Arsenal 2 – 0 West Bromwich Albion
1 – 0 Arteta (25 pen)
2 – 0 Arteta (64 pen)
Arsenal returned to winning ways with three points lifting them to within striking distance of the top four. The manner of the penalty that was awarded in the first half has overshadowed performances which deserve more recognition. So let’s deal with Santi-gate, take the elephant out of the room.
I hope that the groundsman will be suitably chastised, allowing that daisy to grow on the pitch could have led to a serious injury. Luckily, although it brought down Santi Cazorla, he was able to continue with his involvement in the match.
Football supporters are a curious breed. We like to be holier-than-thou about perceptions and realities of cheating, diving and anything untoward. Arsenal fans can be a little touchy on this subject, the hounding of Pires and Co years ago under the guise of media campaigns that wanted football to be cleaned up, left nerves raw. As much as the criticism of Gareth Bale is driven by being a Tottenham player, there is a sense of revenge, of wanting to return the derision previously received.
And on this occasion, I am not going to chastise Cazorla. Why should I? Two wrongs don’t make a right and so forth. I will continue to disapprove of the actions of opponents in winning dubious penalties, freekicks and I will continue to shrug my shoulders when Arsenal players do the same. Yep, I am a hypocrite.
So to the match. Arsenal started the brighter of the two sides, Gervinho had as good an opening as you could wish for but dragged his shot wide of the target. Cazorla fared little better – albeit more stylishly – ten minutes later whilst Oxlade-Chamberlain and the luckless Gervinho could not force their way through the massed ranks of the Albion defence. Brunt sent a warning to the home side shortly before the opening goal was scored. Mikel Arteta deserves credit for taking the responsibility having missed against Fulham. No mistake from the Spaniard.
Arsenal took heart from the spot-kick with the impressive Wilshere prompting the hosts, scurrying and scuttling with crisp tackles and passes, seemingly indefatigable. The hard work was paying off with (half) chances being created and whilst this was taking place, signs that luck is changing perhaps when the officials spotted the infringement which caused Per Mertesacker to handle in the penalty area.
Oxlade-Chamberlain and Wilshere combined well before and after the interval but still Arsenal could not breakthrough. There was some inevitability perhaps with the second coming from the penalty spot. Arteta once more, growing confidence perhaps? With the backdrop of Cazorla, critics felt emboldened enough to claim that Oxlade-Chamberlain had committed a foul during the build-up. The same critics who berate Michel Platini and Arsène for trying to turn football into non-contact sport.
And contact there certainly was when Olsson challenged Giroud, sending the Frenchman into Albion defenders. Quite why it escalated is beyond me but fair play to Giroud for standing up for himself. Olsson was niggling all afternoon, Jack Wilshere squaring up to his kneecaps at one point, niggles airbrushed out of the post-match criticism rather like plucky little West Brom’s theatrics but we won’t mention them either.
In keeping with his erratic performance in Greece, Gervinho missed with header and shot in the second half before making way for Tomas Rosicky for the final ten minutes or so. Peculiarly Lukas Podolski emerged from the bench, strange given that he had been reported as having a hamstring injury. It offered support to the theory that Wenger is not entirely trusting all of his squad, surely Arshavin could have taken the German’s place? A strange turn of events. The Ivorian was at his usual infuriating best, sliding crosses in, scuffing shots wide and producing air shots when it seemed easier to do otherwise.
Post-match, the legendary reticence of the manager to admit to seeing anything resurfaced but to be fair, you would not expect him to do anything less. More importantly, he noted that the squad had not hidden from their previous poor performances,
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.
I understand where he is coming from but as much as there is a danger in reading too much into defeats, there is too much eagerness to declare the poor form is over. Neither extreme is true. Arsenal have problems which have not gone away but they are being addressed. It is too soon to declare them solved and an upward curve embarked upon. A few more wins and perhaps that might be more readily believed.