Arsenal 2 – 0 West Brom: Match Thoughts And Individual Analysis

A positive result, finally! An entertaining and enjoyable game to go with that, great! On Sunday one of my closest friends celebrates his birthday and wedding anniversary. Thanks to the Gunners it’s going to be a great day.

Arsene went a bit direct with two quick wingers on the flank. The strategy worked and the Gunners dominated the game while creating many chances for which, I thought, two factors were mainly responsible.

Firstly, Arsenal’s pressing in this game was excellent. They shed all inhibitions and harried the visitors deep in their own half. West Brom have among the lowest Possession and Pass Accuracy numbers in the League and they genuinely struggled to hold on to the ball.

To go with that, I also felt Steve Clarke didn’t have a very clear approach to this game. His side was neither pressing up the pitch to prevent or slow down Arsenal’s  build-up, nor were they structurally solid at the back like a team that expects a barrage of attacks. This meant the Gunners could play at a high tempo almost at will.

As a result, the Gunners found it easy to take the ball to the final third where they then had plenty of space to work the combinations. The wingers were able to run at defenders and skip past them. They, Gervinho in particular, were also able to drift into useful areas in the middle.

Despite all that, it was clear the Gunners were still nervy in the final third and their ability to produce the decisive moments was questionable. At this point the help from the ref was vital. There is just no way to justify the penalty call but we’ve seen Arsenal suffer from bad decisions in previous seasons so I’m happy about all the big calls that have gone in favour of the Gunners this season. Yes, there was contact but the replays could easily be used as the definition of negligible.

Arteta buried it calmly but somehow I had a feeling he lacked a bit of conviction when taking it. That’s not to say he can’t take penalties, just that I sensed some doubt in his body language.

Arsenal had created a number of promising moments either side of the goal but the finishing was disappointing. West Brom only moment came just before the Arsenal goal but Brunt’s curled attempt didn’t hit the target.

In the second half, it seemed to me that Clarke’s men came out with greater purpose and tried responding to Arsenal’s tempo. Till the time the second goal was scored in the 64th minute, the game was fairly even. Both teams created a couple of half-chances but nothing worth taking a second look.

The Gunners got the cushion of a second thanks again, in part, to the referee who let play continue when it looked like Oxlade-Chamberlain had committed a foul after losing the ball to a poor touch. There wasn’t a doubt about the penalty decision itself but we’ve seen Wenger moan about a foul in the build-up often enough to know that these things matter.

Again it was Arteta. Again he went down the middle. This time I felt he was has a bit more surety and the finish looked emphatic. The Spaniard’s technique is superb and he is good at set-pieces in general, so he should be a good penalty-taker, but without confidence technique can be worthless. Hopefully, these two goals will give calm his nerves and he’ll be able to deliver on a consistent basis.

In the final 20 minutes or so the Gunners focussed on keeping a clean sheet. But it was still Arsenal who created the better chances, particularly after Wilshere moved up the pitch following the introduction of Coquelin.

West Brom did have one gilt-edged opportunity late in the game, which again arose from a set-piece, but Lukaku couldn’t hit the target. I won’t be surprised if the Belgian has one of the worst, if not the worst, conversion rates for high quality chances in the League this season.

At the end of the day Arsenal looked like the team that deserved the three points. They could easily have scored five. But the fact also remains that apart from the penalties the Gunners only had one other shot on target. On another day this could easily have been a frustrating draw or a late defeat. The margins are very fine at this level.

Nevertheless, the nature of Arsenal’s pressing, the quality of chances created, the combination play in the attacking areas, and the ability to restrict the opponents from creating many opportunities were all appreciable and pleasing aspects of this game.

At the same time, one has to be careful not to read too much into one performance. We need to see this for 6,8,maybe 10 games in a row before saying Arsenal are back. In this game, there is no doubt West Brom’s technical and tactical weaknesses contributed just as much to Arsenal’s dominance as their own play did.

Individual Performances:

Szczesny: One of his easiest days in the League.

Sagna: Had a good defensive game with a number of useful aerial challenges. Wasn’t really tested on the ground. Put in an odd good cross but attacking contribution was otherwise limited. Had a more of a sweeping game on the right where he picked up balls that were knocked forward or cleared.

Mertesacker: Dominant in the air against a team that didn’t have the biggest attack in physical terms, steady with his positioning and distribution.

Vermaelen: Another one who had a fairly comfortable game at the back. I liked the way he tried creating something with purposeful balls from the back.

Gibbs: Got into advanced positions often but his crossing still needs a lot of work, but the observation equally applies to Arsenal’s style. Many crosses were played into the box when one or two attackers were hopelessly outnumbered. Surprisingly, West Brom didn’t target his flank as other teams have.

The back five were largely untroubled. There were some moments of concern, especially from set-pieces when the visitors got on the end of the deliveries rather easily. Their wastefulness helped the defence.

