Saturday, 19 March 2011

WBA 2-2 Arsenal

How we are still in the title race is a mystery.

At one point we seemed dead and buried; 2-0 down thanks to terrible defensive play. By the end of the game it looked like we were going to snatch it - alas, it wasn't to be. 

All of the pre-match talk focused on Aaron Ramsey, and how great it was to see him back. Fans were praising Wenger for his inclusion in the starting eleven, although some preferred to criticise Le Boss for starting Denilson once more. With Ramsey starting, it was a choice between two unfavoured players for Wenger - instead of Tomas Rosicky, he picked Denilson. 

Of course, another option was to go for a 4-4-2, with Robin van Persie and Bendtner or Chamakh in attack. Then we could have had Arshavin and Nasri on the wings, with Wilshere and Ramsey in the centre. In hindsight it would have been better; we finished playing our best football in a 4-4-2, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. Perhaps we ought to play 4-4-2 whenever we're without Song and/or Cesc.

We went 1-0 down early on, just three minutes in in fact, thanks to yet another goal conceded from a set piece. Koscielny knocked it out, and it was whipped in well by Brunt. Steven Reid lost Aaron Ramsey, and powered in a header. The general consensus was that Almunia could have done better - indeed, he only went for the ball with one hand. Try using both next time, Manuel. If there is a next time.

We struggled during the first twenty minutes, but got going after that. Clichy swung in a cross for RVP, whose looping header hit the bar. It fell to Ramsey on his weaker left, and he couldn't beat Carson who blocked. It was a great chance, and one we should have taken. Our endeavours were helped by James Morrison being forced to leave the field of play to get stitches after a collision with Koscielny, but we couldn't make the extra man count. We went in at half time at 1-0 down.

Denilson had come in for huge criticism amongst the fans for his inability to... well, play football, and Arsene seemed to agree with the majority, bringing on Chamakh at half time as we averted to a 4-4-2. It's rare for Arsene to make a change at half time - perhaps that is a significant pointer as to how much we were struggling. 

Just before the hour mark though, it got much worse. Almunia decided to race out of his box to challenge for the ball - in some situations this is acceptable, but not when you're challenging your own player. He confused Squillaci, before shoving him to make matters worse. Odemwingie stole in to take advantage of the mix-up and gleefully slotted home. We needed serious readjustments.

Moments before the second, Bendtner had replaced Ramsey. He perhaps lacked a little sharpness, but still looked decent. We threw everyone forward to try and score, but it didn't seem to working. West Brom even had more chances to score thanks to woeful play at the back, but luckily for us they didn't. 

Then on 70 minutes, we were back in it. Andrey Arshavin linked up with Chamakh before rifling in a shot, and made it 2-1. Hope.

This gave us the boost we so badly needed, and Arshavin was the one to instigate the second goal. He curled in a cross which struck the bar, and van Persie forced the ball over the line. Improbably, it was 2-2. 

We pushed and pushed, as did West Brom, and it looked like we might find an unbelievable winner to send the away fans into delirium. However, as hard as we tried, we couldn't. Clichy had a shot saved well, and Sagna had a shout for a penalty turned down. The referee blew for full time, and it finished 2-2.

Afterwards, Wenger blamed the pitch, and called it a point gained. Seeing as Man United scored a late winner against Bolton, it's more like we've dropped points. However, I feel both points can be justified - it's Wenger trying to avert the blame and encouraging the players. On the other hand, it may make players think "Oh it wasn't my fault, it was the pitch's fault. I'll just play the same way next time." If that's the case, all Wenger will be encouraging is complacency. Ah well, whatever you think's best, Arsene.

Further analysis should follow tomorrow. Until then, Gooners. Keep your heads high. There's a long way to go until the end of the season. 


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