenes sparked by the home team’s late equaliser that irritated Wenger as he passed Sir Alex Ferguson’s record of Premier League games. Battling to conceal his fury, Wenger said: “It wasn’t a penalty. It was not a deliberate handball. When you are as close as that, it’s impossible to play football.
WHAT A JOKEpic.twitter.com/v4Tdz0biA9— GoonerViews (@GoonerViews) December 31, 2017
“The referee has not seen it. That’s my opinion, he will tell you that he has seen it. I don’t want to waste my time with them, we have to live with the decision, to deal with it and to swallow it and go to the next game.
“I’m angry because we have seen and seen the same things again. I did fight very hard for the referees to become professional many years ago, and they did a good job to allow them to be professional – but I see no improvement.
“At the end of the day there are two countries in Europe where you have professional referees, in Italy and in England, and not one English referee will go to the World Cup. But everything is all right.
“We cannot say a word against it because they’re untouchable. That is the truth. It’s not only me that judges them.”
Wenger also turned his fire on the Premier League over the hectic festive schedule, with Arsenal facing Chelsea at the Emirates on Wednesday. “You cannot have West Brom to prepare five days for a game like that, [and] we have three,” he said.
“I am ready to play every day as long as our opponent has played the same time recovery over Christmas. It is not normal. We have the same problem against Chelsea. They played yesterday, we played today, they have one day more again. The Premier League has to look at the schedule. You have to look to see if you have the same amount of recovery days as the opposition. Come back to me when that happens.”
Arsenal’s last visit to the Hawthorns resulted in a full-on Tony Pulis bombardment of set pieces and aggression. That 3-1 defeat was at a time when the future of Wenger was still shrouded in fog, with the game played against a backdrop noise of propellers as a plane with an uncomplimentary message attached to it hovered overhead.
This latest encounter was a lifeless affair until the drama was reserved for the final seven minutes, with Sanchez’s free kick taking a significant deflection off substitute McClean to arc into the corner.
Albion had been the better team for most of the afternoon but the absence of a proven centre-forward is damaging Alan Pardew’s survival mission, something he will look to address now the January transfer window is open.
Yet the fortune they have been missing surfaced spectacularly when Dean, the Cheshire referee, took centre stage a minute from time. As Kieran Gibbs ambled into the area, the ball struck Chambers on an arm and Dean dramatically pointed to the spot.
Petr Cech was booked for complaining and some of Arsenal’s players stood with their heads in hands, struggling to comprehend what was unfolding in front of them.
Rodriguez scored, only the third goal in Pardew’s seven games, to provide the strugglers with a lift ahead of Tuesday’s trip to West Ham.
This draw extends Albion’s run to 19 league games without a win but there were positives for Pardew to take.
Pardew said: “I can see why Arsene is angry. I think I’d be very upset if it [the penalty] was given against me. But we got a break and deserved this. There was a lot of pressure on us.
“It would have been really tough for our fans to have seen the team put that commitment in, drinking on New Year’s Eve on the back of a defeat. I’m really pleased for them that we got something for them to enjoy, if only for a little while.”
Arsenal gutted, West Brom delighted
It ends in a draw after that late penalty#WBAvAFC pic.twitter.com/1gkIAFg4or— Arsenal FC (@Arsenal) December 31, 2017
Petr Cech booked for post-match protests
It's not often Cech is accused of remonstrating too robustly with officials, but Mike Dean decides he's gone too far with his complaints and shows him a yellow card.
Full time, West Brom 1-1 Arsenal
Controversy reigns at the Hawthorns.
The penalty decision from Mike Dean will be the main talking point after the match, with the Arsenal players complaining vocally as they leave the pitch. It looked like the wrong decision and Arsene Wenger will be furious come the end of his 811th game in charge.
Alexis Sanchez drags a shot well wide from distance. Desperate stuff.
Lacazette jinks past a tackle in the box and fires in a cross-come-shot from a narrow angle, but Ben Foster plucks it out of the sky.
Jack Wilshere was booked for complaining about the penalty decision. Meanwhile, talk in the Sky studio suggests the previous goal has been put down as an OG for James McClean, this after it deflected off him and into the net.
GOAL! West Brom 1-1 Arsenal
Jay Rodriguez puts it straight down the middle and past the trailing legs of Petr Cech.
Arsenal will be gutted if that costs them two hard-fought points.
PENALTY WEST BROM!
That looks harsh.
Kieran Gibbs latches onto a long ball into the Arsenal box, flicking the ball from close range onto the arm of Calum Chambers. Mike Dean points to the spot for handball, though there was no intent in it.
Allan Nyom wins a corner for West Brom and kicks off a tense final period for Arsenal.
