After two successive defeats and losing precious ground with the top of the league, a win – any type of win – was always going to be the order of the day from this match.
This home victory provided the opportunity to put our season back on track, and despite the close scoreline, this performance was just what the doctor ordered.
West Brom turned up to The Emirates with the aim of stifling the Gunners, and who can blame Tony Pulis? Despite being labelled as one of the managers who is capable of being a thorn in the side of Arsenal, Pulis’s record isn’t exactly impressive against Arsenal. The only thing that has worked in the past is the stoic approach, playing with two banks of four behind the ball.
This is exactly what the Baggies lined up to execute, but it was to no avail in the end. Arsenal huffed and puffed at times, and there is a danger of overlooking the good points of our play, but West Brom really came close to claiming an undeserved point.
If not for Olivier Giroud’s 86th minute header, it was looking increasingly likely that more dropped points was on the Gunners menu. There was only ever one team that was going to score, but a combination of an errant final ball, hordes of West Brom players behind the ball and the woodwork meant that it took until the dying embers of the game for the points to be won.
Arsene Wenger had to shuffle his team before kickoff, as Theo Walcott was declared unfit, so Alexis was named on the left flank, and Olivier Giroud was named as the sole striker. Kieran Gibbs was also given the nod after a few shaky games from Nacho Monreal, so Arsenal could pose an aerial threat against a predominantly strong team with the ball in the air.
The Gunners though, seemed intent on playing on the deck, even though Giroud gave the side an asset in the box. The first half was a myriad of passes in and around the West Brom box, and Ozil and Sanchez looking to provide either the killer blow or pass. Conversely though, Baggies keeper Ben Foster wasn’t truly tested even in the face of such endeavours – there was only one shot on target in the entire 45 minutes.
The second half was a different story, although thankfully not as contrasting as our last two games. We played with more zip on the deck, intent to utilising West Brom’s lack of mobility compared to ours.
Ben Foster, when not time wasting, was the man who was responsible for keeping his side in the game, but even he couldn’t touch Olivier Giroud’s header, which came from an Ozil cross.
It was enough to win the game, but there was far more to write about during the ninety minutes. Here are the key points from the match:
Alex Iwobi getting back some form
The young Nigerian had been experiencing the inevitable dip that any starlet suffers from when bursting onto the scene. This game showed that amongst Iwobi’s strengths, he also has a steel spine to boast of. In the face of such criticism, he had not let it affect his game. He still was trying all sorts of flicks and backheels in order to pierce the Baggies backline, and it was he and Alexis that looked more likely to provide the inspiration. He looked the part, and this is also vitally important with our widemen missing this game. More of the same please!
Timewasting in the first half?
Just like Stoke City a few weeks back, West Brom knew they would have to employ more than a stubborn defence to take any points away from The Emirates, and it was their gamesmanship that was more frustrating than anything else. Ben Foster and on occasion some other players on the books at West Brom, were taking more than their sweet time for set plays. It was blindingly obvious to anyone other than the referee, but it spelled out exactly what Tony Pulis had instructed – Frsutrate Arsenal, and we can nick a point.
Bellerin and Gibbs so vital
Hector and Keiran both had license to run amok as their opponent seemed unwilling to venture any further than the halfway line. They really did give our attack another arrow, which we really did need to stretch a compact West Brom. They were solid when they needed to be, and they positioned themselves exactly where they were always needed. Great stuff.
Ozil always working
He will no doubt cop some heat again, as he didn’t perform sliding tackles, beat players with a rabona and score a screamer, but his work is there for all that want to see it. Against a Pulis side who were intent on shutting out all and sundry, he flitted around every nook and cranny that he could, trying to spark anything into life. We too, were static at times, so there were not many runners to pick out, but he had ridiculous amounts of the ball and whenever he could, he attempted to manipulate the opponent in order to create gaps. It was his 100th Premier League game, and he also recorded his 36th assist, which apparently is second only to Eric Cantona for assists recorded in 100 games.
Giroud offers much, but there are limits
This was the Frenchman’s fourth goal of the season, and the majority of his season has been spent on the bench. We all know what Ollie brings to the table, and if a decent ball is whizzed into the box, then invariably Giroud will finish it – as shown with his goal. He doesn’t offer though, the movement of Alexis, and that is why the Chilean has prospered in the same position. Giroud is definitely useful and we must keep him, but he must adapt to his shifting role – which he has done thus far, offering much value from the bench when called upon. He is perfect for some games, not all. This game, he latched onto the only real chance that was presented to him. He did exactly what we needed. Job done.
There was much more to write about. Gabriel had perhaps his best game in an Arsenal shirt, offering a calm outlet when harrying Baggies players came rushing, and he was great aerially against Salomon Rondon. Xhaka and Coquelin were safe, but relatively untroubled so could spend the majority of their time in the opposition half, and Petr Cech finally ended a run of eight games without a clean sheet.
The most important thing amongst the words above though, is that we picked up the points. We were tough, and we kept at it. With City, Chelsea and United all winning, anything else wsould have been calamitous.
Onwards we march. Well done boys.