Matt’s Match Review
by Matt Littlechild
Arsenal’s superb run of consecutive away wins ended
yesterday with a 1-1 draw at The Hawthorns against West Bromwich Albion, yet it
was enough for the Gunners to return to the top of the Premier League ahead of
the upcoming International break.
Arsene Wenger made two changes to the side that beat
Napoli last week, with Carl Jenkinson coming in for the injured Bacary Sagna at
right back and Jack Wilshere came back into the side in place of Tomas Rosicky,
who dropped to the bench.
We enjoyed plenty of possession in the first half as
West Brom set themselves up to defend deep and allowed us to dictate the flow
of the game, yet worked hard to close us down and frustrate us in the final
third. Our early chances were mainly from distance, as Mikel Arteta’s shot
deflected wide off Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey blasted a free kick over the
bar from 30 yards.
Wojciech Szczesny was the first ‘keeper to be called
into serious action on the 15 minute mark as he did superbly well to keep out a
shot from Berahino that deflected awkwardly off Mathieu Flamini. More chances
came for us though, firstly for Kieran Gibbs who was picked out inside the area
by Mesut Ozil, but the left back fired over despite a good first touch. Then
Wilshere struck wide from 20 yards after some tight passing between himself,
Ozil, Arteta and Giroud.
The home side ended the half stronger and took the
lead in the 43rd minute through Claudio Yacob, who headed home
Morgan Amalfitano’s cross after finding himself unmarked at the near post
following a corner, enough to ensure the Baggies went into half time with their
noses in front.
After the break there were chances for both sides as
the intensity picked up, firstly for West Brom who should’ve gone 2-0 up but
Nicolas Anelka couldn’t connect with a Berahino cross after a quick counter
attack. Arsenal then went straight up the other end and Giroud played through
Wilshere, whose touch took the ball away from the goal and he fired over the
bar from a good position.
Anelka wasted another chance to double West Brom’s
advantage as he was played in down the left, cut inside and should’ve buried it
into the far corner but missed it just wide as Arsenal escaped again. Wenger
then made a change as Rosicky came on for Ramsey, who picked up a slight knock
in the first half, and it wasn’t long after this that we were level.
It started with a brilliant bit of defensive work by
Ozil to win the ball in our half, then the German drove us forward and found
Giroud out on the right flank. Giroud held up the play and squared it for
Rosicky, who laid it up for Wilshere just outside of the West Brom penalty area
and the young Englishman’s low first time strike deflected in off a defender. A
touch fortunate, but a fantastic strike nonetheless.
The final 20 minutes saw chances for both sides as
both pushed hard in search of a winning goal. Billy Jones’ long-range effort was
pushed away by Szczesny, and Amaditano was picked out well inside the Arsenal
area, but Gibbs deflected his shot wide.
Arsenal’s best chance to win the game fell to Giroud
who, following a delicious through ball by Wilshere, tried to round Boaz Myhill
in goal but the keeper was equal to it and kept Giroud out as he attempted to
finish. We then had a penalty appeal turned down after Wilshere was taken out
from behind inside the area and although the ball was won in the process, the
West Brom player went straight through Wilshere and penalties have definitely
been given for less in the past.
In one final attempt to win the game Wenger threw on Nicklas
Bendtner for Giroud, but a late Flamini shot straight at Myhill turned out to
be the final chance of the game, and 1-1 it finished in a pretty even encounter.
Given the rampant way we’ve played since the opening
day of the season, dropping points was always going to be disappointing, albeit
inevitable. That’s a testament to the very high standard the team have set on
themselves. And in all honesty yesterday was a game that could very easily have
gone either way in a second half that saw chances fall to both sides.
I’m frustrated we didn’t get the win because of the
chances we missed, but equally it’d be tough to say that the draw wasn’t a fair
result. West Brom are a side on the up; Steve Clarke has them playing good
football and they’re well organised too, so in the grand scheme of things maybe
a point at The Hawthorns wasn’t a bad result at all.
As with Swansea last week, it was a tale of two
halves for Jack Wilshere. Once again he was sloppy in the opening exchange.
Often caught out in possession and looked a bit lost at times as he was
deployed wide on the left rather than in his more comfortable position in the
middle of the park. The booking he picked up at the end of the half was as sure
a sign of his frustration as you could get.
I’m not going to get into the selection debate, but
we know historically how Arsene Wengers often plays young central midfielders
out wide, most recently with Ramsey. Wilshere also has experience in the wide
position having played there at youth level and also on his loan at Bolton. But
he didn’t look massively happy out there in the first half, but he was a
completely different player after the break.
One thing to say on Jack is that his energy is
constant. Whether he’s being beaten off the ball or playing delightful through
balls like he did for the late Giroud chance, he never goes hiding and never
gives up. He deserves credit for that. He’s also still recovering from his near
career ending injury, as we all know. The more he plays and the fitter he gets,
the better and more consistent he’ll be. And goal-scoring moments like
yesterday will be no harm for his confidence either. I’ve got no problem in
waiting for Jack to get back to his best, as we know how good he can be.
Yesterday also showed how raw Carl Jenkinson still is
too. I think universally all Gooners love Jenkinson given his own love and
passion towards the Club. But he was caught out of position and made a fair few
suspect clearance attempts that got us in trouble at times. I like him as a
player, I think he has real potential to be a long-term success at the Club in
the future, but for now Sagna is the clear number one right back and I really
hope he gets the new contract that he very much deserves.
Now we have another International break before we
host Norwich City on the 19th October. Interlull’s are always
inconvenient, no matter when they occur, and ideally Wenger would’ve been able
to keep our squad together and work with them so we can bounce back to winning
ways as soon as possible.
Hopefully the players that go away with their
respective countries come back unharmed and also that the likes of Santi
Cazorla and Theo Walcott progress well with their recoveries, as well as those
with longer term injuries, and that we have a fuller squad to select from after
Have a good couple of weeks.