Injury, and as the Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger pointed out afterwards, competition for places meant Tomas Rosicky was starting only his second Premier League game of the season on Saturday. But on this form it is hard to imagine anyone, even the likes of Jack Wilshere – along with Theo Walcott, expected to be fit and available for the Gunners' fixture at home to Norwich next Saturday – displacing the little Czech in the Arsenal midfield.
"He's such an important player who turns the game forward, brings movement into the game, makes the game look simple and always you feel when he has the ball that something can happen, and not many players have that in the locker," Wenger said.
The two goals, one a stooping header from Gervinho's clever little cross after 20 minutes, the second neatly finished after the West Bromwich Albion goalkeeper Ben Foster could only parry his fierce initial volley shortly after the break, were only one aspect of Rosicky's excellence. For the best part of an hour he was the game's dominant influence by some margin, and if his first contribution was defensive, heading Claudio Yacob's header off his own line, thereafter he was relentlessly creative.
Only when the Albion manager, Steve Clarke, having begun with Shane Long as a lone striker in front of a five-man midfield, brought on two more forwards in Romelu Lukaku, his top scorer, and Markus Rosenberg and switched to a 4-3-3 did the game change. Per Mertesacker was sent off for chopping down Long – it was so obvious even Wenger saw it and had no arguments – and after James Morrison had converted the penalty, Rosicky and his nine remaining team-mates were fully occupied in desperately defending to secure the three points that lifted them into fourth.
Six wins in seven league games is form second only to that of the champions-elect Manchester United and, said Rosicky, the best way of answering some of the criticism that has been aimed at Arsenal this season.
"It's difficult when you're not playing, you want to be part of the team and the only way you can get into the team is through hard work," he said. "You have to convince the manager that you're part of the team, that's what I am trying to do and it's what I will continue to do."
Asked whether, like his assistant Steve Bould, he believes Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea's continued involvement in European football could give Arsenal an advantage during the run-in, Wenger gave a verbal shrug. "Well, ideally I would like to be in the Champions League as well, you know, but if you are on a good run, maybe it can be a little advantage because you can recover more."
The defender Jonas Olsson said Albion's performance had demonstrated their collective determination not to allow what has been an excellent season to peter out in disappointing fashion. "We showed we still want to win games," the Swede said. "You could see everyone was fighting, everyone was trying for 95-96 minutes to try and get something out of it.
"We want to stay top six, seven, eight. It's important to see the club going in the right direction and progressing every year, we've done so for the last three or four years and it makes it easier to attract players.
"We have to keep with the model we have been doing, strengthening the team every season, keeping the players we have. That is the key element that has made us come this far, that we have kept the squad intact, but every year sharpens the competition."
Man of the match Tomas Rosicky (Arsenal)