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No fireworks as Gunners blow away West Brom with ease

Arsenal 3 West Bromwich Albion 0

van Persie 22, Vermaelen 39, Arteta 74

There was a time when Arsenal used to regularly win home games at a canter without ever needing to get out of second gear. After an opening month of the season which was nothing short of catastrophic by the club’s high standards, it appeared those days were long gone, never to return. It is a measure, however, of how far the team has quietly progressed and gelled in the seven weeks since the nadir of the 4-3 defeat at Blackburn that this was as comprehensive and easy a victory as any ever seen at the Emirates Stadium. Inspired yet again by captain Robin van Persie – who scored the opening goal and set up the other two – the Baggies succumbed meekly to defeat.

After resting him on the bench for the first hour of Tuesday’s 0-0 draw with MarseilleArsène Wenger restored captain van Persie to the starting line-up, with Per Mertesacker losing his place in the centre of defence to the returning Thomas Vermaelen.

Szczęsny

Jenkinson – Koscielny – Vermaelen – Santos

Song – Arteta

Ramsey

Walcott – van Persie – Gervinho

The Baggies took four points off the Gunners last season, winning 3-2 at the Emirates but allowing a two-goal lead to slip in a 2-2 draw at the Hawthorns.

Arsenal stroll to a two-goal lead

Without ever setting pulses racing, Arsenal dominated the early exchanges. They controlled both possession and territory without managing to prise apart Albion’s overtly defensive formation. But it was not until midway through the first half that they finally registered their first shot on target. It led directly to the opening goal.

A goal and two assists as van Persie's hot streak continued (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

Aaron Ramsey again demonstrated his eye for and willingness to play defence-splitting passes, picking up the ball on the halfway line and sending a perfect inside-out ball along the floor into the path of Theo Walcott. The winger was able to collect the ball at full pace, take one touch to set himself and fire in a low shot. Ben Foster saved, but the rebound fell straight to Robin van Persie to tap in his 11th league goal in 11 games this season.

Some Arsenal fans had prominently displayed a banner declaring ‘We don’t need Batman. We’ve got Robin.’ Quite.

With Thomas Vermaelen and Laurent Koscielny dominant at the back and Walcott and full backs Carl Jenkinson and André Santos threatening down the flanks, West Brom’s attackers were left feeding off the thinnest of scraps. Former Gunner Jerome Thomas came closest for the visitors, but he took one touch too many and allowed Koscielny to muscle him off the ball before he could shoot. It was, however, a reminder that at 1-0 the advantage remained a slender one.

Vermaelen doubled the lead with a thunderous finish (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

Too often in the past Arsenal have been reluctant to play balls over the top behind defences. However, they doubled their advantage six minutes before half-time from just such a pass.

Here the instigator was Alex Song, who rifled a long diagonal ball beyond the far post aimed at van Persie. The ball was slightly overhit, but the Dutchman showed great tenacity and skill to chase it down and volley the ball back across the face of the goal with his weaker right foot. Gervinho missed his kick, but the ball fell to Vermaelen, whose fierce left-footed drive found the middle of the net from 12 yards.

If anything, West Brom were fortunate to be only two down at half-time. Arsenal had played mostly in first or second gear, but the visitors had remained resolutely in neutral, failing to register a single shot in the half.

Three-sy does it

While Arsenal have struggled to defend leads in recent years, a West Brom comeback never looked likely. Indeed, the second period opened with the home side still firmly on top. Much of the play was scrappy and lacking in tempo, but it was one-way traffic in terms of chances.

Vermaelen missed an early opportunity to end the game as a contest when he glanced a header wide from a beautiful inswinging corner by van Persie. Jenkinson delivered an inch-perfect cross for Gervinho, only for Gareth McAuley to intervene with a critical header. Foster saved well from both Gervinho (after a neat one-two with Mikel Arteta) and Song.

Arteta's second Arsenal goal concluded the scoring (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

West Brom had the odd half-chance, but without managing an actual shot. It was left to the Gunners to show them how it should be done with a third goal that was a throwback to the Arsenal of old. Eight different players touched the ball in a 12-pass move that started in midfield and went all the way back to goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny before Vermaelen fed van Persie. The Arsenal skipper spun away from James Morrison and sprinted forward with the ball. He exchanged rapid-fire passes with substitute Tomáš Rosický before teeing up the arriving Arteta, who swept the ball majestically home past the despairing Foster’s right hand. Van Persie, Rosický and Arteta – it could so easily have been Henry, Ljungberg and Pirès.

3-0 represented an accurate reflection of the balance of play. Indeed, such was the paucity of the visitors’ threat in the absence of the injured Peter Odemwingie and Shane Long that Szczęsny was not required to make his first meaningful intervention of the game until the 87th minute. By then, of course, Arsenal were firmly in cruise control. In truth, they had barely had to put their foot on the accelerator at all in the entire game. It may have been Fireworks Night, but there had been no need for pyrotechnics as the Gunners kept their powder dry for bigger challenges to come.

Post-match reaction and analysis

Arsène Wenger was pleased with his team’s continued progress:

Overall it was a controlled performance where we had complete domination of the game. It was a good pace in the first half – in the second it was a little bit off – but we were never really in trouble. We are getting stronger.

