The last time we found ourselves in the Champions League zone was 22nd December 2012, after we won our away match against Wigan. It is unlikely that we’ll stay there after Chelsea take on a terrible Sunderland tomorrow, but it’s not totally impossible as the Chavs haven’t been exactly the most consistent performers out there and Di Canio might add something new to Sunderland.
Today’s victory is very important given that Spuds have a tricky fixture tomorrow against Everton and they will have to deal with the Toffees without Gareth Bale. If the Spuds slip, our chances for the top three will be much, much bigger given that we’ll have game in hand and an opportunity to gun them down.
Arsene Wenger didn’t make any changes to the team that won against Reading last week which is usually a good sign for us. Consistency on the team-sheet can be an important ingredient for consistency on the field.
Last season we went to the Hawthorns to grab ourselves third spot, an outcome that would give us Champions League qualification regardless of the tournaments outcome. It was a nervy game with a happy-ending like today’s match which ended in a similar fashion. It may turn out to be just as important.
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Although we were standing well on the pitch and Rosicky had an attempt that ended wide, the hosts had the first big chance of the game. Claudio Yacob sent a header that would end up in our net had Tomas Rosicky not been at the right place at the right time – the Czech midfielder cleared the ball off the line with his first important header of the day. Yacob had another chance to score an opener but his shot ended up on the roof of the net.
It didn’t take too long for Rosicky to show how to head the ball on the other side of the pitch as well. Gervinho took the long ball on the left side of the penalty box and turned McAuley inside-out with his dribbling before making a cross that seemed too low at the first sight. Rosicky headed the ball in at the near corner of the goal to give us a 1:0 lead. It was the first goal Rosicky scored in Premiership since his goal against Spuds in February 2012.
Brunt produced an attempt from the free-kick, but his low shot to the near post was saved by Fabianski. Before the free-kick I was a bit shocked to see Cazorla in the wall. It’s not like you’d expect him of all people there, right?
Gervinho showed some of his dribbling again, this time on the right side of the attack, but his low shot was saved by Foster and Ramsey couldn’t score from the rebound. The Welshman had a much better opportunity to conclude the game in the first half already. Cazorla thread a brilliant through ball to Giroud who laid it off for Ramsey with a beautiful flick. Ramsey was 6 yards far from the goal but he didn’t have enough composure to score with his shot going disappointingly wide.
The second half started with a determination from our squad that we have seen very often this season. Sagna made an interception on our half and started a counter-attack with Gervinho. Gervinho was running with the ball while the French duo Giroud and Sagna were running on the flanks. When Gervinho came near the box, he nudged the ball to the right to Sagna who found himself in one-on-one situation with Foster but the Frenchman’s low shot was saved.
That didn’t stop us from scoring at the start of the second half. Aaron Ramsey led our counter-attack on the right side and made a pass to Rosicky who was running into the box. The Czech midfielder fired a shot that was saved by Foster but the English goalkeeper, but unfortunately for him it fell straight back to Rosicky who thumped it into the back of the net. It was the second time this season that one of our midfielders scored a brace against the Baggies – the first one was Mikel Arteta who scored two penalties in the reverse fixture.
At that time, it seemed that the game was concluded but the hosts didn’t accept defeat so easily and they tried to claw back. They got some help from our – until that – solid central defender Per Mertesacker. Lukaku – who entered the pitch in the second half – fired a free-kick but his shot that got a little bit deflected was easily saved by Fabianski. Lukaku’s presence caused all sorts of trouble for our defense as the big Belgian opened a lot of space for Long and Morrison, especially on our right side. Brunt escaped to our defense and sent a very dangerous shot to the near post but Fabianski made a brilliant save. In similar fashion, West Brom got their biggest chance of the match. Long found space behind Mertesacker’s and Sagna’s back and went for the goal so Mertesacker had to foul him. Webb gave Mertesacker a red card and pointed to the spot. Morrison took the penalty and converted it despite Fabianski touching the ball with his leg. With 20 minutes left and an extra-man on the field, the hosts seemed to have very decent odds to get themselves out of a defeat.
West Brom threw everything on us in that period. McAuley had a great chance but his header went just wide. Romelu Lukaku could have scored a goal that would please both of his clubs, but his curled shot from the left side went just wide. Long had the last chance for the hosts to score but despite the fact Webb ordered 5 minutes of injury time, West Brom couldn’t use their advantage. The last chance of the game was the one of Olivier Giroud. The Frenchman had a poor game but almost scored a goal when he received a long ball in front of the penalty box. He entered the box and fired the low diagonal shot with his left foot but it went just wide.
