After last weekend’s defeat to West Ham, I was hoping for a much improved performance against Arsenal. You never really know what you’re going to get with Arsene Wenger’s side. Some games they can be a delight to watch, others you wonder how they manage to finish inside the top-four each season.
Steve Clarke decided to make two changes to the side which were overwhelmed at West Ham. The creative James Morrison was recalled alongside Jerome Thomas. Unfortunately, one of most influential players – Youssouf Mulumbu, started the first of his three match ban. Mulumbu’s ban saw captain Chris Brunt drop to a deeper midfield position with Morrison supporting Shane Long. Surprisingly, leading scorer Romelu Lukaku had to settle for a place on the bench.
Despite Arsenal quickly settling into their passing game it was Albion who came closest to opening the scoring. Claudio Yacob flicked Chris Brunt’s corner goalwards. Tomas Rosicky cleared the ball off the line in his first significant contribution to the game. Yacob came close again from the resulting corner when his lobbed effort had the Birmingham Road End into thinking he’d scored – unfortunately it went inches over.
Arsenal hit back and scored when Gervinho’s cross/shot has headed home by Rosicky in the 20th minute. The goal came against the run of play and the move started when Albion were on the attack. A long ball forward caught Albion out at the back. McAuley moved out of position to close the unmarked Gervinho. The winger twisted and turned before firing goalwards. Rosicky was in the right place to nod home. I think had Albion’s back four been in position, McAuley would’ve been cleared the ball which found the goalscorer.
It took Albion time to regain their footing in the game. We should’ve been awarded a penalty in the 35th minute when referee Howard Webb missed a clumsy challenge by Laurent Koscielny on Claudio Yacob.
The delightful Arsenal football too infrequently play these days almost resulted in a second goal before half time. Excellent interplay on the edge of Albion’s area saw Cazorla find Giroud, who backheeled for the onrushing Ramsey. Fortunately for Albion, his toe-poked effort went wide when it looked easier to score.
There wasn’t too much between the sides in the first half – although Albion did seem a little ‘flat’ in the first half. The recalled Jerome Thomas had little impact on the left and Arsenal realised quickly how easily the winger gave the ball away under pressure. But he wasn’t the only one who struggled. Morrison, Long and Olsson also looked off the pace.
After the break
The Gunners almost took the lead in the first few minutes after the break when Ben Foster did well to block Sagna’s close range effort. They did double the advantage minutes later. Albion again gave the ball away cheaply in midfield – this time Chris Brunt mis-kicking. Arsenal countered quickly at speed and Rosicky hit rasping volley at Foster. The stopper did well to block the first effort but he had no chance with the rebound as the ball was volleyed past him by the Czech midfielder.
It looked at this stage as if it was game over. Heads dropped and there didn’t seem a way back into the game. Clarke decided to call on reinforcements. The energetic Dorrans and the lethargic Thomas made way. On came Rosenberg and Lukaku as Clarke adopted a 4-3-3 formation.
The move worked and Albion pulled a goal back minute later. Morrison found with Long with an excellent through ball. The Ireland international controlled on his chest but was upended by Mertesacker. It was no surprised Webb showed him a red card. Morrison stepped up and powered the ball under Fabianski.
With Arsenal down to ten men Albion took control. Lukaku headed over from Ridgewell’s cross as Albion started to apply pressure. McAuley should’ve equalised with ten minutes to play when he met Brunt’s corner at the back post but could only head wide.
Four minutes later Albion went closer. Billy Jones’ cross wasn’t cleared and the ball fell to Lukaku. His right foot shot arrowed towards the corner but the ball went agonisingly wide. Then, with a minute remaining, Long found himself through on goal but he blasted his shot high into the Birmingham Road End when it seemed easily to hit the target.
Although Arsenal aren’t the force they once were, they still have international players in each position. The same can’t be said of Albion – although we still matched the Gunners for long periods. Arsenal’s goals came against the run of play when the Baggies were pressing forward. The goals we conceded were frustrating and it highlighted a lack of defensive concentration. However, frustratingly, if we’d have taken our chances in the second half we’d be celebrating a draw or even a win.
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Source: WBA MAD