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This may seem like an utterly bizarre thing to say after a seemingly ho-hum 1-0 win away against a bottom-end Midlands club, but this was one of the more heartening Arsenal performances that I've seen in ages.
Let me explain - I talked a bit in the Dortmund report about how much more solid we looked with our new shape and mentality. We protected the defense much better, and more intelligently used our resources to attack only when appropriate. However, it's one thing to do that when you're playing against a team with a dazzling array of offensive weapons. It's quite another to do it against the sort of team that, historically, we've been guilty of treating too arrogantly. You know, just turn up and we'll win.
Instead, Arsenal again stuck to the plan and a few wobbles aside, again looked solid and compact. It didn't always get the adrenaline pumping, but for me it's the perfect approach to these sorts of matches. Stay disciplined, don't beat yourself with preventable mistakes, and allow your superior talent to win the day in the end.
That increased solidity was greatly assisted by the return of Laurent Koscielny, a sight for sore eyes if there ever was one. So much of what he does flies under the radar - a calm interception here, an assured clearance when the ball is pinballing around the area there.
Interestingly, Kieran Gibbs was benched in favor of Nacho Monreal after his horror-show against Manchester United. Accountability doesn't occur often enough with this lot for my liking, so it was nice to see. However, he did do well when pressed into emergency duty after the Spaniard limped off with our 10,928,927,028th injury of the season.
The back four, screened well by Mathieu Flamini, allowed our attacking players to test the West Brom defenders often. It was immediately obvious that Danny Welbeck and Santi Cazorla were our main threats on the day. Olivier Giroud is clearly still shaking off the rust after his long injury, and Alexis Sanchez was only ever on the periphery of this one (that's not a criticism though - he must be knackered after carrying us on his back for months at a time).
That connection fashioned their first chance in the 11th minute, Welbeck's lay-off at the top of the area ending with a Cazorla shot that the defender did well to block. They combined at the half-hour again, this time the Spaniard's effort was weak and easily saved. Just before it, Aaron Ramsey got into the fun, his long home run pass to Welbeck leading to our best chance of the half. Sadly, Ben Foster was off his line in a flash to cut off the angle and save well.
Perhaps that passage makes it sound like West Brom were continually being cut to ribbons, but that wasn't necessarily the case. They were fairly solid, and Arsenal found it hard work to get through their massed ranks.
Giroud almost grabbed us the lead though after a moment of madness by Foster. Much like the Southampton game last year where Artur Boruc tried an ill-advised Cryuff turn in his own area, Foster was guilty of the same lunacy here. As was the case last year, Giroud busted a gut to close him down and fashion a chance, but this time he was sadly at too tight an angle to make him pay. I love the work ethic there, though.
Youssouf Mulumbu was the next to almost gift-wrap us a lead. He won the ball off of one of our guys, but then decided to hold on to it for roughly a Presidental administration. The ball bobbled out to the feet of Ramsey, who put his shot just wide of the post.
I didn't feel any frustration as these half-chances were spurned, though. The goal was always coming.
Finally, on the hour mark, Welbeck got the goal that he so richly deserved. Down the left wing, Cazorla brilliantly knocked the ball past Andre Wisdom, and torched him for pace to win it back. He curled a wonderful cross back to the edge of the six-yard box, which should have been dealt with by one of the center-halves. Instead, Welbeck was able to win the header against the left back, Sebastian Pocognoli. He easily beat the Belgian and thumped a header goalwards, but Foster absolutely should have done better. He could only claw it into the roof of the net, giving us the only goal we'd need.
To their credit, the home side were much better once Victor Anichebe came on as a sub. Suddenly, their attacks had more muscle behind them, and they were able to hold on to the ball long enough to give our defenders some problems. Saido Berahino had a free header go off the crossbar, and Craig Gardner's long-range tracer sailed wide of the far post after Anichebe had won a key header in our penalty area.
Arsenal survived those half-chances though, and held on to leave the Hawthorns with three vital points. As I said in the Dortmund report, we are still a long way from where we need to be, but the only way we'll get there is to take it one step at a time (*dusts off the cliche-o-meter*). I continue to love this new approach that we've taken tactically, and as long as we stick to it I think the results will be more positive than they have been this season. We have the horses, it was only ever a matter of deploying them properly.
We'll learn a lot in the next week, though. Southampton lurks in mid-week, and then it's a trip to the Potteries to play Stoke City at the Britannia. If we get out of that with four or even six points, we might just be able to get that 4th-place trophy again after all.
The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:
Martinez 7, Monreal 7 (Gibbs 7), Koscielny 8, Mertesacker 7, Chambers 7, Ramsey 8, Flamini 7, Welbeck 8, Cazorla 8, Sanchez 7, Giroud 7 (Oxlade-Chamberlain 7)
Man of the Match: It has to be Danny Welbeck. He may have had two were it not for a great bit of goalkeeping by Foster, but either way he popped up with the winner when we needed it. You can't ask for anything more from a striker.