Arteta: Another MotM effort from Mr. Reliable. Excellent on the ball, strong defensive shift, took responsibility and delivered from the spot.

Cazorla: It would have been another high quality effort from the Spaniard but the dive for the penalty was disappointing. Have the coaching staff been showing him a lot of Bale and Rooney videos?

Wilshere: As AW said, the zip is coming back. He also looked very impressive in the final third late in the game after Coquelin came on. But there are still many rough edges. Finishing, Final ball, and decision making will all improve with time and experience.

The midfield didn’t have much pressure when bringing the ball out from the back. They were able to control the pace of the game and bring the attacking players into the game regularly. Defensive work was useful, particularly all the aggressive pressing that was done higher up the pitch.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: Had a number of promising moments on the right and put some useful balls into the box. It was an efficient game for him where he didn’t see much of the ball but found space when he did. Did well to beat the challenge of Brunt in order to win the penalty but there was a genuine shout for a foul by him just before that.

Giroud: Movement was decent but I thought he was a little late to react to some passes/cutbacks from the wider areas. Distribution and link play was average. Was a good target man and hold up play was useful. Hasn’t had a shot on target in his last 330 mins in League football. There was also this observation about Giroud wanting to take the second penalty and not celebrating the goal. I didn’t see it and can’t vouch for it’s accuracy.

Gervinho: Movement was excellent, finishing was the exact opposite. Looked like he wanted to take more responsibility and make things happen. It worked for him as spaces and time was available even in the final third. Created a very good chance for Wilshere but more is expected.

The front three had decent games given the time and space available to them. Part of it was down to their movement and individual qualities and part of it to the opposition’s weaknesses. All three remain players who have a lot to prove but this game should be good for their confidence.

Subs: Still don’t know how Podolski missed that chance. Rosicky got a few more minutes under his belt. Coquelin’s arrival liberated Wilshere.

Wenger: Got the team flowing again but this needs to be sustained over a run of games, arguably till the end of the season, as too many points have already been lost. Can’t overemphasize the importance of pressing higher up the pitch, that’s another aspect that needs to be sustained and improved upon. The search for balance is ongoing but this might be a big step in the right direction.

14 Responses to Arsenal 2 – 0 West Brom: Match Thoughts And Individual Analysis

  1. Foolishgooner says:

    Yup, Get on the ball and good things happen for you. This match there was no ball watching zone defending was minimal, I have even seen Per push an opponent! Gervinho benefited the space Cozarla was not on his lap and Podolski wasn’t getting on his way. Man.. Is he frustrating though, off balance wrong decisions he just plays. The rest helped Arteta/Cazorla and Wilshere, he was amazing marking hurrying, forward fore just needed to finish that chance. 3 points, 2 goals, clean sheet and recovery process begun. I know the penalty was disgrace but I feel like we were going to score regardless! Arsene please rotate… More Rosicky/Coq/Chamakh/Ashavin/Theo will only help in terms of fresh legs and mental edge… Cheers

  2. Adeniji demola,Nigeria says:

    Gud and straight forward as always,gud job

  3. okpeyowa wale says:

    giroud wanted dat penaty,too bad vcaptain didt allow him,the guy needed a goal for is confidence

  4. Cupsui says:

    great talk desi…definitely got the feeling you are in a much more upbeat mood after that one!! :)

    was an interesting game…typically the refereeing was appalling again. the standard in the EPL is shocking right now. Pretty appalling dive by Santi…i am all for bringing in the retrospective suspending. They are doing it in the NBA this season. Sanctioning players for flopping and its making a difference…but of course football is languishing in any sort of modernising of the rules (good ol’ FIFA)

    For me Wilshere was MOTM. He was everywhere in this game. His best since coming back. Shoulda scored but his influence and input defensively and offensively is just a huge improvement…

    time for a trending up in form now lads

  5. Steve of Chiang Mai says:

    Was it a penalty? Not sure – was there contact? The front on video
    http://arsenalist.com/video/?id=xvpi93 seemed to suggest there was contact by Reid’s boot toe and it resulted in his foot glancing off to the side. Enough to bring him down? Probably not, but if you beat a man on the inside and he whacks your shin why is the onus on you to stay on your feet?

    What seriously gets up my nose was the lack of commentators, and pundits alike, willing to castigate Bale when he dived against us last year. The rank difference between Cazorla and Bale is the absence of daylight between the defender and the player. From every angle it is impossible to be absolutely sure there was no contact.

    For the second penalty was it a foul on Petrov?….probably…. but how many times have you seen an Arsenal player absolutely clattered from behind and no foul resulting. Personally I don’t care – we have missed so many genuine penalty chances in the last two years and have been on the receiving end of so many dodgy calls to have something go in our favor is great. Two in one game…well I think Karma is still in the red?

