West Bromwich Albion 1 – 1 Arsenal
1 – 0 Yacob (42)
1 – 1 Wilshere (63)
There wasn’t the drama of a last-minute goal; no iconic commentary moment or photo opportunity for these shirts but there is a familiar feeling about the moment. Arsenal are top of the table, locked on the same goal difference with second-placed Liverpool. The decisive factor once again is goals scored. The decisive goal from an Arsenal youth prodigy. Michael Thomas scored more frequently than Jack Wilshere but the latter’s first Premier League goal in nearly three years was no less welcome than any his predecessor contributed.
In hindsight a point is fair return for the performance at The Hawthorns. Arsenal might have won, could conceivably have lost had Nicolas Anelka taken chances which he used to score for fun. And in the midst of this, some officiating that left heads scratched and brains aching in their rationale. And some where the official got it right, no matter how much we want the opposite to be true. Poor officiating on its own is rarely the reason for a defeat but often held so. If Lee Mason’s decision not to award a penalty is considered influential on the outcome, so was Olivier Giroud’s failure to score no matter how good a save Boaz Myhill made. When we rely on a referee to hand us victory, it is a sign of a bits and pieces performance.
Post-match, Arsène viewed the result as a point gained rather than two lost. That gives more of an indicator of the game than anything else. Wilshere went from first half villain to second half hero and in some eyes remains the former no matter what he does. Persistent fouling by the home defence had little menace but a lot of pushing. Did Wilshere make the most of it on occasion? No doubt, all players do. Did that influence Lee Mason’s decision in not awarding a penalty? No because replays exonerated Mulumbu of any foul play. Should the earlier decision have been given? Yes, anywhere else on the pitch a tackle made after the ball has gone is deemed late and punished. The legacy of Anthony Taylor’s decision to pull play back on the opening day after a shot was made is clear for all to see; no longer are such phases of play punishable.
Like floorboards in an old house, the defence creaked yesterday under the strain of a pacey Albion attack. The cobwebs were shaken when Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny swapped positions after the former had been left trailing in the wake of first Berahino whose cross Anelka contrived to miscontrol, allowing Szczesny to make a timely intervention, and then by Anelka himself, the curled effort wide of the post. Ordinarily the former French international would be referred to as a ‘former Arsenal player’ which he is, of course but then I would need to add in his other clubs. It’s one way of filling a 900 word post, I suppose.
Before that, the hole had been found. A corner was partially cleared but the supply route was left wide open and from Amaltifano’s cross, the unmarked Yacob scored. It was a horribly goal to concede from the minute the ‘second phase’ was not closed down to the lack of marking of the goalscorer. The goal snuggled nicely into every stereotype about Arsenal’s weaknesses from set-pieces, stereotypes that fitfully turn out to be true. Nobody remembers the corners safely cleared or crosses properly dealt with but there is no forgetting the mistakes, no matter how much they may be glossed over.
That this was the opening goal was at once surprising and not so. Myhill and Szczesny had both made crucial saves prior to that, both would make equally important blocks afterwards. Finishing on the whole was wayward and having been awoken from their half-time slumber, Arsenal assumed the ascendancy in the game. The injured and it has to be said relatively ineffective Ramsey was replaced by Rosicky and his naturally sparky passing game added a previously missing dimension. Arsenal’s equaliser cannot be put down to that on its own, the industry from the creative Özil provided the building blocks. Rosicky and Giroud the mortar before Wilshere added the final flourish, albeit with a healthy deflection.
After that there remained one pivotal moment as Giroud burst through the defence, rounded Myhill only to find a gloved hand dispossessing him at the vital moment. A late winner denied to the visitors and in truth parity is not a bad result when looking at Albion’s confidence coming into the match; it was their third meeting with one of the top four sides from last season inside a fortnight and only a penalty shootout provided them with defeat. Their home form prior to that is as relevant to yesterday as the spurious comparisons with last season’s results in corresponding fixtures.
Last season is last season, for the most part it is consigned to history but it does have a two-fold relevance to this. First and foremost, it is the time when the recent good run of results began and secondly, it is the benchmark for this season as a measure of improvement come the final Premier League table in May. Beyond that, comparison is trite, meaningless; no-one has exactly the same results in terms of win, lose or draw as last season. And once you go down that route, why stop there? Why not pick holes in goals scored or conceded. It is a never-ending spiral of fault-finding.
As it is, Arsenal sit top of the League for another fortnight at least and there isn’t a better way to go into an international break.