Today is a bit of a combo post with the post match being covered by @positivegunner with an additional tactical view from our friends over at “OOOh! To Be A Gooner!!” …(all gifs used are via @arsenalist)
I am very rarely nervous about an Arsenal match and yesterday was no exception at least for the first 70 minutes. I think the last time I’ve been truly nervous was Udinese away due to the importance of the game and the following game at Old Trafford due to how many players we had missing due to injury or suspension or both (and we all know how both went). I genuinely think the current Arsenal squad has the quality to beat anyone in the league on their day and yesterday was no exception. Until the 70th minute we were easily the better team and barring an outstanding tackle to deny Ramsey (After he took just a split second too long on his shot) and a few good saves and blocks from the West Brom goalkeeper and defense, the game looked won.
We showed a range of qualities all over the pitch with a confident Gervinho getting after their defense time and time again to the magnificent Rosicky and Cazorla driving us forward while we look assured at the back with Monreal looking like a player who has been around in this team and this league for many years. All this despite not playing to our fluent best with occasional disjointedness showing. We were in total control of the game with a quality brace from Rosicky, after some fine work from Arteta, Gervinho and Ramsey on his two goals. There was even a moment of magnificent defensive intelligence from Mertesacker where for the first ever time, I’ve seen a defender intentionally use his back to break up an attack while having the presence of mind to avoid a handball and get the ball away from danger.
All this changed in the 70th minute however with a great pass over the top putting Mertesacker in an unenviable situation where any decision he took had a huge chance of failing. He could have either backed off the player, thus giving him a clean path to goal in the hope that the keeper would handle it, or he could attempt a last-ditch saving tackle, and ward off the danger instantly while risking a potential sending off if he were to fail. He chose the latter option, and one that he can’t be blamed for. In the end, it was a matter of a few centimeters that was the difference between a goal saving tackle that we would have been lauding (like Gibbs in the same fixture at the tail end of last season) and a sending off that put us under pressure. Word on twitter was that this was his first ever straight red in his professional career which is a remarkable statistic that basically tells me that such an incident is more often than not a successful tackle for him, but it just wasn’t to be on this day.
The sending off of our best defender this season and the penalty conceded for the first time in a while made me nervous and I doubt I was alone at that. We had our captain who could be brought on but a man down against a team that was growing in confidence while chasing just a goal difference was a dangerous situation to be in for the last 20 minutes plus added time. West Brom attacked with purpose and used the young and fairly impressive Lukaku to great effect to trouble our defense (although his glaring miss was costly). Those 20 minutes and a further 5 minutes of added time did feel like forever, with hearts pounding and nails getting bitten to the point where there was nothing left but we saw it through.
An easy win had turned into a game that required tremendous mental strength, resilience, fight and bravery and these were the characteristics that the team showed in abundance. They say it is a mark of champions to pull out a gritty victory like that and that is precisely what we did, a true testament to the team’s spirit and something that further underlines the promise I see in this team in the longer run and for future seasons to come. The closest West Brom really got in the end was a Lukaku chance that he blazed wide as the defense held strong with impressive defensive performances from Koscielny, Arteta and Monreal after the sending off and great stability from Fabianski who in the past had built up a reputation of lacking that kind of mental fortitude in a pressure situation.
In the end a combination of attacking drive for the first 70 minutes and defensive resilience in the last 25 showed our spirit and we came out with an invaluable 3 points that for the time being puts us 4th and within touching distance of Spurs who are now under tremendous pressure. There were good performances and positives that could be taken all around from the game including one from OptaJoe that revealed that we’ve not lost a game that we’ve taken a lead in all season. and the impending return of Wilshere and Walcott to the squad as confirmed by Arsene in the post match means we look even more potent for the last few games. And speaking of Arsene I must mention how good it was to hear the fans chanting out his name as vociferously as he did, and this tweet is a fitting answer to those in opposition to that moment.
Looking ahead, we have a flurry of fixtures a week from now with Norwich, Everton and Fulham coming up ahead of the return of Judas and results in those three games could see us comfortably third with both Spurs and Chelsea having to face City during that time and eventually having to play each other as well. It is also especially promising that this good run of form has come without needing the contribution from quality players like Vermaelen, Wilshere, Walcott, Podolski and Szczesny and to me this indicates that the team has had better quality in depth than most have given it credit for, and much maligned players like Ramsey and Gervinho have just needed confidence to show their real ability.
