West Brom 1 Arsenal 1: Gunners Share the Spoils in the Battle of Hawthorns
The Hawthorns (Premier League)
West Brom – Yacob 42′; Arsenal – Wilshere 63′
After predicting the right lineup in my West Brom preview post, I’d hoped for another class act performance from Arsene Wenger’s team that was rampant against Napoli but I was also mindful of the fact that West Brom was in a good run of form following wins against Sunderland and Manchester United.
The hosts began the game better and almost drew first blood when Stephane Sessegnon connected well with Saido Berahino and the winger moved with the ball before fashioning a chance for Liam Ridgewell. The fullback drilled a cross with Nicolas Anelka being its intended target but Per Mertesacker showed great anticipation to make a vital interception. Arsenal launched a counter attack with Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil connecting well but after receiving a pass from the German schemer, Olivier Giroud’s cross was very casual and that chance went begging.
Berahino was hitting the headlines for all the right reasons following his match winner at Old Trafford but he almost scored the game’s opener when his goal-bound shot took a wicked deflection off Mathieu Flamini’s foot which forced Wojciech Szczesny to dive low to make a superb save. Arsenal responded with a swift attack as Ozil threaded an inch-perfect pass to Kieran Gibbs but the fullback launched his shot into orbit when a pass to Giroud would have been a better option.
The Gunners kept probing with Giroud laying off a chance for Jack Wilshere but his shot was wide off the mark. Ramsey located the French marksman with a neat diagonal pass but Giroud fired a rather audacious shot from some distance which was easy pickings for Boaz Myhill in goal. Myhill was called into action again when a loose corner fell to Ramsey’s path and the Welshman wasted no time in letting one rip but the goalie was equal to the challenge.
With both teams heading towards the break on level terms, West Brom launched an attack that yielded a corner kick. Morgan Amalfitano lofted the resulting corner and Carl Jenkinson nodded the ball to safety but the ball found its way back to Amalfitano and the Frenchman swung in a delightful cross that was headed home by Claudio Yacob. That was the first time the Gunners were going behind this season.
The Baggies began the second half with Berahino steering clear of Jenkinson before drilling a cross that was miscontrolled by Anelka. Giroud fed Wilshere in an inviting position but his goal shyness was on show again as he blasted his shot to Row Z when it seemed easier to score. Attempts like those are bread and butter for Ramsey.
With Jenkinson bombing forward to support Ramsey on the right, his wing was exposed and Anelka was sent clean on goal with only Szczesny to beat. The striker bore down on goal, picked his spot, placed the ball but he missed by a lick of paint. Ramsey was struggling with a knock with clearly affected his movement and he was replaced by Tomas Rosicky.
The Czech maestro played a key role in Arsenal’s equalizer as he cushioned Giroud’s pass to Wilshere’s path, and the English midfielder lashed at the ball but his attempt went in after a slight deflection from Jonas Olsson.
The goal brought relief to Arsene Wenger and the fans, and with 30 minutes or so to go, everyone connected with Arsenal wished that it was going to be one of those games were they might just grind out a result. We were mistaken.
There was a cause for concern when Jenkinson landed awkwardly on his shoulder after an aerial duel with Shane Long. Shortly afterwards, West Brom fullback, Jones, was given a chance to get a clear sight at Szczesny’s goal and he wasted no time in firing a shot that was parried by the big Pole in goal.
Arsenal had a glorious chance to score a second when Wilshere sent Giroud through and he tried to round the goalie but Myhill followed the French forward all the way and made himself big to block the Frenchman’s shot on goal. Wilshere almost had another chance to shoot the ball but it was blocked from a last-ditch Youssuf Mulumbu tackle.
Wenger removed the ineffectual Giroud for Nicklas Bendtner that made his first Premier League appearance since March 2011, but the Dane didn’t have any impact on the game. The last thing Arsenal could muster was a weak effort from Flamini and that was it as the impressive run of victories had come to an abrupt end.
Szczesny (7) was blameless for the goal he conceded but he made a couple of good saves as the game progressed.
Jenkinson (6) had a penchant for passing the ball back instead of attacking the West Brom rearguard from the right. His crossing was downright erratic as well.
Gibbs (7) made a couple of good runs forward but he could have done better from that Ozil pass.
Mertesacker (7) had a relatively untroubled evening, putting up another composed performance.
Koscielny (7) made some interceptions and did his job well at the back.
Flamini (7) was as industrious as ever, covering every blade of glass for his side.
Arteta (7) steadied the ship in the middle alongside Flamini.
Wilshere (6) had a bad game (despite scoring the equalizer) in my honest opinion, holding on the ball for too much and was on the end of some tackles he should’ve avoided if he just passed the ball to a teammate. He needs to simplify his game like Ramsey.
Ozil (6) failed to really assert himself in the game.
Ramsey (6) lost some of that goalscoring mojo, which could be attributed to the fact that he’s now back on the right wing, playing out of position, thanks to the return of Arteta.
Giroud (6) was toothless in attack and should’ve done better with the rare chance he had.
Rosicky (7) did well to come and supply an assist.
The sooner Santi Cazorla and Theo Walcott return from their injury layoffs, the better for everyone at Arsenal. When Arteta was out injured, Arsene Wenger brought out the best in Aaron Ramsey, as he was given the liberty to roam forward with the confidence that he had Flamini doing the dirty work behind him. With Arteta and Flamini doing basically the same job on the pitch, Wenger has decided to push Ramsey out of position, and as we witnessed, he failed to influence the game as he would have wished.
I can’t deny the fact that Arteta has become an indispensable player to the squad and Flamini offers that steel, brute force and protection in front of the back four, but Ramsey has been brilliant in central midfield since the tail end of last season, only for the manager to draft him to the right wing, a position where he became a lightning rod for abuse from the fans in seasons past.
With Walcott returning as the incumbent right winger, Wenger will be forced to make a decision with Ramsey, as he could be featuring in central midfield again at the expense of either Arteta or Flamini, or he could be sent to the bench, a decision that certainly won’t go down well with the fans.
As for Jack Wilshere, I really don’t understand why he tends to hold onto the ball far too much, thereby inviting the opposition to tackle him. I know that he’s widely regarded as “Arsenal’s poster boy” but he really needs to make his game simple and I hope his manager will have a chat with him on that.
However, Arsenal is still on top going into the international break and we can only hope that the Gunners won’t suffer any injuries while representing their various nations.
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