This game can be summed up with a phrase “it was one of those games”. Everything went against us. We’ve made some uncharacteristic individual errors, were not helped in the slightest by Clattenburg and, basically, looked doomed to lose the game especially after missing the penalty.
I’m not inclined to blame the manager for this loss. Arsene selected the strongest side possible. Even his decision to drop Campbell proved, in hindsight, the correct decision. Could he have kept Alexis on the left and played Bellerin as a winger? Would it have yielded better results? I don’t know, but it looks a very fine margin from starting Gibbs as a winger. There’s no guarantee Bellerin would have fared better or that, indeed, Debuchy would have coped.
I’m not inclined to blame the players either. Who do I blame who really deserves it? Arteta? But he doesn’t. He got the ball in the build-up for West Brom’s equaliser, only for Clattenburg to give the free-kick anyway. As for the 2nd, Mikel found himself between a rock and a hard place; his own goal looked more of a deflection and it appeared almost innocent compared to what Mangala did later in the evening.
Or maybe Bellerin? Granted, the Spaniard didn’t look his usual self and was at least guilty of letting McLean sprint past him for the 2nd, maybe even for losing Morrison for the 1st. However, this is what @7amkickoff said about Morrison’s finish and I agree with him:
“This match against West Brom had a huge element of bad luck for Arsenal. The goal they conceded was a strike that Eduardo, one of the most technically gifted players I’ve ever seen play for Arsenal, made once in his career. My honest opinion is that Morrison was just trying to get a boot on the ball. There is no way that he tried to samba that ball in off the volley using the side of his right foot.”
However, there are still bits I’d like to discuss in greater detail. Let’s start with the positive one(s).
Our Duracell bunny had his best performance in a while. He pulled off one of the only three shots on target, created three chances for his teammates, completed 11 dribbles out of 16 attempted and got us a penalty.
In short, he put in a performance highly reminiscent of Sanchez we all know and love and lacked only a goal to his name (preferably, the winner) for his comeback to look complete. However, he still got his MoM award.
I have no idea how Alexis pulled off such a performance under the circumstances. The circumstances being his (supposedly extreme) levels of exhaustion. He plays and plays and plays. Amazing from the Chilean, hope he has enough energy left in his tank for the Zagreb game. Then Oxlade should return for Norwich, so Alexis will finally be able to get some rest. Not sure he’’l want to, though.
Tony Pulis and his orcs
Orcs aren’t tied to location, it’s the way of life. Wherever Tony Pulis goes, orcs appear out of nothing and follow his lead.
It seems Pulis once again deployed his dirty tactics of time-wasting and hacking our players down at every opportunity, but it wasn’t the most disgusting thing about the whole situation. The most despicable thing was…
If you asked me before the game to rate the referees in order of competence, I’d probably have put Clattenburg into 2nd, behind Michael Oliver. After the game he slid down to somewhere in-between Anthony Taylor and Mike Dean.
Frankly, he had a nightmarish performance, however what boiled my piss the most about his incompetence was that the ref seemingly gave in to the fans, the players, Pulis and the whole disgusting atmosphere. Like Mike Dean vs Chelsea, he was too busy avoiding the wrath of the home fans to be able to control the game and make correct calls.
He didn’t punish Yacob for his foul on Coquelin, the one which will see the Frenchman sidelined for two months, he didn’t book whoever slid in-behind and almost killed Monreal seconds later, he allowed Ollson to manhandle Giroud in the box… I could go on, but I’m sure you don’t need me to.
Coquelin and Arteta
It’s the thing I hate most about our defeat. Not so much the defeat itself, these are unavoidable, but injuries to further two players, one of whom was absolutely vital for us since starting the game on the 28th of December against West Ham.
Unfortunately, Francis Coquelin has suffered a knee injury, the full extent of the damage we don’t know yet, but he’ll be out for at least two months. Arteta’s injury was labelled “short-term”, but this makes the situation only marginally better.
Wenger now has to come up with a solution at DM, one which will allow us to get through the month of December as unscathed as possible, before snatching a new holding mid on the 1st of January. Fingers crossed he will find one.
Coq’s injury also potentially leaves us with another midfield dilemma: can Cazorla maintain his level alongside Flamini, Ramsey or even Chambers? I’m not sure he can, so I’m awfully relieved we got Ramsey back. Just in case Cazorla’s contribution will plummet with his trusty Coq by his side.
The inability to create/take our chances
We looked absolutely listless in the first half, devoid of ideas. It was a miracle we went ahead (cheers for the 7th consecutive assist, Mesut), largely because we seemed off the pace big time. We seemed capable of only conjuring something up from set-pieces, so it was no surprise 2 of our 3 shots on target came from free-kicks.
We got better in the second half, but that was where our inability to finish kicked in. Alexis failed to pounce on a good cross, Campbell spurned a glorious opportunity to make it 2-2 and Cazorla put the icing on this horror show’s cake by putting a penalty horribly over. He slipped on the spot and, while I suspect some West Brom player tampered with it right before the kick was taken, that just cast the result in stone and summed up our day. It wasn’t meant to be.
Such things happen in football. In fact, they happen all the time. The underdogs beat the overwhelming favourites. Big teams will put it weak performances, they will get punished for it and it’s naive to think it only happens to us. It’s football, it’s unpredictable, this unpredictability is one of the reasons we love the game.
And look, we could have been much worse off. We didn’t lose 4-1 at home (hats off to Liverpool. A masterclass of a performance), we don’t sit in 14th after barely scraping past Norwich.
In fact, we are just 2 points off league leaders Leicester. Both Leicester and United have tougher runs than we do. Nothing was lost in terms of the title race on Saturday. Now we just need to make sure it stays that way in the coming weeks.