West Brom 1 Arsenal 2 | Tactical Analysis

West Brom vs Arsenal Starting Line Ups

Not quite a game of two halfs, more like a game of two-thirds and one-third. Arsenal took control of a game before it began slipping away in the final third aided by the dismissal of Mertesacker and a resurgent West Brom side. Somehow, the Gunners held on for a valuable three points. Just how valuable they will be should be known within the next month.

Line Ups

Steve Clarke made two changes to his starting line up from the previous week with Mulumbu and Lukaku dropping out of the starting line up to be replaced by Morrison and Thomas.

West Brom were broadly in a 4-2-3-1 shape with James Morrison tasked with providing support to Shane Long.

West Brom vs Arsenal Starting Line Ups
West Brom vs Arsenal Starting Line Ups

For Wenger, there were no changes. The same Arsenal eleven that had beaten Reading so comprehensively last Saturday began this game.

Opening Stages

The opening of this game was very similar to the game against Reading. Arsenal enjoyed possession and were able to move forward with little pressure applied until they entered the West Brom half of the pitch. Arsenal were also willing to press higher up field too and squeeze the game with West Brom being caught offside twice in the opening five minutes.

West Brom were keen to have their full backs tuck in, play compactly and prevent Arsenal breaking through the middle. It’s become the customary default position to obstruct Arsenal. The difference with West Brom is that the Baggies are comfortable having less position, regaining their shape and stifling the opponent. Whereas Arsenal were able to cut through Reading easily, West Brom provided a more obstinate challenge.

Arsenal Goals

Both Arsenal goals showcased the changing style of the side at times. For a team that likes to dominate possession and be pro-active, both goals were the result of quick transitions with Rosicky scoring both of them. It’s an area the team needs to work upon and perhaps surprising that they came without the direct nature of Podolski and Walcott in the team although Gervinho can provide such a threat even if he is a little wayward at times.

In the 20th minute West Brom conceded possession in the Arsenal half and a long diagonal by Arteta released Gervinho on the left. The pass took out Yacob and Brunt and left the West Brom defence with no protection. Rosicky managed to head home from Gervinho’s attempted shot.

Rosicky scored his second in the 50th minute when Brunt lost possession in the Arsenal half. Ramsey broke on the right and his low cross was controlled by the Czech who scored with a rebound after Foster saved initially.

The pace and directness of the Arsenal attack is an underused quality and one they must continue to improve upon. Sometimes, the extra pass is not needed. This verticality complements the intricate passing nature that we have come to expect from Arsenal which was typified by a lovely 17 pass move just before half time which ended with Ramsey prodding the ball narrowly wide.

The Dynamic Alters

The key incident in this game was the correct dismissal of Per Mertesacker in the 70th minute for denying a goalscoring opportunity. The goal from the subsequent penalty gave fresh impetus to West Brom but to suggest that the dismissal was the only reason West Brom clawed their way back into contention in this game would be doing the Baggies a disservice.

The red card was the result of movement by Shane Long that he had been attempting for much of the game. Starved of meaningful service and with supporting players taking too long to reach him, the Irish international was forced to feed off scraps and chase hopeful direct passes. It’s an area that the forward excels at whilst some other players would be less than willing to perform such a selfless role.

The dynamic of the game had begun altering with a double substitution from Steve Clarke. Thomas and Dorrans were withdrawn from Lukaku and Rosenberg. The introduction of the Belgian striker provided a physical presence for Arsenal to contend with. The home side moved towards more of a 4-3-3 formation and began to push Arsenal back and attack more. It stretched the game and provided space for Arsenal to counter into but that option would shortly disappear with the dismissal of Mertesacker.

The two graphics below show player influence for both halfs of the game. West Brom were already asserting themselves before the sending off took place.

West Brom vs Arsenal Player Influence 1st Half
West Brom vs Arsenal Player Influence 1st Half

The graphic below shows the change in the second half. Sagna goes from being attack minded and having the most influence on the park to a more defensive position as Liam Ridgewell pushed him back and helps the Baggies attack more.

The introduction of Lukaku provides the central reference point that West Brom has lacked with the mobility of Long used in other ways.

West Brom vs Arsenal Player Influence 2nd Half
West Brom vs Arsenal Player Influence 2nd Half

Another point worth noting was that West Brom attempted 11 tackles in the first half but were only required to attempt four tackles in the second half. Arsenal were seeing less of the ball and when they had possession, they were conceding it cheaply.

Final 20 Minutes

Arsenal switched to a 4-4-1 for the final 20 minutes as West Brom attacked more and placed more sustained pressure on the Arsenal backline.

With a midfield four of Arteta, Ramsey, Cazorla and Rosicky, it’s not the sort of side built to hold onto a lead or withstand heavy pressure. The players lack defensive qualities. The introduction of Gibbs and latterly Coquelin was designed to assist here but they never really influenced the game. Many teams can be reduced to 10men and look comfortable but Arsenal are not one of them.

That would be proven by the chances that West Brom created and squandered as the match neared its conclusion.

Attack vs Attack

The graphic below shows the shots at goal form both teams during the game. Despite having better control of the game for much of the opening period, Arsenal failed to adequately create clear openings which they could exploit:-


West Brom vs Arsenal Shots
West Brom vs Arsenal Shots

With Ridgewell tucking in early on, Sagna had considerable space in the right to move into but often his final ball was poor. It was not solely down to delivery though, it was also poor decision-making. Sagna made the wrong choices when in space with time to look up and find a team-mate. He was too quick to simply attempt a cross ball which were often easily cleared.

Despite having more shots at goal, West Brom were unable to capitalise on their chances. From 19 shots at goal, 12 were from within the penalty area and three were clear-cut and really should have resulted in goals.

On another day, McAuley would hit the target with his free header from a corner (Arsenal yet again woeful at set pieces), Long would score with his opportunity and not blaze over and Lukaku would fire into the bottom corner rather than shoot wide.

Wets Brom did what was required of them late on except find that elusive equalising goal.


West Brom are comfortably secure in the top ten. The issue for Steve Clarke is trying to maintain the same level of hunger within his players that existed earlier in the season for the final six games. With five defeats in the last ten games, Baggies fans will not want what has been an excellent season to fade out with a whimper.

Arsenal did what they had to do and the win combined with Spurs draw narrows the gap between the side to just two points although Arsenal still have a game in hand and a superior goal difference. A small detail which could have a significant bearing on the final positions given how tight 3rd and 4th place have become.


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