The spirit of the squad was right from the first to the last minute.

He praised the all-round contribution of his captain van Persie:

At the moment it is difficult to stop him. He was not only a goalscorer but a provider today, that’s what I like with the strikers. The only thing I know is that he is world class.

And he also recognised another outstanding performance by the 19-year old Carl Jenkinson:

Today he had a very interesting game with the quality of his defending and the quality of his crossing. The pace of his improvement is very interesting. His energy levels are absolutely amazing.

However, he accepted that his team still had plenty of scope for improvement:

I think we have made some improvement, that is for sure. But there is still room for improvement. I always said let’s come back in December after the real tests. Of course the first big test was Chelsea, and after we have won another game like today. Then it’ll be down to the consistency we can show. Of course we are not at the level we were one month ago but we still have some work to do.

Against a poor West Brom side missing three of its key players (Odemwingie, Long and Paul Scharner), there was little to fault about a patient and efficient Arsenal performance. In particular, the Vermaelen/Koscielny partnership in the centre of defence looked pacy and assured, with Jenkinson again outstanding and Santos’ occasional shaky defensive moments outweighed by his threat coming forward.

The midfield of Arteta, Song and Ramsey looks increasingly solid and well-balanced, with the trio’s understanding of each other clearly improving with every game. Gervinho played a slightly less prominent role, but Walcott was a constant threat running at or behind defenders, and was also diligent defensively whenever Jenkinson charged forwards.

Van Persie is simply untouchable at the moment. His goal was routine enough, but his role in providing the assists for the other two goals demonstrated just how complete an all-round player he has become in the past couple of seasons. With eight games still remaining in 2011, he stands one goal away from becoming only the sixth player to score 30 Premier League goals in a calendar year – and at his current rate could threaten Alan Shearer’s record of 36 in 1995.

Jenkinson has endured a baptism of fire and is now showing signs of genuine class (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

Finally, a note on four players who have each been the target of criticism from a vocal and not insignificant cadre of impatient Arsenal fans at various times of the season. Theo Walcott stands accused of flitting in and out of games. Aaron Ramsey has been criticised for giving the ball away too much. Laurent Koscielny is an error-prone defender who lacks courage. And Carl Jenkinson is out of his depth at this level at this stage in his career. All four were excellent today. Walcott stretched the West Brom defence repeatedly, creating space for his colleagues to wreak havoc around him. Ramsey knits together the forward and midfield lines and consistently creates goalscoring chances, as well as being a goal threat himself. Koscielny has blossomed in recent weeks into a defender who combines pace and aggression with significantly improved judgement. And Jenkinson is fast establishing himself as the team’s best crosser, and one with a massive engine  – in many respects he reminds me of a young Ray Parlour.

Overall, this was a performance a million miles away from the team who were humiliated at Ewood Park. At that point, too many Arsenal fans lacked the patience and sense of reality necessary to allow this team of virtual strangers to build the understanding and cohesion which is now apparent. Yes, West Brom were limited and poor opposition here – but so too were Blackburn that day. The Arsenal from that game would not have won this one; this weekend’s side would surely have obliterated Rovers.

Wenger and his squad can now go into the forthcoming international break in far higher spirits than they did the previous two this season, which followed the defeats at Old Trafford and White Hart Lane. Arsenal still have a long way to go if they want to be considered genuine contenders for silverware come the spring. But as the long nights draw on, they are also a long way from the winter of discontent the doomsayers were so confidently predicting mere weeks ago. The results have been on an upswing for a while – nine wins and only one defeat in 11 – and now the quality of the performances is starting to return too.

Arsenal man of the match: Robin van Persie. Several others were outstanding – not least Carl Jenkinson and Thomas Vermaelen – but van Persie remains the beating heart of the team and had a hand in all three goals. Simply magnificent.

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

13 Responses to No fireworks as Gunners blow away West Brom with ease

  1. isaac amani says:

    thanks to the guns for the great progress. keep it up to the end and win the big elephan teams.

    isaac amani south sudan

  2. Isaac mukuria says:

    up we go!

  3. crispy says:

    Hi good morning everyone well i don’t want to get carried away but we seem to have turned the corner, after a terrible start to the season we seem to be finding our feet and the right results.
    I think there is still a lot of work to b done still but just lately we seem to be getting the basics right, even AW seems to be making fewer mistakes. i have criticized this team team so much in the past and the truth be known it wasn’t the players fault simply the tactics, AW finally realises that starting with andre arshavin every week is like playing with 10 men, and song seems to be staying in his position instead of being our most offensive midfielder.
    Now what im liking about our 2 full backs is the ability and willingness to get forward, the system we playwith the lone striker means that our wingers ( walcott and gervihno ) need to come in off those wings, support van the man more and at the same time give space for the fullbacks to run into, yestaerday was a great example of this and we saw jenkinson have probably his best game thus far, i still think walcott can give so much more i do get frustrated with him but at least hes trying.
    We also saw the partnership of Vermaelen and Koscielny for the first time, and i believe this is our best pairing at the back, they both read the game well, they both have everything thats required to be world class defenders, and with Vermaelens leadership qualities we looked organised and i feel if we can keep everyone fit that this is probably going to be oue best defence.
    What can i say about Ramsey !!!!!! well the kid is getting better and better with every game he has the vision and the ability to carv open defences and an eye for goal to giving him the complete package, now can u imagine when wiltshere comes bk, and lets pray that he comes back and continues where he left off, then we have 2 of the most gifted players in the league, if not europe and these boys if they can stay together will dominate for years to come.
    All in all a much better looking arsenal they have the beliefe back they seem to be working harder for each other which is a must, so although we seem to have turned the corner, the hard work is just beggingin. HAVE ARSENAL GOT THERE MOJO BK lets wait and see :-))

