09/25/10: 2-3 v. West Bromwich Albion

I think that Saturday’s game can only be summed up in one way: “Not Good Enough”.

West Brom at home is a game that Arsenal should win. I have no disrespect to a very good West Bromwhich effort, and I believe the officiating was also well-done. The only reasons for the embarrassing result are internal to the team.

Firstly, you have to have a greater killer instinct at home. It was clear that the Arsenal players felt this match was won before it started, and the lack of aggression from the kick-off was clear to see. Perhaps worse, even after WBA came close on several chances (including a missed penalty), Arsenal still looked disinterested, or maybe just overconfident.

Secondly, there will be much finger pointing, but the fact is the whole team is responsible for such a miserable showing. The strikers didn’t finish, the midfielders lacked any sort of dominating possession and passed sloppily, the defenders were poor and our keeper was not upto task on two different goals. I will point out several choice individuals whom I feel are more responsible than others, but do not let that distract from the fact that the entire team – manager included – have a share in the blame.

Abou Diaby and Emmaneul Eboue: These guys aren’t always popular in the team, especially on their basis of performance alone. I felt these two were the biggest reason Arsenal did not come out on top on Saturday. Being two of the three midfielders, they were responsible for linking defense to attack and orchestrating attacks. But both of them made poor decisions frequently and lacked any determination to win the ball back in the cente of the park. It wasn’t surprising to me at all that Arsenal started to make offense moves as soon as these two were off the pitch. Frankly these two – particularly Diaby – were not worthy of the Arsenal badge in this game.

Manuel Almunia: How depressing. He started the game so well, and his penalty save should have turned the game around for Arsenal. Early on he was confident in his claims for the ball and earned the commentator’s remark about ‘He’s on his own personal path to redemption!’. Then Arsenal failed to turn the momentum around following his massive PK save, and it all went downhill. The second goal was pure trash and Almunia should have had it without question. It was exactly what he – and Arsenal as a whole – did not need, another clanger to ruin his hardwork at said redemption. I could see this second goal having far reaching complications for the team, as Almunia’s confidence – critical to his abilities as a keeper – will now be shot; something that easily could lead to future poor performances.

The third goal was clear evidence of what that lack of confidence can do. He failed to address the ball with clear belief in himself, did not make a confident claim, lost his positioning and cost the team another easy goal. Clichy could have done better on the play, but the goal was very avoidable had MA1 just snapped up the loose ball from the attacker.

Until January Almunia is our #1, and we must try to get behind him for the sake of the team as a whole. It may be difficult but as supporters of Arsenal we must support the players on the current team. Shaking his belief in himself will only damage the team more in future games. Let’s optimistically hope that Almunia comes up big in Belgrade and can return back to England with a little restored pride.

Koscielny for Vela Substitution: Risky, but I liked it. It showed that Wenger had confidence in our ability to come back at 2-0. The third goal was in part a result of this move, but I still feel it was the right decision. Unfortunately Vela had little impact on the game (again raising questions about his ability to get the job done in a tight match) so the move looks poor in hindsight. The team should have done better though, particularly knowing there’s only three defenders remaining behind them, and more could have been done to reward the faith of the manager. Now having said that…

Arsene Wenger’s Team Management: Weak. The starting eleven choice was fair, considering the recent stretch of games Arsenal have had (and the upcoming CL fixture), but after the team’s complacency in the first half AW needed to make changes. When a team is performing that lazily, it’s not enough to say “Hey boys, wake up, go do better”. You need to make a change and inject some energy into the team and demonstrate “If you’re not going to play with some desire then you’re not going to be on the pitch”. Further, after you go down 1-0 by the 50th or so minute and your team is still showing that first half level of intensity, make a change! Pull somebody off and show the team that it’s unacceptable, and give a sub a chance to make a mark on the game.

I have written before about Wenger’s belief in his players, and I think it’s great. But there are times when you need to put your foot down and say “this is not good enough” and show the players that they have to earn that manager’s confidence. AW does a lot for the team in the media, never criticizing his own and always siding with his players, but they did not do much for him against WBA and it would have been nice to see AW let them know that’s unacceptable. An earlier change could have really changed the game, and got us motivated to start playing earlier than the 60th or 70th minute (when three points were already beyond us).

Bacary Sagna: One positive note in a very negative game, I felt this was the best performance I’ve seen out of Sagna all season (or perhaps in the last two seasons). He was seemingly everywhere! Involved with the offense, running hard, a couple headers on corner kicks, it seemed he was one of the most fired-up players in the game. He did decline a little bit by the 75th minute, but overall his game was worthy of recognition.

It’s really sad that Arsenal did not make a big gain in the table when Chelsea and Man United only earned a single point between the two of them. But, it’s still early in the season, and with the quality of the EPL teams (from 1st place to 20th) it will not be the last upset caused by a mid or bottom table side against the ‘big boys’. Having said that, Arsenal need to learn from his and ensure that they are not the top-tier team that is a victim to that kind of headline grabbing result.

So take your lesson boys, move on, and restate your claim for glory with a proper win over Belgrade and get ready for the big test at Chelsea next weekend.

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