Will be VERY tough to find.
Note: Total Arsenal was unable to see the match so this is 17HT with a match report–and an attempt with the positives…
At the risk of mixing a metaphor or three, the squad was already down to bare bones but now the cupboard appears completely bare. Have we bottled our best shot–in years–for a legitimate title chase and now find it bone dry–or worse. Feeling around for some ‘easy’ points today at West Bromwich Albion, Arsenal found nothing but dust.
Metaphors all mixed up, lets move onto the blame game.
It’s all comes home to roost; we saw it coming and fingers must be pointed. Everybody knows that Arteta was done (Santi too…) and that we needed more in attack. (Joel Campbell in pink boots? Please…) Wenger stood firm and this is the result. Out, out, out…
If such narratives give you comfort, who am I to stop you?
Me? I prefer to analyze the match and move forward. In many ways, at least in my opinion, what else is there to do?…
Personally, I liked the line-up, the same group, except Bellerin in for Debuchy, which scored the equalizer vs Spurs, Campbell on the bench if we need a goal.
The game started with both teams pushing the ball at pace and pinging it around the fast pitch nicely. It turned, however, on a naive mistake. Francis Coquelin, perhaps trying to show that he could pass quick, sharp and over distance with his left foot, gave it away, flew in and got it back from one WBA player but then came in hard to try and recover the resulting 50-50 from another. Bad decision (x2, at least) and he’s done. Early reports sound like it’s ligament damage.
Still, Arsenal, on yet another perfect Ozil set-piece, took the lead via Giroud’s head. In truth, neither team was completely dominant to that point but there was some technical superiority to be enjoyed watching our 4 Spaniards (Bellerin, Arteta, Cazorla and Monreal) stroking it around near the center circle.
West Brom, to their credit, responded well and looked to get the goal back. A very poor call by referee Clattenburg (on Arteta) gifted them a free kick. Instead of taking it quickly they sent men forward and scored through Morrison’s perfect volley from a difficult angle over Cech and into the far corner. Bellerin was wrong side of the scorer and Arteta was unable to make up enough ground as the free kick came in. 1-1.
Buoyed by the goal, the Baggies were unafraid to score another. This time it was Rondon feeding McClean who pushed through the inside channel on our right and then, pulling the ball back (with no target available), Arteta reached out a shoulder (or arm) to put in the own goal.
By the letter of the law–had the handball been seen–it might have been a sending off. Instead, after Arsenal started the 2nd brightly, Arteta limped off, having likely re-injured the calf muscle which has plagued the Captain for over a year. Mathieu Flamini was called in as our 2nd sub.
Before that, on another Ozil free kick (won by Alexis), Jonas Olsson absolutely flattened Giroud in the box. Such physicality, I guess, is what makes the English game so enjoyable. It appeared a stonewall penalty to me.
After the sub, Arsenal pushed hard and looked by far the more dangerous team. Alexis on the right had moments of individual brilliance and forced several half chances and scrambles in the West Brom penalty area.
Getting to the hour mark, Arsene Wenger went ‘all-in’ and made his last sub, bringing in Joel Campbell for Kieran Gibbs. Moments later, after more fine work from Alexis, now on the left, Santi Cazorla played an inch perfect pass over the top for Campbell past a stranded defender. Surely this was the equalizer. Instead, when it was easier to score than to miss, Campbell’s bright pink boot did just that.
Arsenal were dominating play but the best chance probably belonged to the Baggies. From a corner, Jonas Olsson rose over Flamini and headed onto the bar with the ball bouncing straight down and onto, rather than over, the goal line. The spin on the ball kept it out and Cech was able to gather the resulting put-back from Saido Berahino who had actually come from an offside position.
It was a huge let off encouraging Arsenal to fight on. In the 83rd minute, Alexis won a penalty when Chris Brunt held him back slightly. Relative to the earlier penalty shout the infraction appeared mild. It looked a pen to me, and perhaps it was a cumulative decision from Clattenburg. Regardless, Santi Cazorla stepped up to take it but slipped on his standing leg and put the penalty over the bar, the left leg actually deflecting the penalty kick taken with his right. Santi prides himself on his two-footedness, but this, surely, isn’t what he had in mind.
There were chances in the final moments of the match, but it was not to be. Three points dropped, and, perhaps worse, two defensive mid-fielders lost to injury. An afternoon in the Black Country indeed.
It will be even darker times in North London. Without looking I’m sure that already the internet has exploded and the sky has fallen. We play again on Tuesday in a must-win match vs Dinamo Zagreb; our slim hopes for advancing in the Champions League resting not only on getting that result but on Bayern Munich beating Olympiakos in the other group match. At least after that one we have until Sunday before traveling to Norwich City for our next league match.
While the nay-sayers–especially those who have not enjoyed the past decade under Wenger–will be having a field day with the I-told-you-so narratives. I actually can see some positives.
Despite extreme misfortune and some missed calls from the referee, our players really kept at it. Even when the away end went dead quiet the fight, particularly from Alexis, never stopped. His energy simply amazes and football, for him, is clearly a game to be played at full tilt. Sure, I’d like him to look up for his teammates just a bit more, but maybe that head down attitude means he’ll give the same incredible effort regardless of scoreline or (now) our spot in the table.
If his example can lead our small and very wounded group into a siege mentality they may just be able to keep together (even as a portion of the support would like to blow it all apart), take the matches one at a time, and, slowly but surely, get us back onto a stronger footing.
Things do not look good but what is the alternative? Griping about the moves we should have made in the summer, the inevitability of injuries and the personality flaws of the manager-notably having too much faith in his players and not spending sufficiently for new ones–are not for me.
The turning point of the match–and perhaps our season–was Coquelin’s ill considered challenge. Perhaps Wenger should have known that Le Coq’s style of play (or lack of experience) would make him an unreliable fitness risk. Still, trying to buy a player to compete with him would have been very difficult if playing time could not be guaranteed. Questions, of course, will also be raised about older guys like Arteta and Flamini (both who have already lost time this season to muscle problems) as his back-up.
Similar questions could be asked about our squad further forward. If Wenger knew Danny Welbeck would require surgery surely he should have bought. Theo Walcott, after looking very strong leading our line and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, whose goal won us the Community Shield in pre-season, were options. Both, of course, succumbed to injury in the Capital One Cup loss at Sheffield Wednesday. Should Wenger have anticipated those injuries or just avoided playing them in the league cup? The answer probably depends on how you feel about the manager to begin with.
For those looking to lower their expectations that match might have been the first strike against our hopes for the season. Today’s match, surely is a 2nd. I’ll give our lads a 3rd before calling them completely out. Probably too generous, but so it goes.
A better approach might be to check in with those teams who were supposed to run away with the title. Chelsea sit on 14 points (they were able to sneak past Norwich 1-0 today) while Manchester City lost, at home, to Liverpool by a 4-1 scoreline. We are actually now level with City on Goal Difference. Maybe the key to happiness is worrying less about Arsenal and taking some delight in the failings of others. Surely Gooners aren’t going to concede the league to Leicester or ManU–teams we’ve beaten by 3 goals apiece, quite yet… No, let’s give it to ‘Pool now that they’ve got a proper manager…
Imagine if the team had the support fully behind them–even in these darker moments. Close your eyes and try it. Or vent those frustrations (writing helps me…) and then try it. Who knows, you might still fancy our chances.