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

Was the Napoli performance a one-off or did we see the first signs of the “new Arsenal”? That was the question on many Gooner minds and I did mention my reservations in the match preview.

Wenger went with the expected line-up, making two changes to the side that won the midweek Champions League tie. They started the game slowly, kind of handbrake-ish, and it was evident within minutes that we were again going to see a cautious first half from the Gunners.

West Brom were very good at sitting on the edge of their box with their two lines right on top of each other. There was just no space in the vital central creative areas. But this wasn’t a surprise, it was something to be expected as meticulous organization is one of the core strengths of Steve Clarke.

The fragmented nature of Arsenal’s play was the unexpected bit. This season, even when the Gunners have not played as flamboyantly as they did against Napoli, most of the times the attacking players have shown good mobility and understanding in interchanging positions. In the first half on Sunday, when the ball went out to either flank, it seemed as if the players there were cut off from the centre and the opposite side. The full-back, wide midfielder, and either Özil or Giroud played a few passes between themselves in the wider areas of the attacking third but lost possession the moment they tried coming inside. That or they were just forced into going back and building again.

Arsenal FT passes comparison by half

It’s interesting to note that Arsenal actually completed more final third passes in the first half and had 87 percent accuracy in that period. In contrast, the second period saw the success rate drop to 75 percent.

The difference was in the clusters and the direction of passes. In the opening period there are two clusters in the wide areas with a lot of arrows criss-crossing each other. This indicates a lot of short passes were exchanged by players in those zones. They are relatively harmless areas from the defensive side’s point of view as long as they prevent anything dangerous coming in.

The passes that do come into central areas in front of the penalty box are mostly either square or going backwards. That usually means they were played back away from the defensive players or square in front of the second line of defence.

The second half passing was a lot more vertical in that zone. As spaces between the lines opened up Arsenal were able to ping balls into that zone even from deeper areas. And the clusters in the wider areas thin out as there is limited close passing interchange in those areas. The assist for the goal was actually a back pass but the space available to Wilshere just wasn’t there in the opening period with Yacob and Mulumbu sitting in front of the defence and wide players helping out consistently. The goal came after a quick break forward by the Gunners and the hosts just weren’t able to transition to the safety of their two lines of defence.

Rosicky’s presence on the defensive line also made a big difference. When a team sits as deep and compact as West Brom did, there is virtually no space between the lines. The way to counter this is to have more players along the defensive line alonside the striker so that vertical passes can be played towards them bypassing the first line of defence when the opportunity arises. In the first period neither Wilshere nor Ramsey provided this vertical depth to the attack. And Özil is not a player who should be expected to go up close to the striker because his game is best when looking at such players and finding them rather than being highest up the pitch and looking back towards his own goal.

Rosicky’s introduction was, therefore, the logical choice because the Czech star provides two very useful qualities. He can drive at the defence and combine with the striker who is playing with his back to goal and he can join up as an auxiliary striker. It was the second role that got him the assist. Like most fans I guess, I was expecting Wilshere to make way but Wenger took Ramsey off, probably simply because of the Englishman’s fresher legs after a bit of a breather in the previous game.

It was good to see Wilshere on the right side, a flank I think he can thrive at from an offensive point of view because there’s greater scope for dribbling, and with a more open body position on his favoured foot he has better passing and shooting options. This was exemplified by the shot for the goal and the pass for Giroud, both of which would have been harder to execute for him when cutting in from the left. If he has to play on the flank, I’d rather he played on the right.

At the other end West Brom did create a few chances but the most noteworthy ones came in the second half. Given how deep they were defending, Arsenal should really have had them pinned back with coordinated pressing, but the Gunners simply did not have any cohesion to press high up the pitch. This allowed the hosts to move forward repeatedly and they did create some promising moments in the wide areas which resulted in corners, set-pieces, and crosses. They looked threatening on many but, as stated often, it was still an inefficient approach.

Szczesny’s biggest save of the first half was one from a deflection rather than a great chance. The nature of the goal conceded must have disappointed Wenger and Bould. It was way too soft.

