06 October 2013

1-1 West Brom: one point we're lucky to have.

Jack Wilshere's first Prem league goal in three years was enough to salvage a point with West Brom on a day when it looked like the hosts would take all three and arguably should have. The most telling narrative of the match seemed to be Wilshere, for good or bad. I think I spent most of the match counting how many times he was fouled
Image courtesy of arsenalist.com
without the whistle blowing and the potential irony of him getting sent off for complaining about a non-call. It seemed at times as if West Brom were playing "knock Jack down" whenever he touched the ball. Having said that, though, Jack is just as much to blame because he does throw his body around, and it's long been a worry that he opens himself to being clattered. On a day when the referee was terrible for both sides, it's a wonder that no one lost their tempers or took matters into their own hands.

I don't mean to make it sound like the action was intense, but it was odd how passive the referee was, and it's a credit to both sides that the action was clean even if it was rugged at times. West Brom will probably come away a bit disappointed, as it does seem like they were the brighter squad on the day. Coming away with the one point, after being the first Prem team to score first against us, is probably frustrating.  There were periods when they dominated possession (finishing with 44%) and could arguably claim to have controlled the action. It would be lazy of me to call us lackluster, even if we were, but the truth is that West Brom came out harder and more energetic, putting pressure on throughout most of the match. If we had channeled some of the energy we put into complaining to the referee, we might have taken the game by the scruff. On a day when it seemed clear that the calls were not coming, it would have been nice to see our boys grit their teeth and take the game out of the referee's hands. Instead, we seemed content to wander around, make sloppy passes or tackles, and look to the referee when things didn't pan out.

I fretted before the match that West Brom's new signings would cause us some trouble, and it was Amalfitano who finally sliced us open in the 41st minute with a beautiful cross that Yacob headed home thanks in part to some sloppy defending at the near post. We were fortunate to go in to halftime down 1-0 after sloppy finishing from Anelka and some fine saves from Szczesny. Throughout the first half, as we worried about Wilshere's ability to stay on the pitch (whether it would be injury or a red card that saw him off), the calls for his replacement grew louder. I tweeted at halftime that I'd like Wilshere to stay on and score, if only to shut up the tedious references to smoking, as if all of the clatters he suffered were some kind of morality play on the evils of cigarettes. Finally, thankfully, he tallied in the 63rd minute thanks to a nifty exchange that saw Rosický lay it off for him to run onto and score, drawing us level and extinguishing (stubbing out?) the incessant smoking "jokes."

Aside from that, we spurned any number of chances, perhaps none worse than Giroud's, who wasted two beautiful chances. The first came in the 71st minute after a scramble left the ball at Özil's feet, who flicked a little looper to Giroud, but his tame shot rolled harmlessly out of bounds. The second is really more a credit to Myhill than a criticism of Giroud. Wilshere sent an incredible pass from near midfield that curled beautifully into the box for Giroud, who ran in behind the defender. His first touch, however, was sloppy, and he had to outrace Myhill to the ball, and Myhill was lively enough to save. It was more than a bit irritating to see Giroud flop to the ground as if he was making a snow-angel instead of getting back up to try to chase the rebound down.

Whatever was wrong with Giroud seemed to be a squad-wide malaise, and to come away with the point is indeed lucky. It's enough to keep us atop the Prem despite Liverpool's 3-1 win over Crystal Palace. Spurs found a way to lose 0-3 at home to West Ham. Each of the contenders for the Prem League title has dropped points that it really shouldn't have, and we'll have to remember that the points one drops in September and October are just as important, if not more so, than the points available in April and May because of the increased pressure those early dropped points can put on a squad later.

We head into the break then still undefeated in our last eleven matches, but we see that we still have work to do. By the time we return to action to host Norwich on 19 October, we should have Cazorla back, but we'll have to wait a bit longer for Ox, Sagna, Podolski, and Walcott, among others (click here for the injury report). This draw may have slowed us a bit, but it might also remind us that a club's run of form has little bearing on each match—if anything, in fact, the longer a club goes undefeated, the more the pressure mounts and the more-eager each awaiting rival gets to end that run. We may not have the quality of depth to run the table, but I do hope it's quite a bit longer before we drop all three.

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