West Brom 1 – 2 Arsenal: Match Thoughts And Individual Analysis

House hunting is taking up a lot of our time during weekends and I’m not getting the chance to watch the games live or write about them on the same day. This time some other work also kept me busy and thus the extra delay in this post. Apologies to those who have been waiting and thanks to everyone who still clicked through to read this. Let’s get straight to business.

Arsene didn’t make any changes to the line-up. That was understandable given the quality of football produced against Reading and the congestion-free fixture schedule for the rest of the season.

The game however, was quite different from the thumping 4-1 win at the Emirates last week. West Brom were much better organized defensively and limited the chances that Arsenal could create. They also posed a relatively greater threat at the other end. In the preview I’d mentioned the importance of efficiency in attack and it was heartening to see two goals being scored from three or four good chances.

I thought the first half was closely fought with both teams taking a cautious approach. The omission of Lukaku from the starting line-up signalled Steve Clarke’s intent or, you could say, his respect for the Gunners. West Brom stayed really deep for most of the first half with very little gap between the lines. They allowed Arsenal possession in the central and wider areas but protected the edge of the penalty box and about 10-15 yards in front of that.

The Gunners didn’t find much penetration. The goal was probably the first real chance. It was created by a clever long diagonal pass by Arteta that exploited the gap behind the West Brom defence. The hosts had pushed really high up for a free-kick that Foster punted long. After a couple of headers, Ramsey recovered the ball and a quick exchange of passes between other midfielders found Areta is some space with many opponents rushing back. There was no pressure on the ball and space behind the defence. It’s the kind of problems we see Arsenal suffer from at times. The Spaniard’s pass was superb in that it held up on the turf instead of running away after bouncing. I don’t know how much of it was down to the pitch and to what extent did the back spin on the ball contribute to this. In any case it allowed Gervinho the chance to make a diagonal run from his position on the right.

The Ivorian also deserves credit for the way he controlled the ball, beat the defender, and found Rosicky. I’m not sure if he intended that to be a cross for Little Mozart or if he was going for a shot or even trying a cross for Giroud. But it worked perfectly as Rosicky deftly headed it home. A decisive moment executed with precision and efficiency.

Arsenal’s only other major opportunity in the first half came just before the break. Sensational combination play between Rosicky, Giroud, and Cazorla put Ramsey in the clear. The Welshman seemed a touch short of confidence in front of goal and somehow found a way to miss the target when it seemed easier to score.

At the other end, the hosts had one good chance from a corner that was cleared off the line. They also had a decent penalty shout. From one angle it seemed as if Koscielny got the ball, from another it seemed he didn’t. Given Howard Webb’s tendency to be lenient in debatable moments, his non-call was not surprising. It must be said all of West Brom chances were either directly from set-pieces or from immediate follow-up attacks. In that regard it was disappointing that the Gunners were conceding so many free-kicks. But it did also highlight the limited nature of the Baggies’ attacking threat.

The second half started on a different note. Arsenal played at a higher intensity in the first five minutes or so.

45-50 all passes comparison

In the first half Arsenal had completed 203 of their 247 passes. West Brom had managed 150/194. That means the Gunners were roughly making 5.5 passes per minute and the hosts were around 4.3. The gap wasn’t that big.

But in the first five minutes of the second half Arsenal upped their tempo. 48 passes attempted in that period is almost close to 10 passes per min. In contrast, Steve Clarke’s side only managed 16 @ 3 passes per min.

We don’t need to worry about the exact numbers but the difference is large enough to show Arsenal’s dominance and the change in approach. That paid off. Sagna had a good chance early in the second half before Rosicky doubled his tally and his side’s advantage.

There were a few points worth noting in that goal. Arsenal’s fluidity was one. Gervinho had moved to the left, Cazorla had come in central just moments before, and Ramsey had seamlessly transitioned to the wide right. The Welshman might not get an assist but his movement in the build-up was excellent. If you haven’t already seen it, do try and see how he drifts into useful defensive positions when West Brom had the ball (thanks to a deflection of Webb) before springing forward into space as soon as it was recovered.

