Delayed gratification, despite what most motivational speakers tell you, can be such a bitch sometimes. You stand and watch all your mates having so much fun and winning and the thought that it might never be your turn, begins to creep in. The sidelines becomes so cold and lonely and you wonder when are you going to win again. Most times, it is not even your fault; those in higher authority have dictated when you play and by extension whether you win or not.
Such was the case with the Arsenal who, ludicrously, had to wait till Monday to play West Bromwich Albion at the Emirates Stadium. Why was it ludicrous? There was only one Premier League game on Sunday; the bore fest that was Brighton’s narrow win over Newcastle. Added to the fact that Arsenal have an away game against Bate Borisov on Thursday in the Europa League, the decision to have the game played on Monday night makes no sense to me.
The thing is this, I love watching live football much more than the average guy. In fact, if there was a Premier League match to watch every day of the year, you would get no complaints from me. But to have eight matches on Saturday, only one on Sunday and just this one on Monday, doesn’t seem like proper planning.
For the match itself, both teams adopted the three at the back formation with a significant difference. While Arsenal played with three upfront, Alexis Sanchez and Aaron Ramsey supporting Alexandre Lacazette, Tony Pulis’ West Brom played with two up front and an extra body in midfield.
The position Aaron Ramsey was stationed was one we haven’t seen him in this season. With Mesut Özil not starting due to what I think might be contract niggle, the Welshman was deployed there, with Elneny replacing him in the central midfield slot beside Granit Xhaka.
That meant that most of the creativity duties was left to Sanchez, who while he ran rings around most of the West Brom backline, lacked the final killer pass and was wasteful in possession most of the time. And when he wasn’t running rings around the away team’s players, he was being persistently fouled. It wasn’t just him though. It seemed like the entire West Brom team was sent out by Tony Pulis to kick lumps out of the Arsenal players. Surprise surprise. How a West Brom player wasn’t sent off by referee Bobby Madley would remain a mystery.
It was however from one of those fouls that the Gunners took the lead. Alexis Sanchez might not have scored a free kick for Arsenal in a while but when he took one very close to the box after Elneny was fouled, the ball looked to be sneaking in. Only a combination of the crossbar and the West Brom goalkeeper stopped the ball from going in. The only player moving in the box was however Lacazette, who rapidly responded to the rebound and headed the ball home. 1-0 to the Arsenal.
It wouldn’t be an Arsenal team if they didn’t give opposing teams a chance to score. And they gave West Brom at least a couple of good chances to score. One in particular, looked to be beading in from Jay Rodriguez until it was heroically cleared off the line by Nacho Monreal. More on Monreal later. There was also a clear shout for a penalty when Rodriguez was clipped by Mustafi. The player got up quickly so Madley probably played advantage, which resulted in a strike that hit the post and another clear goalscoring opportunity that was somehow skewed wide.
The Arsenal team improved dramatically in the second half and West Brom barely had a kick. Elneny was particularly impressive, linking the attack and midfield well and making darting runs forward. For someone who looked to be leaving during the transfer window and hasnt even played much this season, he looked like a man on a mission.
One of the major accusations levelled against Lacazette when he made the move to north London was that he was a penalty merchant. Judging by the clinical way he scored the second goal, I’d say it is a worthy accusation. No matter how many times the commentators or even the studio analysts queried it, it always looked like a stonewall penalty when Nyom shoved Ramsey aside in the box. The only thing that should really be up for conjecture was whether last season’s designated penalty taker, Sanchez or the new signing, Lacazette would take it. As it turned out, the Frenchman took it and doubled his and the club’s tally.
It wasn’t the most spectacular win; its was an ugly win against an ugly and limited team and manager. If it it was any other club, everyone would be saying that is the stuff of champions, but its only Arsenal.
Best Player on the Pitch: Nacho Monreal
He doesn’t usually get enough credit but he deserves all the plaudits today. Nacho was unreal, and it wasn’t just the goal line clearance. It was everything else too. Interceptions, tackles, defensive headers, recovering possession and making the occasional foray forward. He was simply irrepressible.