Ten Thoughts: West Bromwich Albion 3-1 Arsenal


There was a time where I wouldn't miss a match at the pub for love or money. It even wasn't all that long ago! But, these days, a little older and dubiously wiser, I tend to stay home and have a lie-in if I see a storm coming. I mean, how predictable was this result? How predictable was the manner in which it happened?

Don't mistake that for anger, though. I said months ago that I have none left, and I mean it as much now as I did back then. What's the point? Nothing is going to change in the foreseeable future, The man who most needs to go is the one in charge of his own future, and all signs point to him having no inclination to do so.

There'll be a little twinge of regret and sadness when the season ends with no St. Totteringham's Day, when we finish outside of the top four for the first time in Arsene's tenure. It's such a goddamn shame that it's all gone this far. But, chickens do come home to roost eventually. Sunderland looks like they're finding that out this season, as did Newcastle and Aston Villa before them. Thankfully we're nowhere near that territory, but for a club of our resources, it's still an absolutely shocking systems failure.

Not to say that we have a divine right to finish above that other lot and/or to pratfall over ourselves in the Champions League every year. Both streaks were going to end one year, as all streaks do. I just wish we'd have let them go with a little more dignity.

1. I'm sure Twitter will be calm and reasoned today, eh?

2. So, a Tony Pulis team comes out in the exact formation and shape that Tony Pulis teams do, playing for the counter and off of set pieces exactly like every other team he's put out in the Premier League. Naturally, that means we start with the traditionally physicality-shy Theo Walcott on the right, and our best aerial threat in Olivier Giroud on the bench. Excellent.

Danny Welbeck tried, he worked hard, but he was utterly anonymous as the central striker. Sure, it wasn't much better when Giroud came on, but the game was largely gone at that point. As for Walcott, it was no surprise that he was the one who had come off for Ollie, having contributed nothing on the day.

I keep saying it, and will continue to do so - the squad is fine, the talent is there. The issue is on how little is being drawn out of them, and the continual mistakes in deployment and tactics.

3. There wasn't much to choose from in terms of good Arsenal performances, but I thought Granit Xhaka had a good game. He showed a much improved range of passing and he was the nerve center of what passed for our attack all day, that is, in the rare times when Alexis Sanchez wasn't trying to take on six defenders by himself.

Oh, and of course, Petr Cech was outstanding in the time he was on the field. He's been made a scapegoat for a lot of what's gone wrong this season, and really it's all my balls. He's still a top keeper, and he showed it today. I don't just mean the saves he made, as excellent as they were. When you're facing a counter-attacking side like WBA, the keeper needs to be decisive at coming off his line and sweeping up. You could see the difference in that arena when Cech went off injured.

4. Speaking of, let's get the keeper talk out of the way now. As mentioned, Cech had a good game, and perhaps things might have been different had he stayed on. The goal he conceded was completely not his fault - not one of his teammates deigned to do anything as Darren Fletcher stood on him, so he had to spend precious seconds trying to push him out of the way as the corner came in. Aaron Ramsey was abysmal in letting Craig Dawson rush by him, and an uncontested header from that close in is impossible for a keeper to stop.

I did feel bad for David Ospina when he came on. He had a brutally poor game, the second goal and the one where Hal Robson-Kanu should have rounded him to make it 3-1 before they did get their third both come to mind. He was indecisive and out of the rhythm of the match, but what else can be expected? So much of goalkeeping is mental, and to go from expecting to be on the bench to having to go right into the thick of it is a difficult adjustment to make. It's a little different in, say, ice hockey...where there is a culture of No. 2 keepers both starting about 20-30% of the matches and with them replacing the starter if they're having a bad night. In football? No way, it's not realistic to expect them to be at top mental readiness. They're human beings.

Beyond that, there's no real warm-up, you haven't had the chance to get a few touches, etc. If you're blaming Ospina for this shitshow today, you're massively missing the point.

Meanwhile, Ben Foster had a brilliant game in his own right, which ended up making a big difference. If he doesn't make that foot-save on Ramsey early in the match, it's 2-1 us and likely a much different game. He also swept up effectively and was confident in the air, essentially neutralizing Giroud from having any impression on the game.

5. That said, one of the other problems we have (in the long laundry list of them) is that we're a team of prefects - we're far too nice. Look at what the dark arts did for Brom today - Gareth McCauley's tackle on Alexis was shocking and in a sane world, he'd have walked for that. I have a hard time believing, especially with this being a Pulis team, that it wasn't a coordinated attack on the one guy who could potentially break down their massed ranks of defenders.

Alexis was never the same for the rest of the time he was on the pitch, and eventually had to come off for Alex Iwobi. Whereas the Cech thing was just one of those unfortunate things, I refuse to believe that the Alexis injury was the same.

Even with Cech, if I were in his shoes and I had Fletcher standing on me like that, I'd "accidentally" step on the back of his ankle. See if he does that shit again. I'm sorry, kids, things like this happen out there. When I played hockey and a guy would try and screen me on a power play, I'd whack the shit out of the back of his legs with my stick. They expect it, it's part of the game. Same thing here.