But their bigger concerns must surely come from the opportunities conceded in the second half as Anelka twice had the goal handed to him on a plate. It’s worth noting that even with all the recent hype around Flamini and the proven defensive work of Arteta, Arsenal were not able to prevent some genuinely threatening counter-attacks from materializing.

To me that was evidence of gaps at the back that the Gunners still have to address in training. There are many who suggest that only one of Flamini and Arteta should play yet here we saw the goal exposed even with both in the side.  They cannot afford to be picked apart with such ease when chasing a game or it won’t always end in a respectable stalemate.

In the end this seemed like a fair result. The Gunners had a bit of luck with Anelka fluffing his gilt-edged chances but Giroud repaid some of that debt. The penalty non-call for that tackle on Wilshere was unfortunate but in keeping with Lee Mason’s overly lenient approach, which did benefit the hosts more than it did the visitors.

Individual Performances:

Szczesny: Made an excellent save in the first half and another sharp one in the second. Was good to see he has learnt from some mistakes when he backtracked and got into a good position instead of charging out to tackle Anelka. One of his better performances on the whole.

Jenkinson: His crossing and decision making in attacking areas was below par. The second chance for Anelka came from a weak header by the youngster. Inconsistent with his positioning. Not one of his memorable outings.

Mertesacker: Passing was again reliable. Positioning was helpful, particularly to Jenkinson who left the right flank exposed at times. Never had the pace to catch Anelka once the striker got in behind.

Koscielny: Another one who made safe, reliable passing choices. Was busier of the two defenders in terms of need for making interceptions, clearances, etc. Was largely faultless. Not sure if he played Anelka on when the striker got in behind. If so, that would be a very avoidable and potentially game-losing error.

Gibbs: Had a tough time against Amalfitano and more so when Sessegnon moved to that side as well but he handled most of the challenges commendably. Probably some rushed passes were the only minor blemishes. Should have crossed the ball for Giroud instead of taking that shot early on.

The back four should have had an easier game but they had to work harder because Arsenal allowed the hosts to come forward time and again. They also struggled a bit in the second half when they had to push up. Mertesacker’s lack of pace will be a concern in such instances. I don’t know what the organization was supposed to be for the second ball in from the corner but it was largely the fault of the defensive players who should be taking charge of the situation.

Ramsey: Work rate was again top notch but efficiency was below his recent high standards. Wasn’t able to move into the right attacking areas. I thought this was a game where playing right up alongside Giroud every now and again would have helped him and the team.

Arteta: Getting back to his reliable self. Would have loved to see where his shot in the first half ended had it not deflected away off Giroud. It was interesting that he stayed deeper of the two defensive midfielders.

Özil: Another game that was more about graft than craft. Another display that said he’s ready for it and maybe even relishing it. The move for the goal began with his battling in midfield. Did a lot of work, some of it of the coarse variety but he had his silken moments too. That chance created for Giroud stands out but he was generally very smooth in possession.

Flamini: Often joined the more attack minded players but wasn’t really able to contribute to the creativity. Good to see he’s raised his passing standards and maintains them high on a consistent basis. Defensive work rate and energy were useful as always.

Wilshere: The foul magnet thing can be a problem when the ref is reverse polarized. Had a hard time in the first half as he rarely found space and was constantly in physical battles. Wasn’t able to move diagonally or horizontally to link with the play on the right or central areas. Much more effective in the second half. The  goal was somewhat fortuitous but the power on the shot was commendable. The pass for Giroud was just sublime.

Rosicky: Brought qualities to the team that others didn’t have. Picked up a useful assist and was involved with most of Arsenal’s purposeful offensive play despite playing only the final half-hour of the game.

The midfield was a tad disjointed and lackadaisical in the first half. They upped the ante in the second period and created quite a few chances but also left the defence exposed. Probably one of their weakest displays of the season as a unit though not quite as bad as the opening day shambles.

Giroud: Work rate continues to help the team as his run and hold up play before the goal showed. Should have taken at least one of the two chances. A more instinctive scorer might have taken a first-time shot from Wilshere’s pass after opening up his body. Had more time than he realized, something that needs to improve, from the Özil pass. This was the kind of game where he comes across as an eager to learn and hard working young striker, reminding us of his late development.