Rosicky’s first touch, his initial shot, the lightning fast reaction to the loose ball from the initial save, and finally the finish were all immensely enjoyable.

After the second goal the game changed completely. West Brom no longer had anything to lose. At 0-1 they’d still have thought of keeping things tight at the back as Clarke likes to attack late in games and they could still have hoped for a draw or a late turnaround. But at 0-2 they just had to throw everything forward.

Their defenders started stepping up a lot more and midfielders started pushing up in support of Shane Long. Arsenal, on the other hand, lost some of their intensity.

The position of interceptions made provides some indication of the hosts’ push up the pitch.

West Brom interceptions pre 50 and post 50

The game was fairly even over the next ten minutes – roughly the 50-60 minute period.

50-60 all passes comparison

Arsenal could not sustain the tempo they’d started the half with, and that was understandable. They came back down to roughly five passes per minute but now West Brom were also holding on to the ball just as much. With more of their players pushing forward their long balls became more effective as Long was no longer isolated.

At the same time, with their defenders pushing up and compressing space, the Gunners were finding it hard to get close to the West Brom penalty area.

Over the next ten minutes the momentum further shifted towards the hosts. During this period Clarke also brought two strikers on to get more presence in the attacking areas.

60-70 min all passes comparison

Arsenal were caught out tactically. The defenders were dropping deep but the front players were unsure of their role. At times they were pressing higher up the pitch but unsuccessfully. Arsenal were getting stretched vertically.

There was a two minute period before and leading up to the goal when Arsenal were particularly ragged.

68-70 all passes comparison

The Gunners couldn’t hold on to the ball while the hosts did a good job of circulating it at the back in the face of some attempted pressing from the visitors.

There were six passes from Clarke’s side before the ball finally came to Morrison. The following snapshot was taken just before the sixth pass was made.

Arsenal pressing high up

As you can see, Arsenal had five players fairly high up the pitch. But the attempts to press seemed more a result of individual endeavour than a coordinate tactic. It was actually pretty easy for the hosts to find a teammate in space. Furthermore, a large gap appeared between the Arsenal back four and those pressing up the pitch.

The following two images approximately capture the time Morrison received the pass. See the gap between him and Arteta/Cazorla who’d pushed up. Also note the horizontal gap with Ramsey who’d moved towards the right when the ball came towards Olsson earlier in the build up.

Finally, take a look at the space in front of the defence and that between Sagna and Mertesacker.

Morrison gets the ball side view

Morrison gets the ball long view

In this kind of a situation it’s very difficult to pin-point one player as the culprit. It remains a problem with the team’s defensive thinking as a unit.

It’s important to get the abstract picture from individual examples. Any one of a number of small details could have prevented this goal. For instance, on another occasion Morrison might have over hit his pass and taken Long away from goal. Or the defenders would have stepped up and caught the striker offside (there was a hint of offside anyway). Or Long might not have had a good first touch and the ball might have bounced away enabling Mertesacker to pull out of the challenge. And so on.

It happens all the time. But just because a particular incident doesn’t result in a goal doesn’t mean there aren’t problems with the defence. Similarly, just because a goal is scored doesn’t make one instance of collective errors much worse than others. Irrespective of whether a goal is scored or not, there are many occasions when Arsenal get caught out because of their tactical incoherence which results in a terrible team shape and gaps all over. A couple of decent defensive games in recent past were encouraging but hardly proof that issues that have plagued the side for years have gone away.

After the red card it was just a matter of hanging on. It was disappointing that the Gunners found no way to hold on to the ball. Of course it’s tough, but top teams generally find a way to control the game defensively while creating the occasional counter-attack.

70-end all passes comparison

Now you can say it was great rearguard action from the Gunners with just 10 men on the pitch. People who base their analysis on results often do that. But in reality this wasn’t a great defensive effort, it just proved adequate in this instance. The players deserve credit for their hard work and for getting their bodies in front of goal but West Brom’s wastefulness (Lukaku and Long missed great chances) and over reliance on crossing and long balls was just as big a factor.