We're so goddamn easy to push around.

6. Alexis' goal was rather good though, huh? There weren't many bright spots today, but that was one of them.

7. The plane thing, though. My god. It honestly is becoming a trial being an Arsenal supporter and having to be on the same side as bellends like this. Isn't Arsenal Fan TV bad enough? Isn't Piers Morgan bad enough? Isn't the bin Laden family having once been season-ticket holders bad enough? (For the record, those are ranked from worst to least-worst).

We're a laughingstock now. The ever-so-hilarious 4th-place jokes were one thing - given that we haven't even finished there that often lately, you could shrug those off as nonsense from unoriginal nimrods.  But, there is no defense possible for this plane nonsense. It's stupid when other clubs do it, it's stupid when we do it.

I mean, look. I can just about get it if it's a traditionally big club that has been mismanaged in the Newcastle style to a place well below their station. But, for fuck's sake, even as bad as it is with us we're still doing better than most clubs out there. Yes, the manager needs to go - that is beyond any kind of reasonable debate at this point. But, it's also probably not going to happen, so why the negative energy? Read a book. Go outside. Choose life. You'll thank me for it, I promise.

8. Well, at least we don't have to play Bayern Munich again this season.

9. The most Arsenal thing about this game, to me, is the third goal. We allow Dawson to waltz in uncontested to open the scoring, but that is just garden-variety awful set-piece defending. No, what makes it *Arsenal* set-piece defending is that we allowed the EXACT same thing to happen for the third. Seriously, it was like a real-life instant replay of the opener. Our capacity to learn nothing, even in the immediacy of a single game itself, is truly astonishing. It's a hell of an accomplishment, in its own way.

10. Only 11 more of these to go, and then we can enjoy our summers. We'll get through this together, I promise. The other bright side is if we can keep most of this team together and get a new manager in, I really like our chances in the Europa League, you guys.

Man of the Match:  Craig Dawson

Preview by Numbers: West Bromwich Albion v. Arsenal

The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
Saturday, March 18
8:30 a.m. EDT, 12:30 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Neil Swarbrick
    • Assistants: Scott Ledger and Constantine Hatzidakis
    • 4th Official: Kevin Friend
  • Reverse Fixture: Arsenal 1 - 0 West Brom
  • This Match, Last Year: West Brom 2 - 1 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 70 Arsenal wins, 37 West Brom wins, 31 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-W-L-L-W-L
  • West Brom's League Form: D-W-D-W-L-L
And so, we enter the final phase of the season. Arsenal will play at least 13 more matches this season, 14 if they defeat Manchester City at Wembley in the FA Cup Semi-Final. They still have a dozen league fixtures on the docket, but the European portion of this campaign is over and, hopefully, buried like it's radioactive or something.

The movement of domestic fixtures won't ease their fixture congestion, however. Their matches against Southampton and Leicester City have not yet been rescheduled and their FA Cup Semi-Final will mean movement of the scheduled fixture against Sunderland that weekend as well.

With their league campaign coming squarely into focus, Arsenal have to start taking maximum points from their games against mid-table and lower opposition (and, ideally, all of them, but let's not get greedy.) There's an international break on the horizon before Arsenal host Manchester City on April 2. This is Arsenal's only match between now and then and it comes against a West Brom side that might not have much motivation, as they sit comfortably mid-table.

Arsenal lost at the Hawthorns last season, a sign of worse to come. They cannot afford to drop points there this time around, lest their fifth place standing in the table become permanent.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Elneny (ankle,) Cazorla (Achilles)
Doubts: Gibbs (knock,) Ospina (groin,) Oxlade-Chamberlain (hamstring)

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain left last week's FA Cup tie against Lincoln City on 27 minutes with a hamstring problem, one which leaves him a doubt for this week's trip to West Brom, rather than out entirely.

Danny Welbeck missed out last weekend through illness and David Ospina missed out through a groin tweak; it sounds like both of them are available again, but Kieran Gibbs is a doubt, as he's carrying a knock of some sort.

Mohamed Elneny is back in training again after his ankle had been in a boot, but I would guess that he'll be too short of fitness for this match.

Predicted XI: Čech, Bellerín, Koscielny, Mustafi, Monreal, Xhaka, Ramsey, Iwobi, Walcott, Özil, Alexis.

West Brom Squad News

Out: None
Doubts: Phillips (knock)

Not much to say here; Matt Phillips is a 50/50 doubt with a knock and everyone else in West Brom's squad is available.

Tony Pulis's actual player selection, however, leaves a little more to be discussed. Last weekend, the Baggies went to Goodison Park with the opportunity to gain some ground on Everton, who are directly ahead of them in the table. For the match, Pulis made three changes to the side that had lost to Crystal Palace the week prior, dropping James Morrison, Chris Bunt, and Salomon Rondón in exchange for Claudio Yacob, James McClean, and Hal Robson-Kanu. It didn't work, as Albion lost 3-0.