Bendtner: Saw very little of the ball.

Wenger: The confidence isn’t quite up the level needed and part of it is down to the fact that Arsenal become very open at the back when they do push forward in numbers. The side is much better defensively when dropping back as a unit but they still have to show they can dominate the ball and control chances when playing in the opposition half for large periods.


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

  1. Spec says:

    Nice analysis desi, now we wait for the internationals to be over and the wounded soldiers to return.

  2. Pat7 says:

    A top commentary on the game I saw! Keep up the good work.

  3. Mukesh says:

    Extremely good analysis. Very well backed up arguments. I would love to hear from you again.

    For the game, I thought, those 3 games in last 2 weeks really took a toll. Pace was lacking and so was a bit of seriousness. I was not sure that why we haven’t used Gnabry on the right as our usage of wide areas was very poor on both the flanks.

  4. Dave Highbury says:

    West Brom were organised and we were short on our wide players with pace so an away draw looks good to me. Don’t think it was a tactical problem for the Arsenal, but more of a much needed break for a squad that can re-coup in the national break. Wide players like Pod, the Ox, Santi, Rosicky and Theo will be returning, and will iron out any ‘width and pace’ problems spotted at the West Brom game.

  5. Ahmed Gunner says:

    Very good analysis of the match @Desi. Bring on Norwich city.

  6. AW brought in another player into a settled side that was winning. The fact Wiltshire scored means little.He’s cunt and I still want him gone

    We may have won the game with an unchanged side

  7. Tee Song says:

    I don’t think that Giroud will ever be a “clinical” striker, as you point out he’s just not a natural finisher. If he can get his conversion rate to 1 goal in 7 or 8 shots as opposed to last season’s 1 in 10, given how much he contributes to the attack in terms of hold up play, linking play and assists, and even defensive work, I’d be ok with that. I don’t think that we necessarily need him to score 25 goals, we have enough attackers that goal scoring can be shared.

    We lacked a couple of things to break down a well organized defense. Giroud doesn’t look to get behind defenses, he prefers to come toward the ball and receive the it with his back to goal, especially when we build up more slowly. We did need to get players looking to make runs beyond Giroud. This is where we really missed Theo and to a lesser extent, Poldi. Ramsey’s second goal against Swansea, albeit from a deep run, was a perfect example of this. For whatever reason, we didn’t do that as well this game as against Napoli. The other thing we lacked was a player like Cazorla, a player who can beat defenders with the dribble. This was always going to be a tough game but I think this is the first game where we were really negatively affected by our lack of attacking options. We had five central midfielders who all like to do similar things. You can tell them how to adjust their games in their new positions and they might do it, as against Napoli, or they might not, as in this game.

    • cupsui says:

      Totally agree with what u said. It was just too slow. Simply put too many midfielders. I was very surprised not too see gnabry at half time. We needed more direct football partly down to lack of options but also to wengers determination not to change his formula mid game. Something I have always found a little perplexing about le prof. It worked against Napoli caus. they wanted something, and th. Players were up for it being Such a big match but here the players movement wad not as good they looked flat and tired. Wenger should have addressed it at the half…
      But honestly I cannot wait to see flamini or arteta – Rambo – ozil
      Walcott- Giroud – cazorla
      For me that gives us the Perfect balance between technical directness and defense. Ozil will be in his element!

  8. Todd says:

    The tactical error was not defaulting Ramsey into the middle. That for me is why Flamini played higher because Arteta, although great lacks mobility in comparison to Ramsey and it was Flamini who would step higher since he does not lack mobility. This speaks to the reason why we were countered as well because midfield is about balance and we did not always have the right balance with Arteta in. I love Arteta, but he should not slide right in as a default and the most in-form midfielder in Europe right now in Ramsey should not be the one who gets sent out right. Right now Ramsey not only scores goals but he leads defensively with a lot of tackles and interceptions. He was PFA player of the month for a reason. He needs to default and Flamini with defensive guile and barking leadership protects the likes of Ozil and Ramsey and all the other front runners better. Arteta should help with rotation as Rosicky should as well and that is how he should be looked at because we have now learned how very important Flamini is and we have now seen the coming of Aaron Ramsey. I understand squad rotation, but this was not that because Ramsey and Jack and Ozil still played. This was trying to fit Arteta in and Arsene really should be making sure at all costs that right now the in-form Ramsey is first on the team sheet next to Ozil. One final thought-the most prolific pass combination before this game was Ozil to Ramsey and vice Versa. Why screw up that balance?

