The Arsenal comedy road show rolls on. This week: creative attempts at defending set-pieces, how to rack up the passing numbers without doing anything with it, and banner warfare in the skies.
It’s relentless at the moment. Every week brings new ways for us to fail. Apparently we were aware of West Brom’s strengths and either didn’t prepare a plan for them or did prepare one and didn’t execute it at all. Whatever it was, we were caught napping on West Brom’s first corner of the game and a goal down early. Dawson ran off the back of Ramsey, rose and met the ball unchallenged. Easy as you like.
We did respond. Xhaka picked out Alexis at the back post, who had taken advantage of Chadli falling asleep to sneak in behind. Composed, he shifted the ball onto his right foot and finished high into the net for 1-1.
The quick response was excellent but it barely sparked any life into Arsenal’s play. West Brom sat back with their back six protected by three midfielders. Arsenal passed the ball in a frustrating U-shape, rarely penetrating West Brom’s deep block. Welbeck and Walcott were anonymous. Neither had the space to use their speed in behind. Walcott’s lack of technique in tight spaces came to the fore again, while Welbeck looked well off the pace. Ramsey and Chamberlain were passive on the ball, rarely taking players on or moving in behind. We racked up the passes without making any chances. The Hawthorns was being lulled into sleep. The only sound in the stadium was the planes flying overhead pulling along those embarrassing banners.
West Brom rarely moved into our third but when they did they caused problems. Darren Fletcher was able to run in behind untracked by our midfielders and forced Cech into a good save. In the second half, a West Brom one-two got James McClean in behind. Ospina – on for the injured Cech – came out, made a complete mess of the situation and knocked the ball straight to Hal Robson-Kanu. The Welshman had an easy finish. Arsenal moaned about McClean being in an offside position as the ball was going in, perhaps more in desperation than anything.
We continued to struggle for opportunities. West Brom were comfortable and playing with far more confidence. Rather than sit on their lead, they pressed to widen the gap. It was startling to see how flat we were in these circumstances. Even with the season unravelling, there was still no concerted effort from the players to turn things around.
A third West Brom goal arrived, again from a set-piece. We didn’t mark anyone on this corner and left no less than three West Brom players free to head the ball in. Dawson was the one to do so and kill the game off. Not that he needed to; Arsenal were dead before the game even started.
I wish I were exaggerating, but this looks like a team in a downward spiral with little inclination to get out of it. Whether it’s a case of incompetence or the players downing tools in an effort to induce a change of management, Arsenal don’t have the look of a team out to accomplish something. They look like they want the season to end.
We’re in a troubling period. Three wins from our last nine games, and they came against two non-league teams and Hull City. Our last three away games have ended in defeat and with us shipping three goals in each. We’ve gone from a decent position in the top to fifth, five points behind fourth placed Liverpool and six behind third placed City. Everton have suddenly drawn level on points with us (albeit having played two games more), and United can go above us with a win tomorrow. We’re out of form at the worst time.
In previous years, Arsenal have responded to big set-backs and bad defeats to big teams. Games against mid-table opposition such as West Brom were used to regain their equilibrium and kickstart a run of good form. This time, though, we not only lost, but were soundly beaten. West Brom created far more opportunities than we did and took three of them. We mustered two shots on target all game.
It’s grim. The results and performances are poor. There’s squabbling amongst the fans, so much so that a Wenger Out banner was countered with a In Wenger We Trust banners. There’s nothing about the club right now that anyone can be proud of.
Wenger said post-game that he has made his decision. He has not told anyone at the club what that decision is, and didn’t give an indication when he might reveal that decision, but he has made one. For his sake, I hope he isn’t waiting until results pick up to announce he’s extending his contract. With Manchester City at the Emirates immediately after the international break, I can’t see things getting better anytime soon.