    I was also amazed at many blogs suggesting Per was lucky with a handball shout. Mertesacker was clearly pulled back by a WBA player and even the MOTD pundits failed to see it. Given they replayed it half a dozen times on the TV during the game and the commentators at the time spoke of the pull from whoever it was.

    • Cupsui says:

      agree but its still sad to see players dive like santi did. Even if he just brushed his leg he shouldn’t be going down like that….

      But on the rest of the comments, the refereeing in the EPL is just pathetic right now. You could tell in the 2nd half he was on a mission to level the score and WBA were getting away with many fouls and arsenal brought up for the slightest touch…

      We got lucky but we deserved to win the game and its about time we got the luck…

      As arsenal fans we just have to face the facts that the commentators and pundits are going to rip on us at any opportunity they can.

      Rooney Gerrard and Bale are the worst divers in the premier league…but oh wait they are british…coincidence?! or outright prejudice?! i’ll go with the latter

  6. Nick from Portugal says:

    He dived. Simple as that. Stop it Santi, you are too good a player to do that. Very good pressing performance. Gervinho movement superb, end product abject. Giroud needs to get on the last man and stay there. Wilshere, brillant first half, OX much better, defence solid. Now what are we going to do with team selection for Bradford. Cold enough for Arshavin Arsene?

  7. WoodyD says:

    How to spot a dive: both legs are airborne and player immediately clutches a shin/ankle and lands on their hip. Simple enough yet referees don’t seem to get it. Glad to see Arsenal win but Santi’s dive was shameful. If he receives a 1-2 match ban I don’t know that Arsene can feel too aggrieved.

  8. Finnish Hit says:

    In defense of “diving”, if you can call it that: the speed that football is played in, it is a microsecond of time that a player can save his legs by taking them off the ground, when he sees a risky contact coming at him.

    I realised this first some ten years back, when Patrick Vieira was forced to take a dive (in midfield) at full speed (probably against ManU). It’s a safety measure, because if the contact DOES happen, it can ruin your season or career.

    What Santi could have done is have denied the referee’s call. I remember Arshavin wagging his finger in that way a few years ago, although that penalty was also taken. But for Santi, the 0-0, the crowd etc. it must have been difficult to take back.

    In the end, the tackle and aggression was SO close to a penalty, that I’m not making amends.

    • santori says:

      If it was a dive, at least it was a convincing one to the ref. I’ll take the decision in our favour thank you very much. We don’t half get enough.;)

  9. JJ Pittman says:

    Goal 3 of Spuds match: Santi is tripped, gets up collects ball, feeds inside to Giroux: Goal. Play on when you can, sure, and instinct to protect yourself is always there. It appeared there was contact and if you are preparing to be hit, you can lose your balance.
    Anyway, Santi(andArteta) need a rest!

  10. amahgfur says:

    The best part of Desi’s report is this:

    “…Arsenal’s pressing in this game was excellent…”

    It’s not not scoring that troubles me. It’s our broken pressing that troubles me since it gives the opposing teams time and space to attack us.

    Thank god it’s back. At least for this game. Has Wenger talked to Bould about the pressing? Because I believe Bould is a pupil of stand-off approach reflected in the deeper def line and two banks of four.

  11. santori says:

    Echo that sentiment with regard finally having something satisfying to watch.

    Overall better approach and the pressing higher up helped.

    This is something we were more mechanical with in earlier games.

    Also have to mention that I disagree somewhat with your MOTM. Arteta is excellent but I thought young Jack had a very very good game in midfield which made a massive difference to the dynamics recently lacking in that area.

    Gervinho is infuriating. As you mention , he gets himself into good good areas but his finishing can be perplexing (then again he wasn’t the only player suffering from nerves -as you mentioned, Podolski, Jack)

    Lest the naysayers have a go at him again, I have to say Gervinho was everywhere in the game and you have to admire his industry. He also seem to be found in and around the box in lieu of Giroud often which seems to suggest he had a deeper role up front than purely deployed out wide.

    Anyway a much better improvement.

    For all this furor about the penalty, it didn’t matter. We scored two and they had ninety minutes which they put two efforts on goal. So the best team won.

    Back up to 7th in the blink of an eye. Two critical games coming up against Wigan and Reading which we simply cannot afford to be complacent with and if we apply ourselves as with WBA should come away with maximum points.

    That may take us into 4th (luck willing with Everton, Spurs and WBA above us) and within sight of Chelsea in third. How quickly things can change which suggest judgement on Wenger/this season still premature for now.

  12. Scott (USA) says:

    Gervinho is perplexing for sure. I just don’t see him in the regular 11. He doesn’t do enough. He is a good dribbler but doesn’t finish well enough to be a striker. Worked hard but his passing (final ball)is suspect also. He had a ok game but I would rather see Arshavin playing the wing instead of Gervinho. Even though it’s not his best position. Jack and Arteta were great. I can’t believe West Brom is still that high in the table. They are not that good. I they will be much lower by the end of January.

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