Away From the Numbers
After a run of four goalless draws in the Premiership, probably the last thing most people would want to endure is a midweek trip to the Midlands in the driving rain. Though I welcomed it myself, I`m sure the team did too, a chance to escape the vacuum of negativity that seems to envelope our home games nowadays. Arsene Wenger may have dropped a very telling hint in his post match interview when he said, "the away fans have always been great to me." A slight glitch with our coach meant we left Highbury 45 minutes later than was intended, but nevertheless the mood was predominantly philosophical regarding the current malaise. Given the grumpy guts that show up at the Grove nowadays, the coach driver would probably have been booed senseless and dragged across the coals for forgetting the fob key. We arrived at the Hawthorns to be greeted by sheets of windswept rain, the kind which glues fringes to foreheads and makes you rue what an idiot you were to wear a short sleeved shirt.
An amusing chant was doing the rounds in the concourse pre match as we steadfastly queued for a Bovril; to the tune of Doris Day`s 'Que Sera Sera`, "Dave Bentley, Bentley/ he bottled his penalty/ and ****** up at Wem-ber-lee/ Dave Bentley, Bentley." Simple but effective. Arsene sprung a few surprises with the starting line up with Robin van Persie rested to the bench and Arshavin starting as an out and out striker alongside Nicklas Bendtner. Van Persie will probably be asked to plough a lone furrow in Rome next week and will have valued the rest, but I won`t deny I questioned the sagacity of the decision before kick off, nor do I deny that it is a decision I would have been furious about had we not won the game. After four league games without a goal, the first one seemed to come so easily. Nasri`s poor corner was cleared only as far as Denilson- sweeping up as always- and he manoeuvred the ball out to Bendtner who, amazingly in a box packed to the rafters with Baggies defenders, was afforded time to switch the ball onto his left foot and place a low shot into Scott Carson`s far corner. Sitting at the opposite end of the stadium I`m not sure if the shock which seemed to inhabit the celebrations was the surprise of actually seeing us score or the fact that Bendtner`s shot was so lacking in pace that we never felt it goalbound. Either way, it was the sort of early goal you normally feel precipitates an Arsenal onslaught. However, the away fans would invite the wrath of the footballing Gods in their celebrations. "Jump up, if you`re 1-0 up" came the cry as Chris Brunt lined up a free kick, his daisy cutter picked up pace on the unctuous surface and beat Almunia low to his left. The spring was suddenly out of our step and displaced into the home fans as they produced their customary, "Boing Boing Baggies Baggies" salutation.
The equaliser appeared to stir the home side, albeit very briefly. For 88 of the 90 minutes, the Baggies looked like a side who have already accepted the inevitability of relegation. Brunt`s corner swung ominously towards Arsenal`s back post, Ryan Donk headed the ball back across goal and Luke Moore somehow contrived to head over with the goal at his mercy. But that was the limit of the home side`s offering really and Arsenal would waste an equally glorious opportunity when Eboue ran menacingly at West Brom`s back line, before having the customary brain fart the second he enters the penalty area and scuffing his shot comically, however, the ball fell invitingly to Bendtner who, perhaps surprised at the chance, snatched at it and lashed it wildly over from close range. The miss would have yielded a crucifixion for him at the Grove; the same miss from van Persie would likely have invited drooling praise. However, on 37 minutes the Gunners would reassume the lead. Clichy was bundled over on the left hand side, Nasri- feeling an ankle knock- left the free kick to Arshavin whose flighted ball saw Kolo Toure completely unmarked to head home from close range. This being the same defence that four days ago, left Tim Cahill completely unmarked in the area from an Everton free kick. Six minutes later, Toure turned provider with a beautiful chipped ball over the top of the home defence which Bendtner, all at once, killed, controlled and turned before despatching a smart volley past Frank Carson from a tight angle. A carbon copy of van Persie`s stunner at Everton. I rather doubt Bendtner will draw the same praise though; too many Arsenal fans want him to fail for that to happen.
The goal and the resulting acclaim from the visiting supporters appeared to give Bendtner a few extra inches in height. Without 57,000 pairs of eyes boring into the back of his skull, willing him to fail he looked a much more comfortable player. Don`t misunderstand me when I say people at home games largely will him to fail, make no mistake that these people get off on that sense of hatred and negativity and love buttressing it onto their chosen hobby horse. Supporters find expediency in the failings of such players as it somehow proves them "right" that such and such a player is rubbish and "look at me, I was right all along. See he misplaced a pass, you all saw that, all hail my football knowledge." Whatever happened to supporting a football team? In the opening ten minutes of the second half, the Gunners could well have run up a cricket score. Bendtner drifted in from the left, beat three West Brom defenders before tucking the ball back to Arshavin, but his close range effort was tipped just wide by Carson. Arsenal were in the mood and Diaby was dancing, swaying left then right before beating Ryan Donk only to see his shot deflected narrowly over the bar. By now, Bendtner looked ebullient, sauntering in again from the left hand side, motoring past three players before sending a shot past Carson and onto the inside of the post. You might argue that the inferior opposition made Bendtner look better than his ability suggests, maybe you`d have a point. But I find it difficult to dismiss that there was something ectoplasmic about the support he was receiving from the crowd. The tannoy announced Chris Brunt as man of the match, an announcement which was met by the travelling fans with a rousing chorus of "Super Nicklas Bendtner." I hope that meant more to him than the acclaim of some champagne soaked, know nothing "match sponsors." I suspect it did. Bendtner would again drift in from the flank with good effect, teeing up Eboue for a shot from the edge of the area which went straight at Carson. The home side gave Arsenal a sole cause for raised heart rates with eleven minutes remaining, when Greening sent Fortune free in the channel and he sent his shot just wide from a tight angle. But largely, the fourth quarter of the game was a rare example of a "seeing out" exercise from Arsenal.
After the game, Bendtner ran to the away fans beating his chest, shouting "I`m the man, you`re all c***s", before beating his flaccid cock into the palm of his hand. No he didn`t, but I suspect there are some people reading who were prepared to believe that. Some may have even already text the Daily Star expressing your disgust at his perceived arrogance. It was a cathartic game for us in that we were able to exorcise our goal scoring demons; Bendtner`s performance was not only about his two goals but his general link up play and his proclivity for running at players, all consequences of confidence. It`s a massive shame that around 95% of those attending on Sunday will not have seen this game and I suspect Bendtner will be subjected to abuse before he even does anything. Booing after a game is one thing, as consumers fans have a right to do that, though it's not to my taste, but during a game it really does display a level of idiocy and barely proportioned fury I cannot relate to. Arshavin again showed some nice touches but the result has to be put into some perspective as the quality of the opposition was negligible. Most of the Baggies players emerged from the tunnel with 'surrender` tattooed to their foreheads. Arsenal will seldom have easier games than this in the Premiership. We are now in a situation whereby we play before Villa for the next few games and have the opportunity to see how they cope with the pressure and it really is last chance saloon in terms of keeping that heat firmly burning on their backsides. The hunt is on again.LD.