It certainly wasn’t Arsenal’s most polished performance of the year but there was enough about the team on Monday night to earn the three points against a typically industrial West Bromwich Albion side.
Despite taking a first-half lead through Alexandre Lacazette, the Gunners were fortunate to be ahead at the break given the quality of chances that were afforded to the Baggies.
In particular, they escaped conceding a penalty early on when Jay Rodriguez chose to stay on his feet under a challenge from Shkodran Mustafi, when a shrewder exponent of the dark arts would have taken a tumble and almost certainly earned the spot kick.
Tony Pulis’s side also capitalised on a flurry of entirely avoidable, typically self-destructive errors from Arsenal that gifted them possession in dangerous places on numerous occasions. It has become a maddening feature of this team that they allow such silly, repeated errors to put them in real danger.
On this occasion, the visitor’s general lack of quality meant the Gunners got away with it and went in at the break ahead.
The second half was a vastly different affair and, in truth, played out in a pretty comfortable fashion for the hosts, who controlled events for almost the entire 45 minutes. A second goal was inevitable and West Brom can have no complaints about the penalty, a crass shove on Aaron Ramsey who had rolled his man superbly to reach the byline. Lacazette applied the finishing touch to take his tally to the season to four.
Astonishingly, Ben Foster in the visitor’s goal persisted with a time-wasting tactic for the entire match, even with his side 2-0 down. I can only think that he knew the game was up and was merely trying to preserve his side’s goal difference but that would seem incredibly cynical and very much against the spirit of the game. This is a Tony Pulis side, however.
At the end of the 90 minutes, it was ultimately a reasonable performance and victory for Arsene Wenger’s men, but this history of bad starts and underwhelming opening halves really needs to be consigned to the dustbin.
Time and again in recent years the Gunners simply haven’t been at it from the outset and, against better teams, it has seriously cost them.
Why it takes a re-organisation at half-time to spark them into life, I don’t know but it is immeasurably frustrating to watch at times, especially when the team is so obviously capable of doing better.
While victory takes the Gunners’ unbeaten run into its fifth match, and momentum continues to build, there is clearly still some way to go before the team can truly be called consistent.
As good as they were against Chelsea, they were, in patches, distinctly average against West Brom. Whether that is down to complacency or some other factor is unknown but, if they are serious about returning to Champions League football next year, it has to stop.
Reasons to be cheerful
- Our record signing continues to find the net and, it would seem, his quality and eye for a goal in France has shown no signs of diminishing in the Premier League. The manager is understandably keen to play down his progress and insist he still needs time to adapt but it is great to see him doing the business up top. If he can forge any sort of effective relationship with Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, it will bring this team a lot of goals, that much is certain
- Arsenal’s next two games see them travel to Belarus to face BATE Borisov before the visit of Brighton to the Emirates on Sunday. They are two very winnable games and give Wenger’s men the chance to build some cohesion and confidence – two things that have long been fragile within the squads of recent times. It is vital now that they deliver.