Nicklas Bendtner ends Arsenal drought

03 March 2009 09:52
Tony Mowbray, the West Bromwich Albion manager, likes to read Sun Tzu, but the most basic principle of the fourth century BC Chinese military strategist is one Mowbray is powerless to practice: the art of picking your fights, engaging the enemy only when the conditions suit.

Seeing as his side sit bottom of the Premier League, in desperate need of a point from somewhere, anywhere, an embattled Arsenal must have been up there on the list of those Mowbray would least liked to have faced.

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By contrast, the timing could not have been better for Arsenal. For a side that needed goals to banish suspicions of a psychological meltdown, Arsene Wenger, their manager, could not have hoped for much better than an encounter with West Brom, whose defence had not kept a clean sheet in seven games leading up to this match.

Sure enough, a brace from Nicklas Bendtner and one from Kolo Toure steadied the Arsenal ship, bringing them, for now, within three points of Aston Villa and fourth place.

'I still believe that if we had taken our chances in the draws we had, we would be in the title race,' Wenger said. 'But now we want to focus on reducing the gap with Aston Villa.'

It only took four minutes for Arsenal to make their mark, with a demonstration of the sort of direct, no-nonsense attack West Brom need to adopt if they are to remain in this league. Denilson found Bendtner on the right, and the Dane was allowed to cut back inside, placing his shot low into the far corner. Considering his shot dissected most of the home defence, someone should have intercepted it.

'How can you win football matches if you defend like that?' Mowbray asked. 'You can't. The defenders at this club are not stepping up to the job. We shoot ourselves in the foot by sucking the energy out of the stadium by conceding those types of goals.'

He had said at the weekend that he will never produce 'a scrapping, spitting, fighting football team', but those were just the characteristics required having gone a goal down. Flair and finesse only go so far. How about some grit and gumption, some fire in their bellies? It is what the Hawthorns wanted, and with Albion players throwing themselves into fifty-fifty balls, it is what they got.

Unprepared for the sudden onslaught, a flustered Johan Djourou brought down Luke Moore, acquiring possession of the ball only as an afterthought.

Chris Brunt, the Albion midfielder, has a sweet left foot, and his low free-kick found its way between Alex Song and Emmanuel Eboue into the bottom right corner. Manuel Almunia fumed. His wall should have afforded better protection than that.

Suddenly, the Hawthorns was pulsating. The Arsenal support, who had started the match full of pluck, were now standing silent, like row upon row of naughty schoolboys, watching as Moore again got the better of Djourou, forcing Almunia to save at his near post. But the fightback didn't last long.

Andrei Arshavin gave Arsenal fans a glimpse of his ability in the 38th minute with a free-kick swung in to the danger area for Kolo Toure who, having easily evaded Gianni Zuiverloon, had time and space to send his header past Scott Carson. With that sort of defending, it was little wonder the goalkeeper stood with his hands on his hips, shaking his head.

It wasn't long before he was pulling a similar pose, picking the ball out of his net once again. Toure, showing his opposition that football doesn't always need to be fancy to be fruitful, lashed a long pass upfield to Bendtner, who brought the ball down on his knee before volleying beyond Carson, earning high praise from his manager in the process.

'He has shown tonight that he has the skill to be an Arsenal player,' Wenger said.

Albion needed to hit back on the break, but it wasn't long before Bendtner, then Arshavin, were weaving their way into the box.

The Russian had a go, but Carson was equal to the challenge. Sixty seconds later Arshavin was back. Again, Carson got an instinctive hand to the shot.

Albion tried to conjure an opportunity on the counter, but a one goal deficit would have been a tough ask. As for two, they never had a chance.


Source: Telegraph