Is it two points dropped or one point gained?
To most fans, including myself, this draw against WBA is two points dropped. There is an argument that with 20 mins to go and a two goal deficit it could easily have been a loss. I agree with that too. In the final twenty minutes the team showed great character and fighting spirit. The likes of Chamakh and Bendnter, who have not been getting regular games, came on and did the job that was asked of them.
Unfortunately, it took Arsenal an hour and two goals to get going. The starting line-up had Ramsey as many fans had demanded. It turned out to be a disaster. The youngster lost his man and jumped underneath the ball while defending a corner thereby allowing Reid to head home unchallenged. At the very least Ramsey should have been physically in contact with the West Brom defender as that would have put him off his jump.
Neither team created much but the Welshman missed a sitter when a Van Persie header fell to him after bouncing off the bar. It’s difficult to blame a player returning after such a horrific injury but he looked way off the Premier League pace.
I’d not have worried about the mistake for the goal or the miss, these things happen, but Ramsey was disappointing with his movement and passing. Add Denilson into the mix and the Gunners had a midfield that just wasn’t able to move the ball in the first half.
The tempo of the game was so slow that the home defence didn’t even break a sweat. West Brom were able to get bodies behind the ball and sit back on their early goal. With Denilson sitting in front of the defence the number of counter attacking chances were reduced but the hosts did get a couple of set-pieces. Thankfully, the mistake from the first one was not repeated.
Arsenal went one down at the break and came out with Chamakh instead of the Brazilian. It was a positive, decisive substitution like the fans have been demanding. But with Denilson out there was little cover in front of the back four. West Brom created a good chance on the break ten minutes after restart.
Soon after they were two up after the world’s most predictable mix-up saw Almunia coming out and confusing Squillaci. Both lost the ball and Odemwinge guided it into an open net. It was such a horrible mess that some might even consider it a deliberate act of sabotage but I’ll refrain from going in that direction. The sad part is that Almunia’s biggest weakness is in coming out for balls that are not his responsibility but the coaching staff haven’t been able to sort it out. Of course, the player himself is to blame more than anyone else but once they know there is a weakness, why can’t they find a solution?
This is where I have to begrudgingly respect Ferguson. He can send out guys like Johnny Evans, Wes Brown, and Gibson on the pitch but still get results by adapting the rest of the team to cover their weaknesses. With Arsene there are many loose ends.
Bendtner’s introduction for Ramsey was another positive move. Arsenal then had Nasri and Wilshere playing in a deep role in a loose 4-2-4. The final half-hour was all Arsenal and no one would have been surprised if the Gunners had turned it around.
Arshavin got one back with a wonder strike following a neat one-two with Chamakh. Van Persie scored a poacher’s equalizer as a West Brom player was caught on the ball in his six yard box. The chance came after a good back post cross by Arshavin was played back across by the big Dane.
There were other chances and some corners but the winner didn’t come.
There were problems with the way Arsenal played as discussed above but there were a couple of aspects that impressed me.
In this game, once it was clear that the passing game wasn’t working too well, the Gunners tried putting in a lot of crosses and many of them were quite good. It showed that they have been working on this. It wasn’t perfect and isn’t something that can be developed overnight but it is the right start.
Towards the end Chamakh, RvP, and Bendtner were all getting into the box and attacking the crosses. They really did rattle the West Brom defence. I can’t remember the last time Arsenal strikers collectively troubled the opponents in the air in their own box.
I’d still like to see better crosses to the back post, especially when Bendtner is in the box. He can win a number of these headers and play them back across in dangerous areas. The Gunners will also have to learn to play the lay-offs with their headers when they’re getting bodies in the box. I cringe while saying this but watching some Crouch videos will help.
The most impressive aspect of the final twenty minutes though, was the work done by Nasri in a deeper role. The Frenchman collected the ball from the defenders and did a good job of spreading it around. Arsenal really missed this in the first half as their laborious passing was squeezing the play on the flanks and down the middle.
Such passing also brings the best out of Arshavin as he is able to receive the ball in space and run at the defenders rather than getting it in crowded areas.
Wilshere will have to learn from Nasri. The youngster has the talent to control the play from deep with his passing but hasn’t been using it. His driving runs end up with loss of possession when the opponents have so many players back.
If the two defensive midfielders can stay in deep positions it will also give more confidence to the likes of Squillaci who will then have someone to win the second ball. That doesn’t excuse his mistake but the point is not to get lost in the blame game but to think constructively.
Anyway, this is a good time to have the international break so long as the ones going on duty for their countries come back in one piece. Hopefully, a couple of regulars will return along with them.
Arsenal are unbeaten in 12 Premier League games now. It’s hard to believe but it’s not a bad run. It can turn into a great one if the Gunners can string together a few wins after the League resumes.
Almunia: One customary howler. Someone has to tell him to stay in goal and come only if a striker is through on goal down the middle, not if the ball is miles away and a defender near it or if it’s down the channels.
Sagna: He got too close to Nasri in the first half and there was no space down the flank. It was better in the second half as he stayed a bit deeper and went forward only when there was space.
Squillaci: Joint culprit with Almunia for the second goal. Made a big block to deny Fortune and later made a massive tackle against the striker in the box. I don’t know if he didn’t attack the ball because of a call from the keeper or for some other reason but there is no way a defender should let that kind of a ball bounce. There was only one attacker and if he’d knocked it anywhere it would have been safe.
Koscielny: Did a decent job on Odemwinge despite the striker having some pace on him. I like the confidence he shows on the ball even under pressure. Some of the midfielders should learn from him.
Clichy: Did really well on the left. Got involved with a number of attacks. Put in some decent crosses but will have to do better. Very good strike towards the end that almost crept in at the near post.
It wasn’t a bad defensive performance if one considers the ninety minutes of play and only four shots on goal. But it was a woeful performance if the manner of the second goal is seen. On this point I agree with Wenger’s critics. It’s a déjà vu no one likes. ‘Decisive’ is a word Arsene likes and he has to teach his back five to be more decisive in key moments. The defenders, especially Squillaci, did well after the team shape changed to a very risky 4-2-4.
Denilson: He’s lost confidence big time. Looked too nervous on the pitch and got some simple passes wrong. But while he was playing West Brom didn’t create much on the counter.
Ramsey: Not a game he’d like to remember.
Wilshere: Wasn’t able to take charge or make an impact in the opening hour. Has to learn to make better use of his range of passing.
The midfield just didn’t offer any kind of incisiveness in the first hour. Only after two of the three left the pitch did Arsenal move the ball with any kind of purpose.
Nasri: Was ineffective on the wings as the ball came to him wrapped by four defensive players. Good to see him taking charge late in the game.
RvP: Another player who struggled to get involved for two thirds of the game. Did manage to hit the bar with a good header in the first half and scored a classic fox-in-the-box goal.
Arshavin: Pretty much like Nasri, only that he was involved more on the left and in the box late in the game whereas the Frenchman was playing in deeper areas. Excellent goal. Wenger has to find a tactical approach that gets Arshavin in the game more often and with quick switch of play.
The front three were virtually invisible in the first half. All did well in the final twenty minutes.
Subs: Chamakh made himself useful and got a good assist. Bendtner played a key part in the second goal but I’d like to see more balls played to him in the box.
Arsene: Hindsight tells us it was a poor choice to pick Ramsey. Did well with the substitutions. Looks like he is working on getting his players to cross more and adapt the playing style. I’ve said this often enough – tactics will be the key in the remaining games.