It was a real mare for the Gunners as we lost three points to West Bromwich Albion in a 2-1 loss, Francis Coquelin and an opportunity to take the lead. On another day, we would have won the game 4:2 but it was one of those days when you could put your money on every single bird poop from the sky hitting our players head.
Here are the key points from the game.
1.Francis Coquelin’s injury is a huge blow.
Arsenal have conceded eleven goals in the league this season and six of those came when Francis Coquelin wasn’t on the pitch. He has played 889 minutes in the league which means our opponents have scored a goal every 177 minutes (via squawka.com). Without the Frenchman it takes just 46 minutes for our opponents to put one past Petr Čech. Roughly translated, with Coquelin we concede a goal every other game while without him we concede each half.
If his knee injury is a serious one, our season could be at negative turning point.
2.Mikel Arteta is way past it.
The Spaniard is our captain and I have always had nothing but huge sympathy. He hasn’t been just the most successful Arsenal captain since the departure of Patrick Vieira in 2005 but also a calming presence who has sacrificed for Arsenal literally since the beginning of his spell in north London.
However, Arteta’s legs have had it and he can’t protect the defence in a way Coquelin has since the turn of the year. His thirty-five minute cameo against West Brom could easily be described as one of the worst in recent history as the Spaniard conceded a foul after which James Morrison equalized thanks to poor defending from Bellerin and Arteta. He rounded up his awful performance by scoring an own goal that turned out to be the winner for the hosts and then got injured… Again.
I like Mikel Arteta and I will always be a staunch supporter of him but I believe we would all benefit from the Spaniards full commitment to coaching youth players as he can teach the youngsters a lot.
3.Mathieu Flamini should have replaced Coquelin in the first place.
If anything, Flamini’s introduction gave us more aggression and an extra player in the final third. the Frenchman was making runs on the right to overload the flank. True, it didn’t end up with a goal or two but The Flame showed he can offer much more than Arteta.
4.Then again, we should have a better option on the bench than Arteta or Flamini.
If there is a huge mistake in Arsene Wenger’s decision not to sign a senior outfield player this summer, it’s the fact we have all known since the emergence of Francis Coquelin: we don’t have a replacement for the dynamic Frenchman. If Morgan Schneiderlin was too expensive for a squad player, we should have looked elsewhere. Manchester United have Michael Carrick, Morgan Schneiderlin, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Marouane Fellaini all capable of playing as a defensive midfielder. I understand a lot of Arsenal fans are hoping for Wenger’s purchase of a new defensive midfielder in January but I wouldn’t hold my breath on that one. Wenger obviously doesn’t want to spend too much money on a defensive midfielder as he has shown before by signing Flamini on a free transfer in 2013 and recalling Coquelin from a loan in late 2014.
It’s not like we haven’t been warning about Coquelin’s back-ups and we haven’t been the only one. We can all just hope that either Flamini has injected some of his environment-friendly fuel into his veins (via The Guardian) or that Wenger thinks about left-field solutions like making either Gabriel de Abreu or Laurent Koscielny as our make-shift defensive midfielder in Coquelin’s absence.
5.Karma could have waited for another time to bite Santi Cazorla’s bottom.
We should have saved at least a point from The Hawthorns and the best chance was a penalty kick awarded for a foul on Alexis Sánchez in the final minutes of the game. Cazorla, who had a perfect record from the spot last term, slipped and our best chance went miles over the bar.
I couldn’t help myself thinking that Karma decided to hit back at Cazorla for his dive in 2012-13 against West Brom that fooled Mike Jones but it’s not like the payback had to happen on Saturday.
6.Hector Bellerin looked rusty.
Arteta and Cazorla were not the only Spaniards that didn’t react well in deciding moments of the game as Hector Bellerin has a lot to learn in terms of defending set-pieces. Whilst it’s good to have Bellerin back in the starting eleven, he did look a bit rusty following a lay-off due to injury. Hopefully he’ll look sharper against Norwich.
7.Alexis Sánchez is a cyborg (Part Million).
Alexis had looked jaded before he went to play two games for Chile against Colombia and Uruguay respectively. There was talk about him getting a mid-season rest but he was given the nod instead and it almost paid off. The Chilean was our best player on the pitch as he was constantly creating trouble for the hosts. He should have got at least an assist or two but neither Kieran Gibbs nor Santi Cazorla scored.
If there was a single positive in this defeat, it’s Alexis’ return to his best.
8.Mesut Özil is unstoppable.
The German has created another goal with a perfect set-piece delivery for Olivier Giroud and picked his eleventh assist in the league (via Whoscored.com). His movement makes him unstoppable for our opponents and his ability to carve them open with a perfect pass is a pleasure to watch.
9.Per Mertesacker’s form is a reason to be concerned.
There was a moment when the German decided to back off from an aerial duel with Salomon Rondon for no reason. The Venezuelan striker took the ball and fired a volley that went over the bar but he shouldn’t have been in position to shoot in the first place. Mertesacker hasn’t been at his best for a while and his lack of pace is just another reason why Wenger should consider playing Gabriel next to Koscielny in central defence during the absence of Coquelin.
10.Olivier Giroud scored and Kieran Gibbs didn’t.
Two weeks ago Gibbs was praised as a hero for scoring an equalizer against the Spuds while Giroud was considered the tragic figure of the match for missing at least three great chances to score. However, judging by their performances against The Baggies, it seems that there is a good reason why Olivier Giroud is our main striker and why Kieran Gibbs hasn’t been given an extended run on the wing. The Frenchman has scored seven goals in the league (via squawka.com) and he can score at least 20 if he can avoid further injuries. Gibbs, however, is the most one-footed player I can recall and his lack of attacking instinct prevented him from scoring in the second half when Alexis created a golden opportunity for another important equalizer. With Aaron Ramsey expected to be back in the team soon, it’s likely that we’ll see Ramsey on the right wing and Alexis on the left again with Gibbs returning to the bench.
The next match is against Dinamo Zagreb in the Champions League. We owe the Croats a big one and if we go out with our best available players and with the same attitude from the second half at The Hawthorns, I assure you that breaking our Champions League record (7:0 against Slavia Praha) is not impossible at all, especially given all the trouble Dinamo Zagreb have been going through lately. If we beat the Croats, we will still depend on Bayern’s desire to beat Olympiacos though. If you ask me, I would sacrifice our European campaign in favour of the domestic one but I doubt Arsene Wenger is on the same page as me.