On another day a freakish deflection might have resulted in an equalizer. That might also have given the hosts the momentum to go on and win the game. We’ve seen Arsenal suffer that way often enough and that remains the big difference between them and the teams that genuinely contest for the Premier League title.

Individual Performances:

Fabianski: Catching was confident but I don’t know why he came for some of the balls that he did. Haven’t the coaches and players learnt their lesson? Distribution was tentative and inefficient at times. Still hasn’t been forced into great saves that often.

Sagna: Crossing was poor and had very limited attacking contribution apart from a shot after a good run. Did fairly well defensively but was quite some distance away from Mertesacker for the penalty incident. Passing was a touch below par. Not his best day.

Mertesacker: Put Koscielny in trouble with a poor pass. Lack of pace and turning speed were exposed by the ball over the top. Did make a fair number of clearances but wasn’t really tested till he got sent off.

Koscielny: Was again the busier of the two defenders. Did a good job of covering behind Monreal and cleared the danger often. Might have conceded a penalty with some other ref in charge. Respectable game on the whole.

Monreal: Wasn’t able to join the attack as often as he might have liked. Didn’t have as much to do defensively as Sagna because West Brom didn’t focus on his flank as much, but was mostly convincing when a challenge was posed.

The defenders had poor passing rates, although the ratios were probably skewed by the long punts at the end. They looked vulnerable on set-pieces and couldn’t really take charge of the box. There were one or two instances where communications gaps could be perceived.

Arteta: Mostly played a conservative game in the central third of the pitch but his pass to expose the space behind the defence was crucial to the first goal. Gave good support to the defence for most of the game.

Rosicky: MotM without a doubt. Produced the decisive moments of quality and cleared a ball off the line. Movement around the pitch was pretty good and was involved with almost everything Arsenal created going forward. Did concede some cheap, avoidable fouls.

Ramsey: Again a game where he showed a big heart and an impressive engine. Put in a respectable defensive shift but also got involved with attacks. If he had the confidence of his early days he’d probably have scored. Good role in the build up to the second goal and recovered the ball in the build up of the first.

Cazorla: Was part of the best move that Arsenal created and in the build up of both goals but his influence was largely curtailed. Didn’t really have that much to do defensively on the left.

The midfield had a decent game and for a while they were controlling things effectively. But once the Gunners lost their tactical bearings things got tougher. It’s hard to say just what went wrong without access to the team’s plans but there is clearly scope for improvement.

Gervinho: Good work and assist for the first goal. Also created a chance for Sagna and had a shot on  goal himself. But otherwise his offensive impact was limited by West Brom’s positioning. Needs to do more defensively, particularly when positioned on the edge of the box on set-pieces.

Giroud: Movement and work rate were again appreciable. Excelled when combining with Rosicky and Cazorla to set up Ramsey. But he also struggled to get into the game when West Brom were defending resolutely. Also failed to hold the ball up late in the game, although that was partially a tactical issue as he had virtually zero support.

The forwards didn’t find enough time and space in the attacking areas and that limited the impact they could make. Over time they’ll have to find ways to influence games against such defences.

Subs: It was ‘all hands to deck’ stuff at the end and the subs played their part but I don’t recall any incident that stands out.

Wenger: Strong winning run continues but the last couple of games have shown the defensive issues are far from resolved. Can his team keep grinding out results or will the problems make their presence known in a costly manner before the season is over?

14 Responses to West Brom 1 – 2 Arsenal: Match Thoughts And Individual Analysis

  1. Redcore says:

    Great article again Desi. Your snapshots capture this teams issue very well.

    I think it would have helped if the team dropped back and defended and tried to hit them on the counter with Gervinho / Podolski’s pace after we scored our second goal. Maybe then we could have got a third goal (similar to the third vs Reading) too without putting our defense under too much pressure.

