Arsenal 2 West Bromwich Albion 3
I should probably state now that this match report is not likely going to be any more fun for you to read than it is for me to write. Yesterday was, quite frankly, an unmitigated disaster in terms of the result and the performance. It`s a day that the players will do well to forget, but it will always be a stick for the supporters to beat the team with. In the unlikely event that we beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge next weekend, we will still rue the points we tossed away yesterday. Or match routine started slightly earlier than usual as we arrived at the Tavern in time to watch the Carling Cup draw. I`ve rather given up on the idea that we will ever get an interesting/ kind cup draw ever again, so while a midweek sojourn to the North East doesn`t fill the travelling supporter in me with vigour; it`s a winnable match nonetheless.
The starting line up surprised me slightly, with Eboue and a half fit Diaby in sit in our midfield, I did instantly wonder where the creativity would come from. It seemed an awful lot of pressure to heap on Samir Nasri and it`s probably instructive that he was the only player who will be able to look in the mirror this morning without regrets. The simple fact was, Arsenal took their opponents too lightly from the 1st minute until roughly the 91st. The passing was sloppy and the attempts to win the ball back nonexistent, it is rare that so many players have a mutual off day, but several players probably put their worst shift in in an Arsenal shirt. Though most people will tell you today that it was only Almunia that played horribly. Despite their insipid display, the Gunners came close to opening the scoring inside 20 minutes. Eboue slung a cross in from the right and Andrey Arshavin arrived at the back post past Jara and toe poked the ball onto the post, he repeated the feat when the ball came out for the rebound. An isolated Chamakh played a neat ball to Nasri with his back to goal, Nasri launched a low shot which flew just wide. That was the sum total of Arsenal`s efforts and West Brom soon had a gilt edged chance to take the lead. Brunt`s through ball cut Arsenal`s defence in half, Peter Odemwingie ran through only to be taken out by a rash challenge by Manuel Almunia. Chris Brunt stepped up for the penalty but Almunia atoned for his error by saving low to his right. Almunia`s record for saving penalties is statistically better than David Seaman`s, it seems the penalty taker has to make sure he hits a good penalty to beat Almunia. However, instead of the team mopping their collective brow and using the narrow escape as a wakeup call, they instead appeared to convince themselves that the hard work was now done.
It wasn`t, our sloppiness allowed the Baggies to grow in confidence, the half time team talk must have been a much tamer affair than it should have been, as the away side had the game won inside ten first half minutes. In that respect, the DJ`s decision to play KC and the Sunshine Band`s 'Baby Give It Up` was probably poignant. Really something by the Deftones would have been more fitting. Koscielny cleared Brunt`s cross, but the ball went straight to Jara. Eboue and Sagna failed to react as Jara sent a first time pass to Thomas. The Arsenal trainee easily evaded a cumbersome Sagna and sent in a low cross which Peter Odemwingie was on hand to slide in with the Gunners backline static. The goal said everything about our performance, sloppy, careless, complacent. Whilst I have no desire to berate individuals given the poverty of performance from at least nine players, it is hard to believe I have seen Bacary Sagna have a worse game in an Arsenal shirt. Sagna`s uber consistency made this all the more stark. Three minutes later, a comedy of errors gifted West Brom a two goal lead. Clichy held Brunt up on the left wing, whilst Alex Song stood around catching flies, Brunt`s back heel sent Jara tearing down the right channel. Koscielny was far too slow to close Jara down and invited him to shoot. Shoot he did and Almunia spilled the ball catastrophically into his own goal. The travelling Baggies fans were in delirium, I am surprised that several Arsenal fans didn`t join them. A lot of people got the mistake they had been hoping for from the Arsenal keeper and they have the pound of flesh they really wanted. As the jumbotron screen replayed the goal, there was an almighty reaction against Almunia and those guilty of berating our goalkeeper enjoyed every second of doing so, make no mistake.
The afternoon went from bad to worse as West Brom seized upon their limp hosts. Jerome Thomas was given free rein to find Brunt on the edge of the box, Brunt skipped around Almunia and diverted the ball into the six yard box. No Arsenal player bothered with anything as trivial as trying to track back and stop the ball and Thomas was on hand to gleefully prod the ball into an empty net. It was genuinely no less than West Brom deserved. Wenger sent Wilshere and Rosicky on and all of a sudden you were left with the impression that Arsenal had put their energy into the wrong game this week. Samir Nasri made a decent fist of being the only player in red and white to look like easing the embarrassment of the score line. He used Chamakh as a sounding board, collecting a one two from the Moroccan, evaded two challenges before smashing a shot onto the crossbar. Seconds later, Nasri got the goal he deserved. Sagna played a diagonal ball into the box, Nasri moved past Jara feinted around Ibanez before sliding the ball through Carson`s legs. The game was very much over, though the sole morsel of credit the team deserve is that they kept going, but it was far, far too late. As the board was raised for five minutes stoppage time- I have no idea where that amount of time came from I must admit. Chamakh, starved of service, found Arshavin, the Russian stayed calm and lifted a precise through ball to Nasri who found space in the box, he steadied himself before slotting the ball past Carson again.
This meant stoppage time was vaguely interesting, though I am at a loss to recall two Arsenal goals that moved me so little. Wilshere sent in a cross from the left and Rosicky attempted a volley with the outside of his right foot but sent the ball over. The final whistle went and Nasri had merely buttressed some respectability to the score line and allayed the volume of boos at the final whistle. West Brom were the better side and I felt 3-1 would have been a score line that reflected their superiority accurately. With the exception of Nasri, Arsenal had a huge off day, both as individuals and collectively. The manager erred away from a midfield that would have been better at keeping possession, with the likes of Rosicky, Denilson and Wilshere on the bench. But nonetheless, this was a team that should have had enough quality to win the game. That they didn`t was down to a lack of professionalism and a lack of focus. Basic elements, such as possession, retention, tracking back, all deserted us. Therefore, berating individuals, whilst doubtless cathartic and a lot of fun when you have it in your mind that you don`t like someone, is essentially useless and misses the point entirely. The result and performance were an enormous blot on the copy book for the season, whilst the players need to forget about it quickly, the supporters will not and once more, the sense of unity in the fan base will be dissolved. Arsenal have a lot of work to do to earn the trust back, this is a huge week for those players, because they let themselves, their manager and their supporters down yesterday. My response was to stumble into the Tollington Arms and sink several double wild turkeys. My memory of the evening thereafter is somewhat hazy, I only wish I couldn`t remember the afternoon either.LD.
1.ALMUNIA(c), 3.SAGNA, 6.KOSCIELNY (11.Vela `66), 22.CLICHY, 17.SONG, 2.DIABY (7.Rosicky `56), 8.NASRI, 27.EBOUE (19.Wilshere `56), 23.ARSHAVIN, 29.CHAMAKH. Unused: 15.Denilson, 20.Djourou, 21.Fabianski, 41.E.Thomas.