Arsene Wenger alluded to Arsenal’s problem in his post match interview by saying, “We were too comfortable at 1-0 up in the 35th minute and then in the 45th minute we were 2-1 down.” After Giroud scored a glancing header from an Ozil free kick in the 28th minute Arsenal were nonchalant with no real urgency for a second.
Admittedly, they had been disrupted by injury withFrancis Coquellin suffering a seemingly serious knee injury in the 14th minute. He was replaced by the somewhat hapless Mikel Arteta which seemed to upset Arsenal’s midfield balance and disrupted their gameplan. Coquellin, something of an unsung hero, has been key in pressing opposition players and neither of his replacements (Arteta on 14 minutes and Flamini on 49 minutes) could provide his industry and work rate.
Aaron Ramsey’s injury also means Alexei Sanchez has had to play right midfield, and he had one of his more anonymous games. Sanchez has been involved in Chile’s two World Cup qualifiers, and Wenger mentioned pre-match if it wasn’t for the injuries he would have liked to rest Sanchez.
WBA’s gameplan rotated around Soloman Rondon, holding up the play and getting the midfielders involved, and he was very effective. Martin Keown in his Match of the Day analysis pointed to Per Mertesacker for being at fault for the first WBA goal, by allowing Olsen to block him at the set piece, with James Morrison firing in the resulting volley from the free-kick.
As the following table shows, Arsenal are very adept at creating a lead at half-time, only third behind Watford and Southampton in points obtained by the break.
However, they lacked the killer touch of an Aguero. Joel Campbell missed a very easy chance which would have aided their cause and put them at 2-2. One cannot but help think if Campbell had scored to level at 2-2 in the 73rd minute, there was a fair chance Arsenal might have collected all three points.
Arsenal do not possess a striker in the Suarez/Neymar/Aguero vein that instills fear in opposing defenders. A clinical striker to complement Giroud and Walcott would see them finish games such as this off with greater ease when leading 1-0.
The trio of Giroud, Walcott and Welbeck do not instil fear, and with their almost nonchalant playing style they do not ruffle opposing defenders and create any havoc. The only attribute Arsenal’s strikers have is Walcott’s pace and for teams who sit deep and “park the bus” that is not sufficient. A top centre back like Kompany or Otamendi or Smalling (other than Walcott’s pace) would not fear the trio of Giroud, Walcott or Welbeck.
Wenger also missed a trick not buying Morgan Schneiderlin before Man United, as Arteta and Flamini are not sufficient as a back up to Coquellin.
Arteta was unfortunate in the 40th minute when a James McClean cross deflected off his chest and past Cech. Cech could have dealt with the cross himself better and Bellerin was out of position, which allowed McClean a relatively easy path to the byline.
The half-time team talk didn’t sufficiently rouse Arsenal, and West Brom were fairly comfortable utilising Salomon Rondon as their “out” ball. Ex-Manchester United players Darren Fletcher and Jonny Evans were up for this game for obvious reasons.
Gibbs, relatively anonymous in his unaccustomed left midfield role was replaced by Joel Campbell in the 63rd minute, and Campbell had the clearest chance to level to take it to 2-2. His was a poor miss and Wenger was apoplectic on the sidelines, sensing that was a huge chance missed.
Arsenal were then given a gilt edged second chance when Chris Brunt was adjudged to foul Sanchez and referee Mark Clattenburg awarded a penalty in the 84th minute. Santi Cazorla stepped up and, very reminiscent of Chelsea’s John Terry in the Champions League final, slipped and ballooned the penalty over.
The debacle of the penalty summed up Arsenal’s visit to the West Midlands and West Brom held out for a deserved three points. Wengers team just didn’t do enough to capitalise on their 1-0 lead.
Man of the Match: Salomon Rondon