Hands up if you approached this match with just a just a little trepidation – no, I didn’t either. In retrospect, we should have known better. There have been recent examples where our team has followed excellent performances with duds. I thought that our side had matured enough to get past that – sadly, that does not seem to be the case, at least not on today’s evidence.
No real positives to take from this. Yes, we brought ourselves back to 2-3 after going 0-3 down, but Nasri’s goals mask a woefully inadequate effort and performance. Simply put, it should not have come to that. It did because the players on show were collectively not prepared and unwilling to put in a proper shift. Two days short of two years ago, newly promoted Hull City came to the Emirates and won 2-1. I am confident I am not the only supporter who thought back to that day while watching this afternoon’s events unfold. If I remember, a crisis in confidence resulted from the Hull defeat and it took us a few matches to find our feet again. If history repeats itself, our players will have brought it upon themselves.
In the match itself, we predictably started slowly – the warning signs were already there, but I thought we gradually turn up the pressure and inevitably score. Arshavin – one of the few players in red that I thought worked hard – hit the post in the 15th minute, and we had a few more chances without really testing Scott Carson in the WBA goal. Odemwingie’s speed was causing problems down the left flank, and on the 37th minute, he got through one-on-one with Alumina. The Arsenal keeper brought him down at the expense of a booking and penalty. Al then got us off the hook by saving Brunt’s penalty. Sagna came close with a header in the final minute of the half, but we went into the interval goalless. By the time the halftime whistle blew, I was concerned. Despite the couple of decent chances we carved out, the side generally looked disinterested and stuck in neutral gear. I had hoped that Arsene would bring Wilshere on for Diaby at the half, to give the side some impetus and energy, but the same players emerged from the tunnel for the second half.
Arsenal started as they had left off and were duly punished in the 50th minute when Thomas beat Clichy to cross for a completely unmarked Odemwingie to head his side into the lead. Two minutes later, Jara got free down the right [how long did it take them to see they could have their way down that flank], and shot low through Almunia’s hands and legs. Almunia should certainly have saved this one, but Jara should never have gotten into a position to take the shot so easily. Arsene immediately brought on Wilshere and Rosicky for Diaby and Eboue, respectively. That was eight minutes earlier than his normal substitution time, but at least he responded promptly instead of passively waiting as I have seen him do on other occasions. Replacing Diaby amounted to addition by subtraction and Arsenal started to look more threatening. Nevertheless, the urgency and intensity were not yet there; we continued to give the ball away cheaply, and too many players were not willing put in the necessary work to win it back.
Arsene made his final roll of the dice thirteen minutes later when Koscienly departed for Vela, to give us more of an attacking thrust. Perhaps this was a change he could have waited on, as eight minutes later, West Brom got their third through an embarrassing goal. We gave the ball away once again, and West Brom got down the left and crossed to the right side with almost embarrassing ease. With his defense nowhere in sight, Almunia came out to try and get the ball, hesitated when he realized that he would not get to it in time, and Brunt was able to cross for former Arsenal youth player Jerome Thomas to head into the empty net. Nasri – one of the very few players that looked up for it today – pulled a goal back two minutes later (shortly after he had rattled the crossbar) and we huffed and puffed to little effect thereafter. We saw plenty of the ball, held on to it better than before, but every attack broke down through either one pass too many, or Vela passing directly to an opposition player when better options were occasionally available. Nasri did pull Arsenal to 2-3 when he fired home in the first of five minutes of stoppage time. Despite a plethora of corners and most of the side camped in the WBA penalty area, we had very few real chances. By the final minute, we had slowed the pace down and were pressing half-heartedly – I thought the players’ body language acknowledged this was not going to be their day. And so it proved.
A quick word about West Bromwich Albion: the came to the Emirates determined to give it a go. They were quicker, passed better, and took their chances when they came. Even when they went 3-0, they did not shut up the shop, but looked to win the ball, pass, and try and hit us on the break. They were full value for their win – indeed; I feel 2-3 flattered Arsenal and does reflect WBA’s superiority, both in application and effort, on the day.
An even quicker word on our much-maligned goalkeeper, Senor Manuel Almunia. I cringed when I saw the replays for the second and third goals, but even with his culpability in them, he had no help from his so-called defense. Our full-backs allowed opposition players to get past them far too easily, and nobody picked up the player moving into the centre. As poor as Koscielny played, if he still on the pitch in the 73rd minute, perhaps he is able to get the ball ahead of Thomas and the third goal is not scored. As it was, Vela contributed absolutely nothing in the time he was on, other than to give the ball away, again and again. With that said, I have previously called Arsene out for not trying to change things up when nothing was working. On this occasion, he was proactive and someone had to make way for the extra attacker. It did not work out, but I cannot have it both ways. Al could have done better for those goals, but as he started the season better, I am willing to cut him a break. Arsene’s demeanor when asked about Al, however, indicates that he may be running out of patience. Regardless, there is plenty of shared responsibility for these goals, not just with our ‘keeper.
So….Where to from here? To Arsene’s credit, he was frank and gracious in defeat, acknowledging WBA were the better side and fully deserved the win, while highlighting our team’s poor attitude and chronic mistakes on the pitch. It is good to see him at least credit the opposition and not protect the players. He could have emphasized the late fight back, but that would have masked the real story – I am glad he did not. There have been occasions where I have wanted him to go further and throw certain players under the proverbial bus, but that is a line in the sand to be crossed only after very careful consideration of the all the implications. Should he choose to leave certain players at home for the upcoming trips to Belgrade and Stamford Bridge; that will send the required message and show us supporters that accountability does exist in our dressing room. Poor results and form are inevitable for every side over a long season; poor effort and attitude are not. I do not think it is a coincidence that we gave this non-effort just a few days after the Cup win at the lane. An element of immaturity and irresponsibility exists in our squad and it was painfully evident today.
What is done is done. Now it is time to respond. If any of our players enjoy their Saturday evening, they are missing the point. Chelsea lost at Eastlands, a win yesterday, one which should have been fairly simple and straightforward, would have put us top of the table. Now I expect we will be in third place this evening. If our players resolve not to take opponents likely, adopt the attitude nothing will be given us, and put in a full ninety minute shift, they can turn this into a positive and resume winning these matches. Even if they win at the Bridge next weekend, this result will still be fresh in many minds, and the Chelsea result will still be greeted with skepticism. As WBA attacked throughout and had plenty of success, that may inspire other teams to come here and have a go – our side can play that to our advantage, so long as attitude and application are correct.
A loss is not the end of the world, but the performance puts Arsenal almost back to square one. Now they have to show this performance is an aberration, not what we should expect in the coming weeks or months. Are you up for it, Arsenal?
Over to you…
Written by oliver