With so many injuries plaguing Arsenal at the moment, and such a congested fixture list, Wenger really needed to rotate the squad for tonight’s game against West Bromwich Albion to avoid our players suffering from fatigue. Many Arsenal fans argue however, that the Capital One Cup is the best chance to end our trophy drought, and that we should put our best team forward to make sure we win it. While I don’t disagree that the COC is probably the easiest cup to win, I do think it should be a secondary target, and that we shouldn’t let it affect our run for the league or for the other cups. Obviously if/once we get closer to the final we can start fielding a stronger team, but for the moment I whole heartedly agree with Wenger’s policy of fielding a side full of young Gunners.
We kicked off tonight with an extremely solid and experienced back line, with a far more youthful attack, and a return to the side for ‘The Greatest Striker That Ever Lived’, Nicklas Bendtner. The game started off sloppily for both teams, many passes going astray and no one really able to settle on the ball. Our defence was soaking up any pressure West Brom were able to put on us fairly easily, but without decent attacking outlets, we were unable to maintain possession when they pressed our defenders.
Chances in the first half were few and far between, with one of the main talking points likely to be young Hayden’s terribly timed challenge on Mulumbu. With his studs showing slightly, and his feet well over the ball, he was perhaps lucky to see yellow instead of red.
Just before half time a fairly innocuous looking corner was swung in by Gnabry and it looked as though it would be easily cleared, but confusion amongst the Baggies defence saw it fly straight through a number of bodies without anyone getting a touch. Arsenal didn’t capitalise however, and no one seemed to go for the ball, it was eventually cleared, and so ended a quiet first half.
The second half was instantly a lot more lively, with both teams creating chances, West Brom perhaps having the better of them. Our defence was standing strong, Mertesacker making a vital interception with a long outstretched leg blocking a cross that, had it found it’s mark, would have been a tap in. And Fabianski with an excellent save moments later, preventing a Mulumbu drive from nestling in the top corner with a fingertip save, pushing the ball over for a corner.
Our stalwart defending paid off, when a loose pass from the West Brom midfield found it’s way to Serge Gnabry. He played the ball along the floor to Nicklas Bendtner, and into the heart of the Baggies’ defence. Bendtner turned and put Eisfeld through on goal after a good run from the young German. He took the ball well, and calmly slotted it past Luke Daniels to put the Gunners in front, slightly against the run of play in the second half.
Gnabry was starting to look a lot more lively, linking up excellently with Jenkinson, who had also been superb. And we looked far more confident after our goal, we now seemed the more likely to get another. We didn’t take advantage of our confidence however, and after a poorly cleared corner was put back into the box, West Brom’s youngster Saido Berahino, had a free header which he put away; despite Fabianski getting a hand to it.
There were chances before the final whistle for both sides, Jenkinson putting in an excellent cross which 3 Arsenal players somehow failed to connect with. But in the end it finished 1-1 and extra time commenced.
Ryo Miyaichi suddenly came to life, after having a terrible 90 minutes, but his final ball was still unfortunately lacking. Gnabry also stepped up a bit and was causing the defenders a few problems. He put Bendtner through on goal with a fantastic, defence splitting pass. One-on-One with the keeper, he should have put it away easily, the Dane took far too long on the ball though and West Broms’ Dawson was able to get back and make the challenge.
The last few minutes were very tense, Arsenal seemed to be fading a little and were getting caught on the break a lot. Amalfitano hit the cross bar, and Rosenberg really should have scored after a moment of indecisiveness from Fabianski left him with an open goal. Luckily he couldn’t get his feet sorted, and he was swarmed with defenders and the the chance was gone.
We survived until the whistle though, and penalties loomed large in front of us. I am never confident when it comes to Arsenal and penalties, and with Arteta being substituted with cramp I really had no idea who our takers would be. Bendtner stepped up to take Arsenal’s first, and the boos could be heard ringing through the Hawthorns, he ignored them though and calmly dispatched his penalty. Gnabry was up next, he saw his penalty well saved by Daniels and it wasn’t looking good for Arsenal already. 3-1 West Brom.
Surprisingly, the young Swedish substitute Kristoffer Olsson stepped up, and took his penalty well. We were still behind though, we needed a West Brom miss; queue Dawson. Fabianski saw his shot well wide, and Akpom stepped up with the chance to level things. The young striker didn’t disappoint and we were back on level terms.
Surprisingly, the Marseille loanee Amalfitano also put his shot wide and suddenly we were in the driving seat. Monreal came forward, and out of all the takers so far, he was the one I felt most confident about. He put his shot emphatically into the roof of the net, and wheeled away to celebrate the win. West Brom 3 – 4 Arsenal.
Although it was not the best start to the match, and with our current injuries it showed that beyond our first eleven we are lacking something, this was a fantastic win for a team made up primarily of youngsters. Many of them grew into the game as it went on, and the fact that so many of them took their penalties so well is a great sign of confidence. We have been drawn at home against Chelsea in the next round, and I fear that a team with this many young Guns might not cut it against that kind of opposition, but a few of them have certainly shown they have what it takes to make it on the big stage. I’m sure we will be seeing some of them in the first team more regularly, sooner rather than later.
Jenkinson Mertesacker Vermaelen(c) Gibbs
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