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.
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.Follow @goonerdesi