  9. cupsui says:

    The two major tactical nuisances I noticed in this game apart from the slow indirect play of arsenal I mentioned above were:

    1. The way wba played Wilshere. If u get a chance watch the game and noticed how wba always stood off his first touch the closed him down after often in double teams. Jack is Great when being pressed at.stopping his first touch and going past players using his body. They didn’t Close down and forced him forward momentum taking him into 1 or 2 defenders causing his many turnovers. I say well done Clarke. Jack needs to slow his brain down and adjust when this happens instead of constantly running the same play if it’s not working he can be a little 1000mph at times

    2. Jenko giving so much space to his Winger. Normally he doesn’t close down which is ok if he stays close but in This game he gave so Much space for Crossing. Was it tactical or a major flaw with his defensive game. If it continues we will sooner or later get punished by crosses.

    know u normally don’t comment desi but I would b interested to hear your opinions on These points or anyone else’s for that matter

    • desigunner says:

      Point 1 is a fascinating observation. I’ll have to look at it again but the approach you noticed would certainly be a good way of dealing with Wilshere. Clarke deserves two thumbs up if he did indeed deliberately set his players up to do this.

      Re Jenkinson, I got a feeling he was just off the pace of the game… harsh to say he was lazy and probably not accurate either but it just seemed he wasn’t as sharp as one would expect… Maybe concentration was off and it affected his response time

      • Cupsui says:

        Thanks desi.
        Good discussion. I hope Jack learns to adjust on the run otherwise he will become too 1D and too predictable…

        Jenko, lets hope he does get tighter. Surely the coaches would have picked up on this and he seems like an attentive guy that is willing to learn. Cause although i like his the ability and potential he is still a ways from being a polished RB that we can rely on.

        As for Sanga it seems as though its going to be time to part ways, which will be best for both club and player. He is losing his concentration and consistency cause he seems to be elsewhere at times. And i think there are some really good RB out there well within our reach. Blas…something… the polish RB from dortmund is someone i would love us to have on our books. On of the best in the world right now

  10. Sukky says:

    I think carzola is the missing part of this team and if he come back,just sit back and watch.THE INVICIBLES ARE BACK!!!

  11. Goon sailing says:

    Firstly, awesome analysis as usual.

    Second, I really think Cazorla and Theo will add the missing dimension.

    Arsenal have a good defence but the best form of defence is attack. Score first, score early and stop teams like west Brom from playing the counter attacking game.

    Ramsey will move back to the centre, with Poldi, Rosicky, Arteta, Wilshere, Ox, Serge, and Bentner as rotating back up for the first choice players. The setup will almost always be the same, only the actors sometimes change.

  12. santori says:

    Our balance IMO was off.

    1) Ozil has better joy in Europe (Champions League) where he is still adjusting to the pace of the PL.

    2) Thought Jack would have been better next to either Flamini or Arteta driving from deep. What Jack brings to the team is vertical dynamism, something only Diaby (when fit) can replicate. Do not agree that out wide is a good position for him.

    3) Think both Arteta and Flamini together worked for the technical CL games but was a bit of over elaboration against WBA. One would have sufficed and my choice would have been the combative Flamini over the cultured Arteta for this one.

    4) Jenkinson whips balls in which the media gets all in a tizzy with but personally, think he is too predictable and needs to look up and see his options before putting balls in.

    5) Gnabry should have started our RW to give us a bit more pace and variation.

    6) Ramsey should have started in the middle and Ozil LW but both with option to wander/swap.

    7) Rosicky was a good option to come on later as he is one who is quick to turn toward the opposition half and attack it. Jack moving more central in concert with Rosicky coming on made a difference for us. Good to see Jack on the score sheet.

    Did not think the manager shuffled the pack right on this one. Still reasonable to go away with the point considering they could have easily nicked it.

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