I have to admit that this match was the one I had expected to be one of those awful experiences, like so many other occasions this season. We were playing against a very decent West Bromwich Albion, a team that was over-achieving this season, and all this without their most efficient attacker. In some pessimistic thoughts, I considered this match as the one that could had been the very last for Arsene Wenger on Arsenal bench. There was another thing: last season we won both fixtures in Premiership against four teams: Sunderland, Aston Villa, Everton and WBA. This season, we have played against Sunderland, Aston Villa and Everton and had drawn each match.
However, I got some optimism just before the match when I saw our line-up. Our strongest defensive line-up and midfield trio were in the starting 11.
The Arsenal players today looked much more determined to win three points than in previous matches at the Emirates this season. Gervinho nearly scored at the start of the match after Cazorla’s corner with the phrase “Gervinho nearly scored” something I could copy & paste for the rest of this match report. One of the things that made the Gunners smile was the fact the middle of the pitch was owned by Jack Wilshere who put in another excellent performance. Cazorla tried to score with a volley but he missed it. Oxlade-Chamberlain who created that opportunity finally showed why we all have such a high hopes for him. We were dominating, we were looking like we had an extra man on the field, we had a lot of space and our opponents seemed like they would always be second to the ball…and then they almost went one up. Mulumbu and Brunt created a dangerous situation on the left edge of our D-area with the latter one putting curling shot just a few inches wide.
In the middle of the first half we took the lead. Giroud found Cazorla on the left side. The little Spaniard went inside the box and tried to go past Reid. Reid tried to hit the ball but missed it while Cazorla went down. Referee Mike Jones pointed to the spot as it seemed like Reid had hit Cazorla with the tackle. However, a video proved Cazorla dived which is something I personally consider disgraceful, not just because I am not used to seeing our players dive, but also because I had to agree with Piers Morgan on this one. Anyway, Mikel Arteta took responsibility and put the ball in the middle of the net to give us the lead. This had to be one of the most important penalties in Arteta’s career – his form has declined in previous weeks ever since a shocker he had against Fulham. This was only the second converted penalty at the Emirates in 2012 accompanied only by Verrader’s penalty against AC Milan. A couple of minutes later Wilshere nearly scored a second but he got a bit late on Gervinho’s excellent low cross from the left. Gervinho then almost had put himself on the score-sheet but Myhill made a decent save while Cazorla was a bit late on the deflected ball. Oxlade-Chamberlain tried with bicycle-kick just before half-time but his excellent effort went over the bar.
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Unlike previous occasions, our team didn’t decline after taking a lead but had stuck with the same approach in the second half as well. We were energetic and pacey in the midfield with decent pressure on the opponents in their third, something that I was calling for ever since the first match of the season. Wilshere and Oxlade-Chamberlain produced a combination from the future, but it ended with the ball brushing the bar. Gibbs’ cross found Gervinho’s forehead few minutes later, but the Ivorian missed another header. It was better attempt then the one he performed later – he missed the whole ball.
The second penalty came after a little less controversy than the first one. Oxlade-Chamberlain managed to dispose Popov with a challenge that could be called a soft foul as well. One of the most promising English talents ran into the box where he was fouled by Brunt. Jones pointed at the penalty spot again and Arteta recreated his first penalty in order to make it 2-0 for us. The last time we had two penalties in one match at Emirates we played against another club from Birmingham – when we played against Aston Villa in FA Cup.
Arteta came close to complete a hat-trick a little bit later but his free-kick from promising position went just wide. After Clarke introduced Lukaku, WBA came close to a goal but the Belgian missed his only chance while Sczszesny saved a decent shot from Rosenberg. In the dying minutes of the match Lukas Podolski had the best chance of the game but it is a mystery how he managed to put the ball over the bar despite being alone six yards out.
This victory is the type I like in terms of control in the middle of the pitch and how we managed to restrict opponents in our third. Our finishing wasn’t the best while Giroud was too nervous after he had already been booked, but three points with a clean sheet and an impressive performance is something that should make us all satisfied after a disappointing few weeks.
on the performance…
I feel overall we played well. We were a bit lucky maybe on the first penalty because he could have given it or not given it. For the rest we created many chances, kept a clean sheet and have shown a great spirit, which many people questioned after our last game. That’s all we could do, we did our job very well.