As such, all three could find their way back into Pulis's XI for this match.

Predicted XI: Foster, Dawson, McAuley, Evans, Nyom, Fletcher, Livermore, Brunt, Chadli, Morrison, Rondón.

Current Form

If you exclude cup ties against non-league clubs, then Arsenal have only one win (over Hull City) in their last six matches, having lost the other five against Bayern twice, Watford, Chelsea, and Liverpool. Then again, you can't fault Arsenal for having been drawn against Sutton and Lincoln in the FA Cup and they won those matches, so what else do you want them to do?

Even still, cup ties have forced the postponement of two of Arsenal's league fixtures, against Southampton and Leicester, meaning the Gunners have played one or two fewer league games than the clubs around them. As such, they are fifth in the table, five points back of fourth place Liverpool, but with two games in hand. Win them, and Arsenal are fourth again. They have a single game in hand on Spurs and City as well, but they are six points back of those clubs. Keep in mind that Arsenal will still play both of them, however.

Meanwhile, did you know West Brom are in eighth? Would you believe they've also been in eighth since New Year's? You might have known this because the Baggies were in seventh when they went to the Emirates on Boxing Day. Then again, for a lot of people, all of the mid-table clubs kinda blend together after a while. If you're not in the title race and you're not in danger of relegation, then who knows where you are in the table? It's like, Premier League limbo.

West Brom have 40 points, meaning they are seven points back of Everton for seventh and four points clear of Stoke, who are in ninth. So you can see why they've been in eighth for over two months. The Baggies recently lost their chance at gaining ground on the Toffees, as they lost 3-0 at Goodison Park at the weekend. West Brom are winless against the seven clubs ahead of them in the table, only picking up a point against Spurs at the Hawthorns in October. Arsenal will hope that stat maintains itself this weekend.

Match Facts

Arsenal huffed and puffed and eventually found a winner against West Brom in the reverse fixture at the Emirates on Boxing Day. Coming into the match, Arsenal had lost consecutive league fixtures against Everton and Manchester City, so they desperately needed all three points. Still, they found it hard to break down a well-drilled West Brom defense that, for obvious reasons, came to the Emirates to stifle. Olivier Giroud, making his first league start of the season, nodded a Mesut Özil cross past Ben Foster in the 86th minute to give the Gunners a very difficult three points. Ben Foster made 10 saves in the loss.

In this corresponding fixture last season, Arsenal lost 2-1; it was their first loss against the Baggies in 10 games. Mikel Arteta came on for the injured Francis Coquelin on 14 minutes and Arsenal struck first through Olivier Giroud after 28 minutes. West Brom equalized from a set piece just seven minutes later, then led through an Arteta own goal five minutes after that. To add injury to insult, Arteta was removed on 49 minutes, and then to add insult to injury to insult, Santi Cazorla skied a late penalty that would've stolen Arsenal a point.

Arsenal have not always been successful at the Hawthorns since West Brom's most recent promotion back in 2010. The Gunners have four wins in seven trips to West Brom since then, though one of the wins was in a League Cup penalty shootout. Last year's match was Arsenal's first loss at the Hawthorns since 2005.

The Referee

The referee is Lancashire-based Neil Swarbrick. Arsenal have only seen Swarbrick once so far this season and, in a bit of a quirk, it was for the reverse fixture on Boxing Day. Even stranger, Arsenal didn't have Swarbrick at all last season, so you'd have to go back to December 28, 2014 to find the last time, before Boxing Day, that Arsenal had him as their referee; that was a 2-1 win at West Ham.

Arsenal have never lost a match with Swarbrick in charge; they have now won six of them and drawn one, so maybe we should be hoping to see him more often? The draw was a 0-0 at Everton in April of 2013; I remember this match distinctly because it was a midweek fixture while I was on vacation in Montreal. I recall he had completely lost control of the match.

West Brom have not had Swarbrick since the Boxing Day match either, but had him twice this season before that. Both were one goal losses to clubs from Liverpool. They lost 2-1 at home to Everton in August and 2-1 at Anfield in October.

Around the League
  • Saturday: Crystal Palace v. Watford; Selhurst Park, London
  • Saturday: Everton v. Hull City; Goodison Park, Liverpool
  • Saturday: Stoke City v. Chelsea; Bet365 Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
  • Saturday: Sunderland v. Burnley; Stadium of Light, Sunderland
  • Saturday: West Ham United v. Leicester City; Olympic Stadium, London
  • Saturday (late): Bournemouth v. Swansea City; Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth
  • Sunday (early): Middlesbrough v. Manchester United; Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough
  • Sunday: Tottenham Hotspur v. Southampton; White Hart Lane, London
  • Sunday (late): Manchester City v. Liverpool; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and a public park. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat for beautiful trees and breathtaking vistas.