Arsenal 3 West Bromwich Albion 0
Though Arsenal have been in good form of late, it does feel like an incredibly long time since we`ve had a comfortable victory. I hadn`t anticipated on yesterday being one. I feared the team had surrendered their momentum after the lacklustre draw with Marseille. However, the team sheets told the difference. Whilst Arsene Wenger pondered on which international centre half he would have to disappoint, Hodgson was left counting the cost of losing his two leading strikers- Shane Long and Peter Odemwingie- to injury.
With the clocks now set back in England and the country ensconced in autumnal November chill, the gloomy London skies were quickly giving way to darkness even by the time the match kicked off. This left a beautifully bruised purple sky over the stadium. Pic courtesy of my sister. But there was nothing bruised or brooding about The Arsenal`s performance. As expected West Brom played compactly, denying time and space to their hosts in the opening 23 minutes.
But you always got the feeling Arsenal could pick through them. It took them till about the halfway point of the half to fashion a chance. When they did, the world`s most clinical striker made sure it was finished. Simon Cox fouled Vermaelen on the halfway line. Vermaelen took a quick free kick and the Baggies` concentration dropped. Aaron Ramsey picked the ball up in midfield and saw the slaloming intonation of a Walcott run. The Welshman showed his growing class by threading the eye of the needle with an inch perfect through pass to match Walcott`s run. Walcott bore down on goal and his low strike was saved by Ben Foster, but Robin van Persie was on hand showing his predatory instincts hadn`t been dulled by sweeping home the rebound. 11 in 11 games and 29 in 28 in 2011. His omission from the Ballon D`or shortlist gives you all the confirmation that you need to see what a crock of rat`s arse that award is.
The Gunners continued to control the half and added to their advantage shortly before half time. McAuley`s clearing header only came as far as Alex Song on the corner of West Brom`s penalty area. Song was given a ridiculous amount of time and space to clip a precise ball to the back post- a pass remarkably similar to one he played for Eduardo`s sensational volley against Burnley in 2009. It drifted towards the back post where van Persie attempted to side foot it onto the path of Gervinho. Olsson nicked it away from the Ivorian, but nobody had tracked the run of Thomas Vermaelen who swept the ball past Foster to make it 2-0.
In the second half West Brom had little resolution but to try and score and made a lively start to the half. But without either of their two main strikers, they lacked the venom in their attempts. This allowed space for the Gunners to exploit. Carl Jenkinson- putting in his finest display for the club yet- motored into 30 or 40 yards of greenbelt on the right hand side before delivering one of a number of threatening crosses, with Gervinho lurking, McAuley was forced to anxiously lift the ball over his own crossbar. From the resulting corner, van Persie`s delivery was met with the untracked run of Thomas Vermaelen, but the Belgian conspired to head narrowly wide.
Arsenal began to cut a beleaguered Baggies side to ribbons at will. Song was becoming Arsenal`s hub. He found van Persie, who used that delightful touch he produces so often, disguising his intention to create space for himself. He dupes the defender into thinking he will merely stop the ball before letting it hit his instep, unbalancing the defender and eking out a yard of space for himself. The Dutchman found Gervinho on the left, who tempted two West Brom defenders before nudging the ball to Ramsey, who twisted and shot wide.
Song again found Gervinho- this time on the right- with a bending pass. Gervinho smuggled himself into the area, played a neat one two with Arteta, but found his cross shot beaten out by Foster. West Brom would have settled for the final whistle at this point. Song again turned the ball wide to Gervinho, he exposed his full back before tucking the ball back to Song in the area, but the Cameroonian`s effort was saved by Foster. Van Persie once again dropped deep between the away side`s midfield and defence to receive the ball on the right, his dribble initially looked to have been foiled by Thomas` tackle, but his challenge unwittingly played Walcott in down the right. Walcott shimmied past McAuley and shifted the ball to van Persie, but he was already leaning back and spooned his shot over.
But there was no mistake with the next attack. Song found van Persie in the hole again. He turned the ball wide to Rosicky before continuing his run into the area. Rosicky duly found him, van Persie, with his back to goal, pushed the ball back to Arteta, who steered a beautiful shot into the bottom corner for his first goal at The Grove. I was happy for Arteta, who hasn`t garnered enough credit for the maturity he`s brought to our side. A much needed maturity too. Sometimes it is better to have a player in there that is constantly at 7 out of 10 rather than one that veers randomly between 4 and 8 out of 10. Particularly in a team like ours; that has a penchant for self inflicted woundage.
The game rather petered out from there. Vermaelen made an impressive block inside the area when Somen Tchoyi threatened. Szczesny made a comfortable save from a Stephen Reid header, but overall 3-0 victory only told part of the story of our dominance. The understanding has increased in the team week by week and yesterday was the first time I can remember some dashing one touch play. It shouldn`t be as much of a surprise as it is being treated as. Understanding and adhesiveness are hugely important in football. Newcastle`s current form correlates directly with the fact that they`ve named the same starting line up for 9 of their 11 league games to date. The signs are there that the players appreciate one another`s movements. Walcott and Gervinho are forming a tantalising duel threat from the wings, the midfield trio of Ramsey, Arteta and Song is coming into its own too. With van Persie heading it all; we truly have the jewel in the crown of world strikers. LD.
13.SZCZESNY, 25.JENKINSON, 6.KOSCIELNY, 5.VERMAELEN, 11.A.SANTOS, 17.SONG, 8.ARTETA, 16.RAMSEY (7.Rosicky `71), 14.WALCOTT (23.Arshavin `78), 27.GERVINHO (30.Benayoun `72), 10.v.PERSIE(c). Unused; 4.Mertesacker, 9.J-Y.Park, 20.Djourou, 21.Fabianski.
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