on West Brom’s approach…
They tried to stop us playing, they are physically strong and they played deep. Their keeper started very early in the game to gain time, and we were a bit nervous. I think that showed in the way we took our chances. But you could feel that we were ready for a fight and we knew we absolutely had to win this game. We did it and somewhere, with top-level sportsmen, when you have to win, you win. To deal with the nerves and be serious and resolute, that is what we have shown today.
on the Cazorla penalty…
No [I haven’t reviewed it]. I am sorry if it was not a penalty but I have spoken to Santi and he said he has been touched and lost his balance. Maybe he made more of it, I don’t know. But he told me just after I came to see you [the press], I asked him the question because I knew you would ask me the question.
on if being touched means it’s a penalty…
Not necessarily, no. But it’s a difficult decision, it can go against you, it went for us today. That’s what it is. What I mean is, when he [a player] is touched, he goes down, the referee can give or not give the penalty. Of course [I will speak to Santi if he has not been touched]. I will look at it, don’t worry.
on Jack Wilshere…
He is getting closer to the player we know he is and today I think he made a big step. You could see it already this week in training, that he has gained a little burst again, a little zip in the first three or four yards. That’s what you have to accept in football, you have sometimes to be patient. He can only gain it by playing but of course in the first games you cannot be at that level.
on responding to criticism…
That’s why I am proud of the victory today, because it is important for our season that when your backs are to the wall, the team responds. As well because our spirit has been questioned because we had a flat performance last week. You can only come back and win on the football pitch.
on squandering chances…
I think it is the only negative of the day, that we didn’t convert our chances very well. But we created chances and in the last game we didn’t create a lot. We are not used to that. I believe if we are a bit more serene we will convert these chances much better.
on rotating his squad for Bradford…
A little bit, yes. For example Sagna, he has played today with a very bad ankle. He is such a tough boy that he said he could play. He will be rested on Tuesday, maybe one or two more. But we will go with a strong squad, we are in the quarter-final and we have an opportunity to go through. We want to take it.
on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain…
I believe he is on the same trend as Jack. He is getting better, stronger, more mature, especially more determined today. There is much more man in his game than there was before. I am pleased with what I have seen from him today.
Sagna Mertesacker Vermaelen (c) Gibbs
Wojciech Sczszesny | 7.5: He did what he had to do on the few occasions he was called into action..
Bacary Sagna | 7.5: Despite being injured, he was impressive today. Maybe he could have done better on two occasions – when Mulumbu and Brunt created problem in the first half and on the other side of the pitch in the second half – but overall he did well.
Per Mertesacker | 7.5: Got himself booked for arguing with referee. Defense was excellent today and BFG had his fingers in it.
Thomas Vermaelen | 8.0: Our skipper was excellent today. He made a decent block in the second half when Long was running into the box. One of the most important details of the match – when Giroud got into one of his rows with Olsson, he came to the visitors’ box in order to calm Giroud and prevent him from being booked. That is what real captain should do.
Kieran Gibbs | 7.5: He did his defensive duties properly and, just like Sagna, helped our midfielders to dominate our opponents.
Mikel Arteta | 8.0: Part of a dominating midfield, managed to score both penalties with cold nerves. He did surprisingly well in defense as well.
Santi Cazorla| 7.5: He picked up an assist for a dive at first penalty. Apart from his diving, his performance was excellent and midfield trio finally looked like we expected ever since Wilshere had came back from injury. If he didn’t do a Gareth Bale, he would have received the same mark as Arteta. It could be a dangerous thing for us in long-term – just take a look what kind of reputation Luis Suarez had grown and what referees do even when he really is fouled.
Jack Wilshere | 8.5: Man of the match. Energetic, electric, omnipresent… He is our best player at the moment. He deserved a goal.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain | 8.0: Kept making problems for our opponents during whole match. He finally gave a decent performance and picked up an assist for the second penalty. Too bad his bicycle-kick went over the bar, that would be one of the best goals this season.
Gervinho | 7.5: His finishing had let him down again but his overall performance was really good. He opened space for his team-mates and set-up a wonderful chance for Wilshere while Long had to foul him in D-area in one occasion. It is a bit ironic that someone that is usually mocked for having a big forehead can’t put in a decent header.
Olivier Giroud| 6.5: He opened space frequently swapping place with Gervinho. He was too nervous and went arguing with the referee despite the fact he already had a yellow card.
Francis Coquelin | N/A: Had a little cameo.
Lukas Podolski | N/A: Had a little cameo but still managed to miss a sitter. Maybe it was because of his fitness problems.
Tomas Rosicky | N/A : Had a little cameo.
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