Monday, October 7, 2013

West Brom 1 Arsenal 1

Arsenal went into this game as favourites to win on the back of their stunning performance against Napoli on Tuesday night, looking to extend their winning streak to 11 games and set a new club record of 13 straight away wins. However, their opponents were also enjoying a surge in form since a 3-0 win over Sunderland at home, followed  by their shock defeat of Manchester United at Old Trafford last weekend. The two teams were full of confidence, both making an amazing turnaround from their disappointing opening of the season.

Arsenal made only two changes from the side which started in their comprehensive victory over Napoli, one of which was a forced one. Carl Jenkinson deputised for Bacary Sagna at  right-back. The French defender picked up a hamstring injury during the Champions League game on Tuesday night, which is expected to keep him on the sidelines for three weeks (hopefully, he will be back as soon as the international break is over, although "three weeks" include the next Premier League game against Norwich). In the midfield which tore apart a Napoli side five days go, Jack Wilshere replaced Tomas Rosicky. Considering the fact that the Czech played 63 minutes after just one day of full training following his return from an injury, the change appeared reasonable. Flamini and Arteta kept their places in the deeper midfield, with Ramsey once again starting on the right wing.

The same formation worked well against Napoli, but West Brom had the better idea about how to keep Ozil quiet. The Midland club crowded the central midfield, leaving virtually no space for the German playmaker nor the two wide players who prefer playing in the middle. In fact, West Brom were well organised defensively, while posing a constant threat going forward. Overall, the Premier League mid-table club mounted a bigger challenge than the 2nd-placed Serie A side.

A 1-1 draw looked a fair result in light of the fact that the both teams had chances to win. We were lucky not to lose as Anelka had two clear-cut chances to double their lead before Jack Wilshere scored the equaliser. On the other hand, we were disappointed we couldn't find a winner in the last 15 minutes when we were mounting pressure, while we also felt that we did well to fend off the counter-attack threat West Brom posed in the same period.

Conceding a first goal was a new experience this season and was a test for the team. They showed character to come from behind to earn a point, but the bench highlighted that Arsenal were still lacking game changers. Asked about being light on the bench after the match, Wenger stressed the quality of the bench, but Monreal and Vermaelen are defensive options when we are wrapping up a win and neither of Bendtner or Gnabry is capable of changing the game. On the other hand, Rosicky actually came off the bench and made an impact as soon as he had come on the pitch, but it was not enough to win the game. Incidentally, Miyaichi was also on the bench, but Wenger didn't mention his name.

There were two talking points in this game: one was the referee's decisions, the other Wilshere's mixed performance. First of all, we think Lee Mason did OK. He may have been a little too lenient on fouls, but he was at least consistent throughout the game. Some say that Koscielny was lucky to stay on the pitch for his push on the back of a West Brom player in the box and we agree. We have seen penalties given on similar occasions. On the other hand, we had a legitimate penalty shout for Billy Jones' foul on Jack Wilshere. (No, not the one against Mulumbu. Replays proved the ref made a correct decision, hence no complaint from us). Although Wilshere shot it high, Jones did not make a contact with the ball, but with the Englishman. That could have been a penalty on another day. As for other fouls outside the box, our players were lucky to get away with some heavy tackles, while West Brom players were let off for so many physical challenges on Wilshere without giving away free-kicks. If they call it "letting the game flow", Lee Mason did a good job as it was a good game between the two good sides. As long as his decisions are consistent, we have no problem with the referee.

The second point is Wilshere's performance. Even before the game was kicked off, all eyes were on the 21-year-old for the wrong reason. He was caught smoking outside a night club by camera. After the match, Wilshere admitted that he made a mistake and had spoken to the boss and they sorted it out. Jack Wilshere's inclusion in the team confirmed that the issue was solved between them. The boss also showed his faith in the England midfielder by sticking to him throughout the game, even when he had had a poor first 45 minutes. He lost 11 duels in the first half. He was even given a yellow card after frustration got the better of him. Wenger's faith seemed to have been repaid when Jack scored. Having said that Wilshere is being played out of position and it doesn't suite his game.

When Rosicky came on for Ramsey in the 58th minute, Wilshere was subsequently moved to the right wing, a switch that seemed to have improved his performance. He clearly struggles every time he plays on the left wing. Wenger hoped that playing in the wide position would get best out of him, making most of his "burst", which is only possible from the deeper midfield or wide positions, not the number 10 role. In our opinion, Jack Wilshere holds on to the ball too long, which invites tackles. If he releases the ball quickly like the passer-type Arsenal players do, he can stay free from those heavy tackles and challenges he often gets.

Hopefully, Cazorla's return should solve these problems. Although he also has inclination to cut inside, Santi is better suited to the left-wing position as he is comfortable with both feet. Santi had the same problem as Ozil had this day, when he played the central midfield role last season. However, moved to the left flank, the Spaniard found more space to operate. In the game like this, it will be very difficult to contain both Santi and Ozil at the same time. The Spanish midfielder's return cannot come soon enough for us.

The hard-fought point sent us back to the top of the league, ahead of Liverpool by the number of goals scored. A few years ago Arsenal would have lost this kind of games immediately following an exhilarating win in the Champions League. Wilshere's comments in the post-match interview suggested that our players had realised that there is no easy game in the Premier League. They know that they cannot simply turn up and win a game. Hopefully, they will retain their focus on the next league game against Norwich at the Emirates and get back to winning ways.

Players rating

Szczesny: 7
Made a brilliant save when Berahino's shot was heavily deflected by Flamini.

Jenkinson: 6
He was always the weak link in the defence West Brom were likely to exploit. Although he coped relatively well, there is a lot room for improvement. That said, Sagna's absence is a good chance for him to gain some much-needed playing time. Hopefully, he will make most of it.

Mertesacker: 7

Not his best performance.

Koscielny: 7

He has to cut out those mindless fouls inside the box.

Gibbs: 7

Did OK. Blasted a shot over the bar on a very good chance. Maybe he should have crossed to Giroud who made a run at the near post.

Flamini: 7
Worked hard as usual. Given a yellow card.

Arteta: 7

Made 73 passes with a 97% passing success rate. Had a shot blocked by Giroud.

Ozil: 7

Quiet game, but he did very well to battle for the ball, keep it in play on the right flank and found Giroud with a superb long ball in the build-up to Wilshere's goal.

Ramsey: 6

Unlucky not to score. His goal-bound low shot from outside the box drew a fine reflex save from Myhill.  

Wilshere: 7
Mixed performance. Scored his first league goal in nearly three years. He had three more brilliant chances to score, which he failed to convert. 

Giroud: 7
Worked hard for the team. In the build-up to the goal, he held the ball well until other players arrived. Had a great chance to score late, but couldn't beat the keeper. Probably he made a wrong decision, should have taken a shot immediately.


Rosicky: 7
58th-minute substitute for Ramsey. Made an immediate impact and provided an assist for Wilshere's goal.

Bendtner: 5
Replaced Giroud in the 85th minute. Only had 3 touches.

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