The delivery is cleared, but West Brom are still slugging on.
GOAL! West Brom 0-1 Arsenal
Hegazi is booked after a great ball from Bellerin finds Alexis Sanchez in shooting territory, only for the Egyptian defender to hack him down.
Sanchez steps up and shoots straight through the wall, with a deflection taking it past a helpless Ben Foster. A scrappy goal to win a scrappy game?
Good effort from Jay Rodriguez after the Arsenal defence back off to a ridiculous degree, with the former Southampton man smashing a piledriver at Petr Cech.
Cech saves but parries straight into the path of James McClean, who is only foiled by a last-ditch tackle from Hector Bellerin.
James McClean makes hay down the left and crosses in for Jake Livermore, who flicks a shot on target.
Luckily for Arsenal, Cech is there to make the save.
Substitutions galore, as Hal Robson-Kanu comes off for Allan Nyom.
Alex Iwobi fires in a bouncer from distance but Ben Foster smothers it with relative ease.
That's his last act of the match as he comes off for Danny Welbeck.
Alexis Sanchez almost latches onto a clever ball in the box, but his thumping shot is blocked at the last second.
Future Arsenal academy manager Per Mertesacker comes on for Laurent Koscielny, while Chris Brunt is off for Grzegorz Krychowiak and Matt Phillips for James McClean.
Comedy football around the West Brom box as Sanchez loops a huge ball up into the air when he intended to chip it delicately, only for Brunt to slice his clearance and cause momentary chaos.
Emblematic of the game as a whole, really.
Chris Brunt attempts to loft a long ball forward to the onrushing Kieran Gibbs, but the former Arsenal man overruns it and West Brom once again find themselves feeding on scraps.
Alexis Sanchez is the latest Arsenal player to try his luck, but it's a speculative shot from an unlikely angle and only finds the side netting.
Lacazette almost squirms a shot in at the near post under pressure from Jonny Evans, but he pokes just wide.
Ben Foster saves well from Alexandre Lacazette after the Frenchman plays a lovely one-two with Alex Iwobi on the edge of the area.
That's more like it from Arsenal.
Brunt is cautioned for a ponderous chop on Jack Wilshere.
Shkodran Mustafi is booked for sliding in on Robson-Kanu out on the right.
From the subsequent free kick, Chris Brunt sails a cross too close to Petr Cech and watches on as it is punched clear.
Jay Rodriguez goes down in the box but there's nothing in it and Mike Dean waves play on. Next up, Hal Robson-Kanu sends a cross soaring into the box and forces Ainsley Maitland-Niles to head out for a corner.
The delivery causes some consternation in the Arsenal defence, but Ahmed Hegazi eventually loops a shot out for a goal kick.
Arsenal have a spell of sterile possession but there's little penetration.
Jack Wilshere attempts to go forwards, as always, but the ball seems to pinball more and more wildly the further Arsenal get up the pitch.
Alex Iwobi strokes a long pass to Alexandre Lacazette up front, who turns and wins a free kick almost on the 18-yard line under the challenge of Craig Dawson.
Alexis Sanchez steps up but can only fire a shot into the wall.
West Brom squander a free kick and Arsenal counter, but Jake Livermore effectively breaks up play and the pattern of spoil and counter-spoil resumes.
Teams back out
Can anyone produce a moment of quality to brighten up this second half? Let's find out!
"Doing okay so far"
That about sums up the game in terms of excitement levels so far. Let's hope for a better second half.
📷 Doing okay so far...
It's goalless at half time with Albion giving as good as they've got against the Gunners.
➡️ https://t.co/ZMeTnXHncZ #WBAARS pic.twitter.com/2fbYvtxtdD
Half time, West Brom 0-0 Arsenal
That wasn't very easy on the eye, to be honest.
Arsenal struggled to get their passing game going and, while West Brom will be happier with the first half, the home side only created piecemeal chances and showed mere flickers of attacking verve.
Xhaka hits a diagonal ball to Sanchez at the back post, but Craig Dawson glances it away before his opponent can pounce.
Jack Wilshere almost feeds Alexis Sanchez in the box, but once again it's little more than a half chance and the Chilean is quickly crowded out.
Jake Livermore almost bobbles the ball between three Arsenal defenders and into the box, but he's dispossessed before he can carve out a real chance.
Kolasinac is down after a deceptively nasty challenge from Gareth Barry.
He's forced off through injury, with Ainsley Maitland-Niles coming on in his place.
Jonny Evans is booked for a mistimed lunge on Alex Iwobi.
Good save from Foster!
Iwobi pings a shot on target from behind a mass of bodies and Foster seems to see it late. Nonetheless, he pushes the shot wide of the post. The resulting corner comes to nothing.
