Forgetting West Bromwich Albion: Where From Here?
Written by Ben on September 27, 2010 11:15
Today a strange thing happened. Arsenal gave the crowd at the Emirates a lesson in how not to play football. I’ve been watching the team since the 1998 double winning season, but I struggle to recall anything quite as utterly humbling as this. I’ve certainly seen Arsenal play worse- the 6-1 reverse at Old Trafford comes to mind, as does the dizzying ten minute spell against Wigan last season- but nothing quite as embarrassing as being comprehensively outplayed on their home patch by a newly promoted side. It was surreal.
Let’s not take anything away from the Baggies’ performance. They had a game plan and they executed it well. It didn’t involve systematic fouling, a set piece barrage or even long balls. Instead, it involved pressing Arsenal in all areas of the pitch and making the most of the mistakes they made. They stuck doggedly to their task and in between Arshavin hitting the post and the time they scored their third goal they never really looked like conceding. They didn’t rely on the ‘keeper having a blinder, or any dodgy refereeing calls. They were far and away the better, more effective side.
What went wrong?
Along with your other columnists at the Gunning Hawk, I try and bring some original analysis to the blog when I write. Last week I thought that the Gunners defended too deep as the game went on, adopting a siege mentality and inviting pressure onto their goal in the final minutes. Against Liverpool there was an obvious lack of cutting edge because Fabregas and van Persie weren’t in the side.
Sometimes, however, you just have to throw your hands up and admit defeat in the pursuit for answers. So many things went wrong today that it seems unreasonable and unfair to single out any one problem. Goalkeeping errors? Check! Defenders giving too much space and getting beaten one vs. one? Check! Misplaced passes putting the side under pressure? Check! Ponderous and ineffective build-up play? Check! Missed chances from 3 yards out? Check! I think Arsene Wenger was right when he said in the press conference:
“We were poor and we got a poor result,” said Wenger. “We were poor everywhere, at the back, up front and in the middle of the park. We had an off day and were not good enough to win the game. I believe the concentration that gives you the sharpness was not there today.
“We made it more difficult because we were not at our usual level, defensively or offensively. Anything was difficult for us today, to pass the ball, to win it back. Overall we got what we deserved, that is zero points. We didn’t deserve more.”
In short, everything went wrong. This is not a performance to sit and pick apart- it is a performance to be consigned to the scrap bin. Just think of what was done, and don’t do it ever again.
Are there deeper problems?
The short answer is “yes, but”. Over the course of the season passes will be misplaced, shots will be missed, concentration levels will drop and the supporters will continue to tear our hair out. On the other hand, I sincerely doubt that we will ever feel all these problems simultaneously as against West Brom. As Chris said in his ratings, it’s completely unlike Sagna to lose his bearings at the back. With a few honourable exceptions (Chamakh, Nasri and Wilshere), I think every Arsenal player had a poor game. How often will that happen?
But while we can forgive Sagna the odd poor game, it is worrying that Clichy continues to struggle with the basic tenets of positional play while Arshavin is still moping and Diaby pulls out shocking performances every other week. Even more concerning is Alex Song’s transformation from ‘beast’ to bumbling fool. I thought he was the most disappointing player on the park, as he completely failed to break up West Brom’s attack and was often caught out of position.
Undoubtedly the most depressing feature of the match was Almunia’s reversion to last season’s shaky form. The problem isn’t so much that he made mistakes in the game- every ‘keeper will make the odd clanger- but rather that I fear his confidence will be completely shot after the loss. No confidence means more mistakes and more goals conceded. Here’s hoping he can keep it together.
How many people gave the Baggies a chance of an upset? West Brom have a poor away record in their Premier League history, and only a month ago Chelsea hammered Roberto Di Matteo’s men 6-0. As a result, most neutrals would have expected a comfortable win for the Gunners. Indeed, betting agencies were offering odds of between 15-1 and 17-1 on an away win.
The players would have expected to win this as well. Expecting a win is fine, as long as you’re committed to working towards it. Big teams like Arsenal, United and Chelsea do ‘expect’ to win all their home games- they’re confident that if they do their job for 90 minutes, the result will take care of itself. The problem arises when you expect to win without having to do that job. Such a mindset it rare in professional sport, but it did look as if complacency was a factor against West Brom. There was no patience, no willingness to concentrate and no confidence in the tried and trusted game plan.
Where from here?
The great thing about sport is that there’s always the next game. My bet is that the side will be forced to watch the video of the game once, discuss it for a few minutes, and then try and leave the whole sorry saga behind. What’s done is done- mulling over it will only increase the sense of frustration.
Wenger and his players have a chance to put things right (in a manner of speaking) midweek against Partizan Belgrade, and then again on the weekend when they visit Stamford Bridge. I’m sure every one of them is hurting right now, knowing that they’ve let the fans and themselves down with this performance. The humiliation suffered at the hands of the Baggies should be a strong enough incentive to improve. If it isn’t, we could be looking at a mauling at the Bridge.