    It is really a matter of concern that West Brom were able to attack at will after conceding the second. Hope Bould and co find the answer to these issues before MU match.

    On the positive side our combination play was exceptional at times. I think Arsenal passed the ball around atleast 25 times before the Ramsey chance and not a single West Brom player got a touch. It would have been a truly amazing team goal had Ramsey converted..

  2. Gbemy says:

    Yeh, your analysis was right but on players I totally disagree with you on Ramsey, Mertas and fabias.
    First on ramsey, but let me ask you a question..all those match we play that he was not include was he miss ?, may be you need to check them again. Cos now you are saying is heart and soul of which match, he made an assist those that means he plays well, he make a wrong pass, can’t mark, make a ridiculous tackle that would have sent him off, I don’t no which excuse are you giving him on the golden chance he misses, even my grandmother will score that ball GRD gave to him. Is it because this guy is Britain that’s why you all rating him. I believe if it was Gervino that miss those chance he misses you your self we make an article for him that his rubbish. Conqeulin this season has prove every time he was on the pitch that he can do more than what Ramsey his doing but because of this stupid rating you all rate Ramsey won’t let the Useless coach to drop him.
    Mertask.. The bravest among them all. I was surprise to here you say he was not trouble, and you watch this match on your own like no panic because you already noes the result and still you can’t see. He made a great block by falling on the ball with his back and clears it out you don’t see that.. Have been seen some great tackling but this was brave. You no what we all will be here watching our next match when Cos and Vame will be defending for usn we may win the match but you will see why both of them were nothing without the brave one.
    Then you said Fabiaski have not make any real save and you said you watch this match… He noes our problem was setpics and he came out to punch, what will you have him do? to seat back and watch the ball going into the net. Even if he was not good in any other things in his position but sure he control his defense very well and sound vocal like some one who can lead.
    Sorry for my spellings

    • santori says:

      With regards Ramsey, I believe the correct sentiment is that he is a fast improving player (finally) for us which can only be a good thing.

      However you are right to a certain extent not to be caught up in the sudden reverse euphoria over his improved form.

      He still has many weaknesses to iron out and we still need options to him in midfield, particularly players who can dominate defensively.

      IMO, Ramsey may prosper better as an AM. His strong suits has been his passing precision and chiefly his vision going forward. He has improved positional awareness defensively but is still not the most tenacious option. Another good reason for him to be positioned slightly more forward is his willing ness to take shots from range.

      Ramsey’s issue is that in the AM position, he is currently behind Santi and Rosicky. The opening next to Arteta has been made by Diaby’s continued availability.

      I still feel we need a supplement to Diaby at that. There is nothing to match the dynamics Diaby brings (Save Jack) in the position with his close control and physicality. Importantly, we need to ensure the height and physical presence he affords us particularly if we are against teams employing the likes of a Fellaini to bully us in the middle.

      With regard Coquelin, I feel he is badly in need of games. His progression this season has been staccato partly because Wenger (incorrectly IMO) has prioritized the League cup as a first team target where it should remain a developmental competition for us to blood and test the younger players and reserves.

      Coquelin’s asset his his aggression defensively where Ramsey is more offensive minded. The French man is also more collected in possession where Ramsey tends to panic when cornered. There is reason to believe we may need the capability to hold the ball in such instances when we are down a man and need to keep pressure of the back.

      I’m not saying any of these players are complete in their own but I do feel that if we have the Diaby supplement, Ramsey and Coquelin (not to mention Jack) to partner the experience of Arteta in midfield, we will have good solutions for many different problems we may face in that area of the pitch.

      • santori says:

        With regard Per, mix bag.

        Some good sterling work but then got into bother just before he got the marching orders.

        Well, it’s Vermaelen back in. Let’s hope for some redemption for the Belgian. You can’t fault him for his heart.

  3. J says:

    Really good blog, thanks for the analysis.

