I think we’ve all heard of a game of two halves; Arsenal have been involved in plenty of them down the years, for better or worse. But yesterday was a game of two bits. For 70 minutes we played well, controlled the game, took a decisive lead, and looked in little trouble from West Brom.
Then Per Mertesacker got sent off, we staggered through the rest of the game punch drunk, under increasing pressure from a home side with the wind in their sails and, being brutally honest, it was only poor finishing from West Brom that saw us take the three points. They had three golden chances to equalise. Lukaku fired wide from just outside the 6 yard box with Fabianski rooted to the spot; McAuley headed a corner wide from 6 yards out; and in injury time Shane Long drove into the Arsenal box and hammered a left footed shot over the bar when he really should have salvaged two points for his team.
If you read the stats on the By the numbers piece the way the sending off affected us was incredible. Before the red card we completed 310 of 373 attempted passes; afterwards, in a period of about 25 minutes, we only completed 17 out of 46. And I think lots of those 46 weren’t even attempts to find a teammate rather than us just hoofing the ball as far away from our goal as possible.
Of the red card and penalty, we can have no complaints. The ball over the top caught Mertesacker out, Long was clean through and he had to make a challenge. He got none of the ball, all of the man, and the referee’s decision was the right one (something of an oddity for him on the day, but there’s little point dwelling on that). Fabianski almost saved it, but with just a one goal lead and 10 men we never got a hold of the game again. Our passing was off, even the most reliable players were being caught out, and it must have felt like trying to run up a down escalator having been on top of the game for so long.
Sometimes that happens, the momentum in a game changes completely and there’s just nothing you can do. It was as tense as the game at the Hawthorns last season as West Brom pummeled us looking for the equaliser, and to my mind it was all set up for a sickening 94th minute equaliser. Thankfully, their finishing was woeful, we did enough defensively on top of that, and the three points were massive.
As I said, it was a game of two parts, and Arsene Wenger started the same team that beat Reading. After one early scare, which saw Tomas Rosicky head off the line from a corner (note how disciplined he was, not moving even when the corner came in), I thought we bossed them. Gervinho was lively again and it was the Ivorian who set up the first goal. I think some credit needs to go to Arteta whose ball over the top was sublime, Gervinho took it on in the box, twisted and turned, and although I think he was curling a shot towards the far corner an opportunistic close range header from Rosicky went in at the near post, giving the keeper no chance.
Fabianski made a good save from a free kick, and Gervinho forced Foster in a save with his feet, before we got the second early in the second half. Aaron Ramsey got free down the right, he played it across to Rosicky on the edge of their box. The Czech took a touch, hammered a volley at goal which Foster saved but Rosicky was quickest to react to the rebound and smashed it home to make it 2-0 to Arsenal.
At that point we were comfortable and I didn’t think we’d be in any danger; until the red card happened. Mertesacker will miss one game for the dismissal, and I thought both he and Koscielny made an excellent partnership at the centre of the defence again. The German’s wonderfully improvised tackle with his back was one of the highlights of the afternoon.
But it’s Rosicky who deserves the plaudits. On this week’s Arsecast Goonerholic and I had a good chat about what he brings to the side, and I’m delighted he got the two goals. There’s such a whiff of what might have been from Tomas, the injuries have robbed him, and Arsenal, of the most important years of his career, but like last year he’s found some fitness and form at exactly the right time.
It’s also another illustration of how the squad is working to compensate when others don’t quite click. Santi and Giroud were somewhat off the boil yesterday, but Rosicky was there to take up the slack and it was great to see. Afterwards, Arsene said of him:
He’s an important player for us. Unfortunately he was injured for a long time but every year he gives us a little push at the end of the season. That is very important. I hope he finishes his career with us. He still has one year on his contract. I rate him very highly
And of the game in general:
We have shown two aspects of our game today. One that was very in control and with technical quality, and one that is less known – fighting spirit, a resolute attitude and battling qualities that reflect well the spirit we have in our side. I’m very pleased because it was three big points for us today.
No arguing with that, and while some might say we rode our luck a little bit with the chances West Brom missed, I’d suggest it was about time we got some. So often this season little things just haven’t gone our way. That’s as much down to us as anything else, but when you see other teams cling on and take three points they didn’t necessarily deserve, I’m not going to argue about this one bit.
It means we go into 4th place, 1 point ahead of Chelsea and just 1 behind Sp*rs who will have played one game more than us at the end of today. If results were kind, it’d make yesterday’s three points even better, so let’s keep fingers crossed for that.
In the meantime, just enjoy the fact we’ve taken 18 from the last 21 points available in the Premier League, and that things are looking a lot better than they were a couple of weeks ago.
Have a good Sunday. Back tomorrow.