    • Tim says:

      To be honest, I think we turned the corner a while ago and the improvement over the past few weeks has been steady and consistent. I’m not sure our tactics have really changed that much. It’s more that we have had key players return from injuries (Vermaelen) and suspensions (Song, Gervinho) which kept them out of several early games and the gradual development of an understanding at the back, among the midfield trio, and up front. Arteta is one who has struggled to find the right balance between sitting deep and moving forward, but his understanding with Song is now much better. Similarly, we see Gervinho/RVP developing their link-up play in the same way that Theo has always linked up well with the skipper.

      Let’s not get too carried away, though. Without their two leading strikers, West Brom were there for the taking yesterday. But the fact we won 3-0 without really breaking into a sweat is a very positive sign, and not something the team could have achieved two months ago.

  4. stonroy says:

    Great blog keep it up,

  5. Big Dave says:

    Tim, spot on about the difference between the Blackburn game and yesterday’s. It’s all about confidence and gelling together. Ramsey’s pass to Walcott for the first goal was outrageous, but the more confidence, the more that sort of thing comes off. It’s great that we’re seeing many of the players who were criticised earlier, starting to perform now. For all the know-alls who wanted Wenger to sign “established” defenders like Cahill etc., we are now seeing the rebirth of Adams-Bould-Keown in the shape of Koz-TV-Mert. We need them with our attacking wing-play (Theo-Jenks / Gerv/Santos) which is why the stability in midfield is so important. Song, Arteta and Ramsey (with Wilshere to come back) mean we can defend as a team as well as attack. It’s coming together and we’re looking good.

    I’m 57 and my dad took me to my first match when I was 6. Under Wenger we’ve had the most success, and the most entertainment. It’s no co-incidence that the 2 teams in the Prem who can keep pace with moneybags ¢he£$ki and ¢it€h have the longest serving managers. Arsene didn’t become a bad manager overnight, but certain very wealthy people who, immorally, want to spend the GDP of a medium-sized nation on football success, came along and changed the rules. Without AW we’d be mid-table at best. Now we are beginning to show the potential of thoughtful team building, we’re on the up again.

    • Tim says:

      I 100% agree with your sentiments. Maybe patience comes with age (I’m in my early 40s)!

      Ramsey’s pass to set up the first goal looks better every time I see it. Perhaps it would have been cut out by a better defence, but the point is he spotted Theo’s run and then laid the perfect ball in for him. OK, for every one of those he hits he misses three or four – but then so did Cesc. By their very nature, defence-splitting passes are low percentage, but Aaron has the vision, the skill and the ambition to play those balls over and over again. It is a rare and priceless combination – one which Jack also possesses in abundance.

      As fans, I think we all need to show more patience, as confidence and gelling together do not happen overnight in such a drastically overhauled side – just look at Liverpool and Sunderland, or indeed City in the first half of last season. I remember making the error of writing off Alex Song in his early days – it was at around the time of an appallingly poor performance in a midweek defeat at Fulham – but Wenger was right to stick with him, and he has become an excellent all-round midfielder who is still improving. Too many have been quick to slate Koscielny, Jenkinson, Ramsey and, of course, the boss. He was right to urge patience after the transfer window – and as has so often been the case he is being proven right yet again. We’re still not the team we used to be, but we’re already closer than even the most optimistic of us dared hoped for a few weeks ago.

  6. Luca says:

    Hi, it’s my first time on your blog, it’s great, well done!
    I’m an italian gooner so, please, sorry for my poor english. I’m improving as the Arsenal in this season 🙂
    I remember, after the defeats (lpool, utd, rovers) that many people asked Wenger to go away but we can’t expect instant victories after Cesc and Nasri have leaved and with 5 new players.
    Time is a gentleman as Wenger is.

    • Tim says:

      Hi Luca, thanks for the comment. (And your English is just fine.)

      Time is indeed a gentleman. And patience is a virtue. It was always going to take time for this new team to come together – we are finally starting to see that happen. In fact, this team has progressed surprisingly quickly. Just look at the way Liverpool and Sunderland, who both did most of their purchasing early in the summer and are struggling more than we are to form a cohesive team.

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  8. Luc@ says:

    Thanks Tim 🙂
    I hope the interlull (just learned this word) not going to stop our march and i am pretty confident that we will continue better and better

  9. Luc@ says:

    Sorry Tim, I would say “walk” not march.

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