Arsenal counter after a period of creeping pressure from West Brom and Iwobi tees up Xhaka for a long shot.
Unfortunately, Xhaka can't repeat his heroics against Liverpool earlier in the month and shoots straight at Ben Foster.
Robson-Kanu wins a foul on the edge of the Arsenal area after a rudimentary challenge by Shkodran Mustafi and West Brom have a free kick in a dangerous position.
Chris Brunt blasts over the crossbar. Bit of a waste, that.
Robson-Kanu and Phillips combine well down the right but the move is cut short by an excellent tackle from Sead Kolasinac.
Jay Rodriguez goes on a good run, putting Arsenal's centre-backs under pressure.
West Brom are only creating half chances at the moment but they aren't without intent, even if they seem to lack that killer final ball.
Matt Phillips almost breaks the Arsenal blockade on the counter, but Petr Cech comes off his line to clear.
Alex Iwobi gets into a great position after a prolonged spell on the ball for Arsenal, but leans back and floats a shot over the crossbar from the edge of the box.
A word for the final ball from Alexis Sanchez there, which was superb.
Craig Dawson climbs highest at a West Brom corner and heads across the box to Hal Robson-Kanu, who gets a header of his own on target.
Calum Chambers blocks the ball and volleys it away, before play stops briefly for a knock to Shkodran Mustafi.
A mix up in the West Brom defence almost allows Lacazette to get in one-on-one, but he can't quite get a hold of the ball and it trickles out for a goal kick.
Arsenal have their first chance of the game after going up the other end of the pitch, Alexandre Lacazette shooting narrowly wide after some decent build-up play by Granit Xhaka.
Good chance for West Brom!
Matt Phillips gets away down the right and crosses to Jay Rodriguez in the middle of the box, but his downwards header is a little too close to Petr Cech.
Arsenal win two corners in quick succession, but both are fairly hopeless and West Brom clear their lines.
Arsenal in red shorts today
It's the first time they've been kitted out like this since 1978, apparently.
Looks weird. Wrong, somehow.
Teams in the tunnel
Kick off is imminent at the Hawthorns.
On the other hand...
... West Brom haven't won at home since the first day of the season.
Swings and roundabouts.
Glimmer of hope for Albion?
West Brom might not have a particularly good record against Arsenal in the long run, but they did beat the Gunners 3-1 at the Hawthorns last season.
Something for the Baggies to cling onto, at least.
Teams warming up at the Hawthorns
Jack Wilshere starts for Arsenal once again, having fought his way back into contention in recent weeks.
Arsene Wenger on his record
"What you've learned with history is that what matters is the next game," Wenger says in his pre-match press conference.
"On the other side, yes of course I'm grateful and happy to have served this club for such a long time."
Mesut Ozil out with a knee injury
There's no @MesutOzil1088 in #WBAvAFC - he misses out with a slight knee injury pic.twitter.com/R4x5KNfPJX— Arsenal FC (@Arsenal) December 31, 2017
Milestone for Arsene Wenger
It's Arsene Wenger's 811th league game in charge of Arsenal, a total which will see him surpass the record for league games managed as previously held by Sir Alex Ferguson.
Can he mastermind a win over the Premier League's bottom side on this special day? Anyone who remembers his 1000th game in charge will know that personal milestones aren't always happy occasions for Arsene.
West Brom team news
📷 Do us proud, lads!#WBAARS #COYB #WBA pic.twitter.com/HjML8iIGHX— West Bromwich Albion (@WBA) December 31, 2017
Arsenal team news
Here it is - our team for the final game of the year#WBAvAFC pic.twitter.com/T9uGwaqKjO— Arsenal FC (@Arsenal) December 31, 2017
Having struggled with myriad defensive issues over the past few weeks, Arsenal could not have picked a better opponent than West Brom this weekend, at least on paper.
While the North Londoners have conceded five goals in their last two league matches, two in a win at Crystal Palace and three in a topsy-turvy draw with Liverpool, West Brom have scored only twice in their last six – and those goals came in defeats to Stoke and Manchester United.
This could be a chance for defensive self-improvement for Arsenal going into the New Year, then, with West Brom apparently toothless up front and struggling to create and finish chances. The Baggies go into the game rock bottom of the table down in no small part to their struggles in front of goal.
Albion have scored 14 league goals all season and only relegation rivals Swansea have an inferior tally. They are yet to taste victory under the management of Alan Pardew, who took over from Tony Pulis in late November.
With Swansea beating Watford on Saturday, a few more losses could see West Brom cut loose at the bottom of the Premier League. There are long odds on them getting the better of today's visitors to the Hawthorns, having lost seven of their last 10 games against Arsene Wenger's men.