Monday, December 10, 2012

Arsenal 2 West Brom 0

After the disheartening home loss to Swansea last weekend, Arsenal were desperate to turn things round. According to Mikel Areteta, the players demanded extra training. The vice-captain also said prior to this match "We need to win games, it doesn't matter how".  And Arsenal did exactly that.

We failed to score from open play to win the game more convincingly, but we were clearly the better side. It is a shame that two issues surrounding this game took the shine off the most important thing in this game, which is the result. We desperately needed a morale-boosting victory following a run of four win-less matches in all competitions. After the last week's defeat which saw us slip to 10th of the Premier League, we needed three points to put us back on track for top-four finish.

Obviously, the biggest talking point was whether the first penalty should have been awarded. Most people believe that there was no contact, based on replays, and were quick to conclude that Santi Cazorla cheated. We also took the same view as we watched replays in Las Mimosas bar, but after watching replays of some of Sunday's decisions even in logically more obvious cases, we felt that video evidences are not as conclusive as people think. In his post-match interview, Arsene Wenger said he asked the Spaniard just before the interview if there was a contact and the Spanish midfielder answered that he had been touched and lost his balance. Whether there was a contact or not, the decision was given. Sometimes it's given and sometimes not. They say that the referees' decisions level out over years. In fact, Santi had a stronger case for another penalty later in the same game, which was waved off. Incidentally, West Brom were not totally innocent, either, as one of their players attempted a blatant dive.

West Brom protested against the second penalty as well. It may have been disputable whether the Ox committed a foul while dispossessing Popov, but Brunt's foul on the Ox in the box left no room for argument.

There was another lucky decision, not as much talked about as the first penalty incident. West Brom claimed a penalty against Mertesacker who seemingly handled the ball, but the German had been hauled down by Olsson beforehand.

The second issue was lack of clinical finish. We created so many chances with a few clear-cut ones, but we couldn't convert them. In the post-match interview, Arsene described this as "the only negative of the day" and concluded that the lack of composure was a factor behind it. Maybe that is the case for players like Podolski, who is a renowned clinical finisher but was thrown into the game two minutes from the end of normal time. However, we still believe something should be done to improve finishing.

We feel that not only the press, but also a section of Arsenal fans are attaching an unreasonable emphasis to the negative side of the game. Many people are sniffy about the win only because the the match decider came from a dubious penalty decision. However, there are a number of positives to take from this game other than the result and the players deserve credit for the victory.

Arsenal may not have been quite at their best yet, but their performance was a lot better than it had been in the recent weeks. Attack was quicker and passing was more purposeful. The tempo was high and Arsenal put serious pressure on their opponents. You cannot fault our players for their determination to win, which has been under criticism recently.

Our midfield was outstanding. We hoped that the midweek rest would be a solution to rejuvenate Arsenal. It clearly did the midfield trio good. Cazorla dominated the play in the middle of the park. His movement caused West Brom all sorts of problems and they couldn't cope with him, which led to the first penalty. Jack Wilshere had his best game after his return from injury, excellent both offensively and defensively. Arteta kept his composure to score from the spot-kick twice.

Some say we only won against a lacklustre West Brom side, but you can only play against whom you are facing. What has been a criticism against this season's Arsenal side was that they made the opposition look good, whoever they played against. Even the bottom-table team, QPR looked good against us, prompting Wenger to say that they wouldn't stay at the bottom of the table very long and look where they are now. So, making the opponents look lethargic must be some improvement. West Brom didn't pose much threat, but that may be the result of our midfield's dominance in the middle of the park.

A clean sheet was another positive product of the game, which should boost our defenders' confidence. Also, it was great to see the fans behind their team. Arteta revealed the team's concern about how they would be received following the disappointing home defeat last weekend, but he praised the home crowd for their whole-hearted support.

It is safe to say that the better side won. Although one of the penalty decisions was controversial, nobody can argue that we deserved to win. It was a comfortable win as West Brom offered very little going forward. If all we wanted to turn things around is confidence, this game didn't do any harm. Overall we think Arsenal played well and got the job done. Three points saw us climb up the table to seventh, just two points off the currently fourth placed Everton. Suddenly things no longer look too bad. Hopefully, Arsene Wenger will field a reasonably strong team against Bradford City on Tuesday night to keep the momentum going and the hopes for a trophy alive.

Player ratings

Szczesny: 7
With only one shot on target registered by West Brom, it was a quiet afternoon for the Polish keeper.

Sagna: 7
He was a major doubt before the match. Glad he made it. After the match Wenger revealed the French right-back played through injury. Hopefully, Jenkinson will prove a capable deputy in the Capital One Cup match on Tuesday night so that the Frenchman can have a rest ahead of the Reading game.

Mertesacker: 7

Vermaelen: 7
Took leadership in defence.

Gibbs: 7
Good going forward.

Cazorla: 8
Dominant in the middle of the park.

Arteta: 8
It must have taken tremendous courage and nerves to take two penalties after the miss (actually saved) in the Fulham game.

Wilshere: 8
Jack is back with his "burst". Arsene Wenger admitted Jack's progress is faster than his anticipation, which was for the England midfielder's fitness to reach a peak in Februrary next year.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 7
Lively. Although his finishing and some of his deliveries left something to be desired, this was arguably his best game this season. Provided a good cover for injured Theo Walcott.

Gervinho: 6
He found himself in a great position on more than one occasions, but wasted those opportunities with poor finishing.

Giroud: 7
His work rate was impressive, though he didn't make most of half-chances he had.


Coquelin: 6
Came off the bench in the 78th minute to replace the Ox. Did his job.

Rosicky: 7
Replaced Gervinho in the 81st minute. He should have come on earlier.

Podolski: 6
Came on for Cazorla in the 88th minute. Missed a sitter. He was a major doubt before the match and only made the bench. It is a relief that his hamstring problem proved to be such a short term.

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