  4. ayokunle says:

    I have been a ardent supporter of Arsenal for years now and hardly miss any of their matches bt i still find myself always looking out for ur analysis.Great analysis once again…i tot metersarker had an ok game,he jst lost it a couple of mins before d red card.as for d rest of d ratings n analysis,dy r so on point.let’s keep figthing till we get dia.COYG!!!

  5. wawa says:

    hope u get the house soon. have been waiting for your analysis coz it is always top notch. it always summarises the whole 90 + minutes in just a few minutes. as am reading your article, i really visualise the whole game. what happened to Podolski (didnt see the lineup, so not sure if he was on the bench)? after the send off, i expected to see Podolski coming in for Giroud. anyway it was really good that we collected the precious 3 points and we have narrowed the gap between us and the Spuds. we even have a game in hand. if we win all our remaining games, we will leapfrog them. lets hope we dont give ManU too much respect.

    • santori says:

      I expect Podolski is being kept for the next game. Wenger likely persisted with Gervinho since he is in good form.

      One option for Wenger to consider is to give Giroud a break and have Poldy come on for the final 15 minutes in his place. Naturally with us down to ten, this option evaporated off the plans quickly.

  6. Khoa says:

    The things about Ramsey was that he lacks reaction or prediction of a good player. His miss was because he thought Giroud would have shot so when Giroud passed him the ball, you can see that he was taken back and didn’t have a good touch and later miss under pressure . Ramsey is certainly not best middlefields right now but who else should play at his place. Before when we played Cazolar, Willshere and arteta in Mid, and all of us could see Willshere had to take care almost all the defensive duty, something he wasn’t very good as and needs a strong partner, though Arteta was good, he’s not defensive minded nor he does have enough physical attribute. That’s why if Ramsey can keep his form, i would still prefer to see him over willshere or arteta (Diaby,too though i doubt he can come back).

    • santori says:

      Ramsey is a good player to have.

      but if Diaby was fully fit (which he never has been) he should be first choice next to Arteta. Jack is also a candidate next to Arteta but if Diaby was fit (again which he isn’t ever), it would afford us the opportunity of pushing Jack further forward with Santi then deployed wide (cutting in)

      Rosicky is also an option in the AM role but with his injury record and age, likely to be playing a support role for the main AM by providing a rotational option.

      One position that Ramsey may finally develop into is Arteta’s role.

      In that he shares the passing characteristic of the Spaniard without the experience and calm collection (yet)

      But he will also have Coquelin to vy with in this audition.

      If he deploys in the Arteta role, then he will need to be supported by a stronger more physical no nonsense player. We don’t have that player with Diaby always in the sick bay.

  7. Golden Gooner says:

    Good as always Desi, but think Kos deserves a bit more blame on the goal, though it was a bit unlucky. All other defenders are playing both strikers offside. Kos realizes that he’s playing his man onside and smartly drops back, but in doing so, he plays Mertesacker’s man onside. For me Per’s blameless.

  8. santori says:

    I think what it does point to is a distinct lack of options right up top.

    Where as Wenger had plenty of band aids to throw on for defense with a man down, we lack someone right at the apex that could receive a ball, turn and truly take apart/terrify a committed team trying to chase us down with the extra man.

    With a Henry, there would always be close to two man around him regardless even if the other team had the extra man advantage.

    Instead, with Giroud (more a physical player) we lack that cutting edge to break out and take teams apart on the counter (we must also remember Walcott was not an option of course)

    what we need this summer is someone with a bit of craft and guile + some speed to act as an alternate to Giroud on the sharp end.

    Also feel one more technical player in midfield who is very comfortable holding the ball is a plus. Someone like Konoplyanka (Dnipro) who plays with both feet across the midfield could be a useful added foil to accompany Santi in holding possession for us and relieving pressure on the back in these sort of circumstance whilst providing the burst pace necessary when needed.

  9. […] Wenger’s team should expect more of the same and unless they keep their shape compact they’ll again concede through a similar pattern just like they did against West Brom. […]

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