All in all, it was a great victory but not the best of performances due to last half an hour where we lost our domination.
on the win…
It was a difficult game against a good West Brom side who were really up for it. They did fight until the last second and 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.
on being on a great run…
I believe that since November we have been on a good run in the Premier League. We have made 22 points out of the last 27 but our target is to continue to do that until the end of the season.
on how long it took before he was allowed to bring on Vermaelen after the red card…
There were many things that I did not understand today, many decisions. But we had to take that on the chin and win the game. We couldn’t bring him on. I don’t know why.
on the red card…
I don’t complain for the sending off. It was a professional foul. He was the last man. It was a penalty and a red card.
on Rosicky’s performance…
Fantastic. He’s an important player for us. Unfortuantely 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.
He has another assist. He is dangerous. When you have to defend, it’s a bit more difficult for him. As long as you have the ball and are going forward, he always looks dangerous.
on Vermaelen’s performance…
He did very well when he came in. I have three quality centre backs and I rotate. In recent times I played only Koscielny and Mertesacker because we won the games and there was no obvious reason to change. Thomas is a quality player.
on wanting to keep Rosicky…
I hope he finishes his career with us. He still has one year on his contract. I rate him very highly.
on what gives him most satisfaction…
Us winning the game. We now we have one target – to win our games. Then we do not have to look at Tottenham or at Chelsea. If we lose our games, you have always to look at the results of the others. That doesn’t work in our job. You have to focus on you and you win the games. Because we are behind them, our attitude is simple. We have to win the games.
on if he has a points target…
I believe we will do it. We are conscious that it will demand 100 per cent commitment in every single game. It will be difficult and edgy until the end but the only thing I can say is that we are ready for a fight.
on Wilshere and Walcott’s injuries…
Both of them could be available [next week].
on the race for a top-four finish…
Everybody looks at each other’s results but I believe sometimes that can get the focus away from your own performance. We always tell the players that we don’t focus on anybody else, just on us and perform well.
Sagna Mertesacker Koscielny Monreal
Arteta (c) Ramsey
Lukasz Fabianski | 7.0: He showed a little bit of the old Fabianski when it came to corners and kicking, but made a wonderful save in the second half and a couple of decent saves from free-kicks. Unlucky not to save the penalty.
Bacary Sagna | 6.0: He was rather good for around 60 minutes but after Lukaku entered the field, he was too often caught out of position and should take part of the blame for Mertesacker’s red card. Missed a one-on-one-chance at the start of the second half that he started with an excellent interception. At the end of the game, Sagna was targeted as Baggies started most of their attacks in the final part of the game down the left flank.
Per Mertesacker | 4.5: Just like Sagna, Mertesacker lost it when Lukaku was brought in. First he put Koscielny in all sorts of trouble with poor pass (and that is not the first time Mertesacker this season) and then was sent off for professional foul because he was caught out of position.
Laurent Koscielny | 7.5: He was our best defenders today. Was forced to make a bookable foul due to Mertesacker’s mistake.
Nacho Monreal | 7.0: Did well and made a lot of no-nonsense clearances when we needed them.
Mikel Arteta | 7.0: While we had upper hand and 11 men on the field, Arteta was doing fine. We lost our domination in the midfield and the fact Ramsey had to be cautious after yellow card didn’t help him either.
Aaron Ramsey | 7.0: Perhaps we would have had an easier game had Ramsey scored a sitter in the first half. Still, he did well and managed to grab himself an assist in the second half. I find it interesting to point out Ramsey has shown certain qualities in our counter-attacks in our last three away games (Bayern, Swansea and West Brom).
Tomas Rosicky | 8.5: Man of the match performance from Little Mozart as he composed two beautiful symphonies today. He made the two most important headers of the game – the first one to clear the ball off the goal-line when Baggies had a chance to take the lead and the second one to score the opener. Just like last season, Rosicky has given an extra quality to our team after returning to the first eleven.
Gervinho | 7.0: There are promising signs of consistency in the Ivorian’s game. He didn’t get himself on the score-sheet today but still managed to made his impact by creating a goal for Rosicky and looked sharp for the larger part of the game. He was close to scoring in the first half and unlucky not to get another assist after creating a one-on-one for Sagna.
Santi Cazorla | 6.5: Not the best performance from the the Spanish wizard. More or less like most of our team offered much more in the first half and he started an attack that led to our first goal with the long ball for Gervinho.
Olivier Giroud | 5.5: The Frenchman produced a wonderful lay-off to create a sitter for Ramsey, but we had to wait until the last minute of injury time to see something from him. He didn’t hold up the ball well and the fact we were struggling to keep the ball in the last 20 minutes didn’t help him either.
Kieran Gibbs | 6.5: Added more solid defending in the end.
Thomas Vermaelen | 6.5: Returned to the team due to Mertesacker’s red card and performed well.
Francis Coquelin | N/A: Le Coq entered the field to waste some time.
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