Now for some tactical talking points by Abhishek Ghising (@A_Ghising) in Tactically Yours :-
0-70 mins: Both teams lined up with similar 4-2-3-1 formations. Arsenal started brightly and passed the ball around the pitch, picking up from where they left off in the previous match. A standout feature of the performance in this time were the runs made by the attacking midfielders in and around the opposition box which made it difficult for the opposition to track their runs and created plenty of space to exploit. Giroud played as the target man and used his strength well to hold the ball up while making clever movements in and around the opponent’s box, and the Baggies’ central defenders, especially Olsson, were having a tough time containing the Frenchman. The Gunners looked dangerous on the counter too mainly because they kept a good shape even when not in possession.
It was also heartening to see Tomas Rosicky’s willingness to pull the trigger, albeit unsuccessfully, early in the half. It was a combination of these factors which led to the first Arsenal goal. Arteta played a beautiful lofted ball from near the half way line, which found the in-form Gervinho. The Ivorian twisted and turned Gareth McAuley one way and then the other and then back, before unleashing a shot cum cross into the 6-yard box which found the head of the Little Mozart Tomas Rosicky. The excellent run of the midfielder was interesting because he went around the last defender to get in front, instead of running straight to meet the cross. Giroud also played his part in creating the space by taking a defender with him to the far post.
One noticeable difference from the previous game was that the left flank was a lot more active, offensively, in this game. Nacho Monreal, the Arsenal left fullback had an excellent game and pushed the West Brom midfielder back at every given opportunity which blunted the Baggies’ right flank. Sagna was in more of a generous mood and the Baggies looked to attack more from that side through ex-Gunner youngster Jerome Thomas but didn’t have the quality to make it count in the final third. However this meant that Arsenal could counter from that flank and one such break led to Ramsey finding space and he fed the surging Rosicky who duly doubled Arsenal’s lead.
Even though Shane Long tried to press the Arsenal defenders and tried to make space by dragging them out of position, Koscielny was up to the task and easily mopped up the loose balls. The four Arsenal defenders played a high line which caused the West Brom attackers to stray offside pretty often. It was clear that the back 4 moved as a unit and were sure of each other. West Brom tried to change things by bringing in Romelu Lukaku and Rosenberg for Dorrans and Jerome Thomas and playing with 3 men up front. This improved the attacking effectiveness of the Baggies.
70 min-end: One lapse of concentration found Long in space between Sagna and Per, and the German’s tackle got the man instead of the ball resulting in a penalty and sending off. After conceding from the penalty and going a man down, Arsenal changed their shape to a 4-4-1, with Giroud playing up front. Defensive reinforcements were brought in as Arsene Wenger took off Gervinho, Rosicky and Cazorla, bringing in Vermaelen, Gibbs and Coquelin respectively. Arsenal then squeezed the game by narrowing the width and playing more compactly, thus forcing the Baggies to play from the flanks. Monreal was particularly effective in shutting out most of the attacks from his side, and hence West Brom had to attack from the opposite flank more. The Gunners showed tremendous defensive discipline to blunt the West Brom attacks and except for a moment or two of the ball landing in dangerous areas and a missed chance for Lukaku, they were able to see out the game without any major threats. This shows a renewed adherence to compact football when defending as a team, the likes of which, was seen in the first few games of the season.
Other than Per’s glaring error, the rest of the players had a very good game and they stuck to basic football without trying anything fancy, which made it easier to close out the game after the sending off incident. Although Rosicky was the standout player after bagging a brace, I would put Koscielny’s name alongside his, for the Man of the Match. Koscielny bossed the Baggies attackers and was instrumental in keeping the Arsenal goal safe and allowing the attacking players to stamp their authority on the game. It must also be mentioned that Ramsey is truly blossoming into a complete midfielder and he showed both the offensive and defensive sides of his game to good effect. Arteta marshaled his troops admirably and nullified the Baggies midfield with his positioning and tackles, especially in the final 10-15 minutes of the game.
The Gunners would do well to build on this win by sticking to playing a compact game of high intensity. Since Per will be missing the next game, it us up to the captain to return and iron out any defensive frailties that creeps in. Attack wise, Arsenal look good and just need to be more clinical in front of goal.