Let me get this out of the way first: Arsenal deserved to win the game. Not so much because of the total domination in numbers: 76% possession, 26 shots, 11 on target. The Gunners deserved the three points as such domination was a result of their proactive approach and, let’s be honest, West Brom’s total lack of desire to do anything up front.
Frankly, I don’t have time for teams which adopt such a negative approach. It was clear to everyone from the first minute what Pulis’ men intended to do: sit back behind the ball and hang onto dear lives, in the hope of riding the storm and getting a point. Something they came close to accomplishing, but in the end justice was served and that’s the way it should be.
Let’s analyse and over-analyse this game.
A kick in the nuts
I wasn’t overly impressed with Arsenal’s first half. The Gunners didn’t find a way to break West Brom’s defense down. Shots is the best metric here, because despite total domination in possession, of Arsene Wenger’s side 10 shots only one was on target, and only five were taken from inside the box, four of which were blocked. That’s pretty dire.
However the side came flying out of the blocks in the second half, presumably because Arsene worked his half-time magic and fired up the team (where was that magic in our back-to-back defeats, though?) In the first 15 minutes of the second half, the Gunners took eight shots, put six on target and probably came closest to scoring with one of the two shots off target – when Alexis hit the post.
A quieter period followed, with the Gunners needing the twice the time in the remainder of the half to take just as many shots – eight – putting fewer on target – five – but one of these was that Giroud header in the 87th minute. Which proved to be enough in the end.
The impact of Olivier Giroud
It is a mind-boggling stat to process, but Olivier Giroud started his first league game in 16/17 yesterday. We played 18 games, it was the Frenchman’s 11th appearance overall, but only his first start. A decision to play him from the off paid off handsomely for Arsenal, though I suspect Arsene was rather tempted to twist rather than stick at half-time. Seeing as Sanchez still looked our most dangerous player despite being moved out wide to accommodate Giroud. Giroud who, unlike the Chilean, gobbles up the space up front, because he doesn’t work the channels.
However Arsene persevered, and I could see why. It’s not just about the goal, though you can’t deny Giroud has scored some very important goals for us this season (almost exclusively either winners or equalisers). Wenger knew West Brom would sit back, while would mean little space for Sanchez to operate in. Giroud looked the better suited candidate for this particular game, something he demonstrated very nicely indeed.
The Frenchman made a strong case to start another game of this ilk coming up next – Palace at home. It would come as no surprise to me if Ollie starts on New Year’s day.
Mesut Ozil comes up with a response
Before the game Arsene was once again forced to defend his German maestro. Not unreasonably too: Ozil did indeed had quite horrible two games. You can say he is only good when the team is good, however the criticism mostly had to do with Ozil’s meagre contribution off the ball.
The West Brom game obviously don’t give us the answer whether Ozil improved his defensive workrate, but what it does is highlight Mesut’s marked improvement in the final ⅓. He created an overall 7 chances (all from open play), compared to just two in the last two games, finished second behind Xhaka for passes both attempted and completed – a number over 100 – and provided a delicious chip for Giroud’s eventual winner.
A much better game from the German all in all. Now let’s hope he’ll also get stuck in defensively more the next time we need him to.
What is happening with Lucas Perez?
It’s a bit of an odd one. The Spaniard impresses every time he plays, yet he continues to play quite rarely. I’m not sure, but I think today was his first appearance since scoring 3 vs Basel. We’ve thrashed Basel three weeks ago and yesterday was our fourth game since then.
I do not exclude the possibility of Lucas still adapting to the Premier League. Conte was completely unfazed when asked about why that Belgian bloke with a torrid surname doesn’t play a lot. The Italian just said his forward is still getting used to the pace and the physicality of a new league.
So maybe I’m seeing stuff where there’s not much to see. Hope it’s the case, because it surely looked an odd choice to bench Lucas with Welbeck, Oxlade and Walcott all out.
Stick it up your hoop, Pulis and Co
The win was all the more satisfying because it also punished a despicable approach adopted by Tony Pulis, one based on time wasting and just straight out defending the entire game. I realise managers do what they can with what they have, but West Brom weren’t even interested in counter-attacking, something most teams do when they come to the Emirates.
The player antics it boiled down to made my hair stand on end. Foster took, like, 40 seconds for every goal-kick and random players went down for no other reason than to waste time. Not one was actually subbed off because of injury.
And after they conceded, Foster suddenly found it in himself to take quick goal-kicks and Dawson and Co suddenly stopped getting cramps and pulling muscles. The cherry on top was Cech taking 30 seconds for a goal-kick with 45 seconds to go.
The last word
We stay in fourth despite winning the game, but on the bright side, there is still only a two-point gap to City and we are, at least temporarily, level with Liverpool, who host Stoke today.
But the win was more important for our confidence. We needed a win after two abject performances and resultant losses and we got one. Yes, it was tougher than we would have liked, but a win is a win.
I’ll leave it here for now. See you in the New Year.
Have a nice week.