West Bromwich Albion 2 – 2 Arsenal
1 – 0 Reid (3)
2 – 0 Odemwingie (58)
2 – 1 Arshavin (71)
2 – 2 van Persie (78)
Arsenal showed the character that is so often deemed to be missing in retrieving a deficit that arose through the flaws that have so often been shown in the past. Arguments will be made for this being two points dropped or a point gained, the dominance of either view depending on your outlook for the season.
Albion were two goals ahead but had been pummelled. At the end of the match, Arsenal had over sixty per cent of the possession and eighteen attempts on goal to the hosts four. Arsenal made two defensive mistakes and were punished. The Baggies might be a yo-yo team but are not going to return to The Championship without a fight.
Arsenal have wobbled but like the Weebles of yesteryear, refuse to fall down. Defeated in domestic cup competitions, ousted from Europe’s top table, the battered and bruised visitors refused to cower as the title race seemed destined to move out of their control.
West Brom came out of the traps quickly and within three minutes were ahead. Brunt’s corner found Reid to power home a header from point blank range. The returning Aaron Ramsey had been assigned the task of marking the Albion midfielder but failed to track his man effectively. One goal down but most of the match remained to retrieve the deficit.
Dusting themselves down from the set back, Arsenal gradually assumed a control of the game that reflected the two teams relative positions in the Premier League. Albion were assiduous in their defending, banks of four and five confronting the Arsenal players, stifling any attempts to stretch the play.
On one occasion in the first half, Arsenal found width. Clichy broke on the left, his cross met by a looping Robin van Persie header which bounced off the crossbar into the path of Aaron Ramsey. The Welsh youngster attempted to find redemption via the back of the net, instead found Carson blocking his way to goal.
Arsenal’s dominance required more attacking nous; it arrived in the form of Marouane Chamakh at half-time, Denilson withdrawn as the visitor’s sought to turn possession into points. It did not bring about immediate dividends.
Albion threats were few and far between. As the pitch churned, Brunt wasted a good opportunity to increase the lead before the fickle finger of fate turned on Arsenal once more.
Mulumbu hoisted an archetypally English ball over the top of the defence. Odimwingie gave chase with Squillaci and as the two seemed destined to tangle for possession, Manuel Almunia met them, almost collided with Squillaci and left the Albion forward a straightforward finish. No hiding for Almunia, his rashness had cost a goal and the withering look of Squillaci said it all.
There can be no excuses from the Spaniard, his view unimpeded as the ball came over the top of the defence. The bounce spat the ball into an alternative course than one might have expected but even the deceptively slow Squillaci was in control of the situation enough to force Odimwingie toward the touchline. Quite simply, the goalkeeper should not have been in the position that he found himself.
It mean that a small hill became larger yet nowhere near mountainous in its size. Bendtner came on for Ramsey, Wenger deciding that the lead was retrievable and Albion unlikely to hold out against an attacking onslaught. It was a substitution which would prove rewarding.
The players needed to regather their strength, physically and mentally. A quick response would have refilled energy levels, drained through the deflation of the host’s second. van Persie provided a small tonic but his free kick drifted harmlessly past the post.
With twenty minutes to go, Arsenal gained the necessary foothold. Chamakh is following the path trodden by Arshavin in regaining form, emerging from the bench to provide assists, followed by goals. It would be a timely return if that is the case. The Russian picked up the ball in midfield and laid it wide to Chamakh. His measured pass found Arshavin’ bustling run into the box, the power built by the pocket dynamo unleashed in his shot.
Back in the game, Arsenal turned the screw. The Albion defence, already stretch buckled once more, breaking point reached. Arshavin’s cross swirled to the far post where Bendtner returned the ball into the goalmouth. Dithering Albion defending was punished by an incisive Robin van Persie tackle, the ball poked into an empty net as Carson looked on despairingly.
Arsenal sought a winner, the urgency missing for big parts of the game now evident. In truth it was much as before. Albion riding their luck, Carson once more called into action displaying the inconsistency which saw his international career end before it started; culpable in van Persie’s equaliser, the Albion custodian redeemed himself with a save from Clichy as the pressure grew.
The final whistle brought relief for the home fans, an emotion matched by Arsenal’s less the elation. Dropped points because of defensive errors will bring forth criticism, bearing the brunt will be Manuel Almunia.
Goalkeeping is a touchy subject. Almunia had won plaudits in Barcelona, one of only two players to emerge with any credit from the Champions League exit. That has quickly evaporated and the welter of abuse towards him is swelling. He made the mistake but Wenger’s options are limited. Were there a match this week, I wonder if the manager would have taken a risk and played Lehmann.
As it is we go into the international break which allows him and his staff to work on the Spaniard, rebuilding his confidence following yesterday. It will be necessary; no matter what you think of Almunia, to play Lehmann is a huge risk. With a respect to the German, some reserve matches over the next fortnight would not go amiss. Training is one thing but match sharpness another.
The Premier League table identifies one thing, a point not to be forgotten. Arsenal sit second, one game in hand, five points behind Manchester United, the two sides still to meet at The Emirates. The destiny of the title is in their hands, the grip loosened a little but not wrenched out of their control.