Arsenal 2-0 West Bromwich Albion: Winners & Losers

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Enjoyed that. Which almost seems a strange thing to type after so much self-harm on here since the Spurs win. But even when the game was goalless, I was having a good time. The guy to my left, who first went to Highbury when he was six and has followed us all over Europe, told me he secretly likes it when times are tough. Partly because every win feels like a bonus, rather than something to be expected, but also because it brings out the gallows humour in the stands. 

So, when Arteta clipped in the first of his pair of penalties, we all began singing ‘we’re gonna win the league’, and when Gervinho missed what felt like the latest in a multi-part compilation of ridiculous misses, we only sang his daft song louder. ‘Gervinhooooooo, he’s got a massive head y’knooooooow, give him the ball he’ll score a goooooooaaal’ He most likely won’t, that much is obvious, but it’s also what makes his song increasingly funny to sing.

Which isn’t to say the mood in the stands is suddenly some sort of sweary Disney musical. The same doubts remain, but at least with the players offering more on the pitch – misplacing slightly less passes, creating significantly more chances – the fans had something to respond to. The reward: three points, the bleeding stopped, and some momentum going into our season-defining game with Bradford. (I’m only half joking.)

Fun, then. As the Sun went down behind the Clock stand just after kickoff, I reflected on how much I’ll miss coming if, as seems likely, I have to give the ticket up next season. (I’m probably moving even farther into the depths of Cider Country, and travel will be a problem.) Whatever state the team is in, it’ll be a wrench not to see them play regularly. That worry can wait though, there’s still plenty of football to be played this season.

Here’s some quick winners and losers for you. I’ve avoided doing this format for a while, for obvious reasons…

WINNERS

  • Jack Wilshere – Insert whatever superlative you want, it won’t be wrong. On our podcast Elliot from YankeeGunner habitually gushes about Wilshere, insisting that he’s the most talented player at Arsenal – which he maintained even while Van Persie was still here. After a display like today, it’s hard to argue otherwise. From the signature way he takes the ball on the half-turn, to the times you think he’s lost the ball but somehow emerges with it, Jack is very much back. Even without the ball he was dynamic, harassing the WBA players and winning posession in crucial positions a couple of times. It’s hard to overstate what effect that effort has on his colleagues – but we looked a different side with him buzzing around. Super Jacky Wilshere. It strikes me that the ‘Super’ epithet has been abused at Arsenal. Rosicky was occasionally super, Bendter almost never super, but Jack is the real deal. And that’s super for us.
  • The Defence – Barely threatened by a WBA team that in theory works hard, looks to transition from back to front quickly, and ought to have caused more problems than they did. Szczęsny made one decent stop in the second half, and there was a murmur of threat from set pieces – but little more. Which makes me wonder if although we sometimes make the mistake of taking ‘lesser’ teams too lightly, perhaps there’s also a case for overstating the threat of some teams (see also Stoke), who if really attacked are likely to crumble. In any case the whole team kept the ball better today, pinned WBA back, and as a result were under much less pressure. Some credit also for the skipper, who seems to be playing himself back into form.
  • Arteta – Two cooly clipped penalties down the middle from the spaniard whose haircut is as implacable as Sauron’s eye. He might even have completed an unlikely hat-trick, but saw his free kick curl over. Quite what Giroud was doing having a strop about not taking the second penalty is anyone’s guess. If the team’s winning 3-0, feel free to try getting yourself on the scoresheet. But with it still poised at 1-0, stick to the plan. After all, sticking to the plan was reason he didn’t take the late one against Fulham, non?

LOSERS

  • Cazorla – Yes, it was a dive. No, it’s not the end of the world, but nor should we embarrass ourselves defending it. What contact there was oughtn’t have been enough to dump Santi on the deck, but at full speed (from the other end of the ground) I thought it was a penalty too, so for that decision you can cut the ref some slack. I’m more inclined to sympathise with Steve Clarke over the second one. Popov went down easily, sure, but there’s little doubt he was shoved by the Ox, who’d just lost the ball himself, so to see Ox go on to win another pen must have stung. Again I don’t think it was the result of any sort of homer bias – just a terrible refereeing performance from Jones, who seemed to be giving every decision based on some sort of internal coin toss. And let’s face it, we’ve come out on the wrong end of plenty of those at the Emirates, so you won’t find much sympathy here. Either embrace technology or accept the wildly varying fallibility of human beings trying to watch half a dozen things happening at once. As for Santi, let’s hope it’s an aberration  After all we’ve already seen him play on having been actually fouled dozens of times this season, memorably setting up one goal after getting scythed down. It’s not like anyone could stay mad at him anyway.
  • Giroud – Hissy fit aside, OG is probably starting to feel a little concerned that he hasn’t had one shot on target in the last 330  of League play. Let’s hope the yips don’t set in again. It looked to me like he picked up a strain early on, and then tried to play through it. Presumably because, assuming you accept Podolski through the middle doesn’t work, we don’t have another viable centre forward at the club. That lack of cover is how injuries get exacerbated, and I also raised an eyebrow at Arsene saying after the match  that: “Sagna played today with a very bad ankle. He is such a tough boy that he said he could play.” That might well be what Sagna said, but is it wise to rely on him when you’ve got a fit Jenkinson sat there? The shooting issue isn’t restricted to Giroud, either. According to Opta’s David Wall, the whole team only had one shot on target from open play. And that was Gervinho’s daisy cutter. Still, between the chance Poldi skied late on, and another couple Gervinho screwed wide from good positions, at least we got into shooting positions, which is more than can be said for the Swansea game. Perhaps there’s still an element of the players behind Olivier needing to learn the kind of runs he makes, and the balls he likes to receive. (Steady ladies, etc.) I did enjoy him coming wide with Jonas Olsson though – the handsome gallic equivalent of 'come at me, bro'
  • Gervinho – I’m tempted to put the Match Of The Day video editors here actually, because based on their cut it looked like Gervinho did okay – in a bustling, unlucky to score sort of way. I don’t think that captures just how startling his performance was. Not the good startling, either. After one attacking header I was genuinely puzzled. “He’s cleared that, hasn’t he?” I asked the guy to my right. And sure enough he had. It may even have gone for a throw-in. Another chance saw him control the ball on the edge of the six-yard box, as much to his surprise as mine, but then spurt the ball sadly wide. Less surprising. Yes, he was sort of busy, but c’mon! If you just want busy then sign an enormous bee. The other players would probably find its movement easier to read. If there’s anything to be said in Gervinho’s defence, and at this point I’m not sure there is, it’s that because he does have pace, and because he can beat a man, we arguably look to him too much as an outlet for attacks. Quite what the answer to that is, beyond giving him the ball less which hardly seems a revelatory piece of tactical thinking, I do not know. Still, just on the basis of chaos theory he’s bound to score a hat-trick in a crucial game at some point… Riiiiiight? (“Ivan, get the bee’s agent on the phone.”)

– TDC

  1. arse2mouse posted this
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