Arsenal 2-0 West Brom
There are a number of running jokes at the Emirates stadium, amongst the home supporters, regarding refereeing decisions and the fact that they never seem to go in Arsenal’s favour.
Bobby Madley, refereeing Arsenal’s home game against West Brom on Monday night, certainly bucked the trend. For once Gunners fans did not leave the stadium castigating the bewildering decisions made by the man in black. In contrast they were full of praise for him as a number of key decisions went in the home side’s favour.
The first key decision arrived early in the game as West Brom, set up with the usual Tony Pulis tactic of sitting deep and hitting the ball long and caught Arsenal out with this simple tactic. Shkodran Mustafi, who performed so well away to Chelsea, made the gravest of errors when defending in your own penalty area, as he committed into an all or nothing sliding tackle, missing the ball completely and taking away the legs of Jay Rodriguez. It was as clear a penalty as you are likely to see but with the entire stadium expecting the penalty to be awarded, Madley decided not to point to the spot and instead allowed play to continue. Pulis argued profusely afterwards that it should have been a penalty and with Mustafi effectively having prevented a goal scoring opportunity, Arsenal could have also been reduced to ten men. However, in truth West Brom still had an excellent goal scoring opportunity as Rodriguez leapt back up and only had the goalkeeper to beat, albeit from a relatively tight angle. Despite this it still took a wonderful fingertip save from Cech to push the ball onto the post and yet still West Brom had another great opportunity from the rebound as the ball fell invitingly to Jake Livermore only for the former Tottenham man to skew his effort wide with the goal at his mercy. Pulis therefore couldn’t really complain, but of course he still did.
Several reporters described this moment as though it were pivotal to the entire game, even though it had arrived as early as the eight minute. The feeling was that had the away side been awarded the penalty and taken the lead, given the fact that Arsenal were particularly poor in the first half, West Brom would have likely held onto the lead and won the game. The numerous times that Arsenal have conceded the first goal at home and then gone on to win the game appeared to have escaped their memory. The fact that West Brom actually had no intention to win the game and were actually wasting time as early as the first few minutes and even when they were behind, should have been the main focus of the reporters’ ire. Surely those who had made the long journey from the Midlands on a Monday night didn’t do so to witness such negative tactics from their side and then ultimately still see them lose. Is this the type of football that has so many followers of the Premier League believing that it is the best league in the World? I would certainly rather my team actually had a go at winning the game even if they do end up losing.
After that early penalty incident, Arsenal set about extending Pulis’ horrendous record at the Emirates stadium to 10 defeats out of 10 as Alexandre Lacazette doubled his tally in an Arsenal shirt. The Frenchman’s first goal showed the predatory nature which has long been missing from the Gunners attack. Alexis Sanchez’s free kick effort was well saved by Ben Foster but the goalkeeper couldn’t tip the ball over the crossbar and instead the ball fell into the six yard box. In previous years Arsenal fans would have been extremely frustrated as no one in a red and white shirt would have been anywhere near the ball, but this season Arsenal have Lacazette. The former Lyon man has been likened to legendary striker Ian Wright and showed exactly why as he reacted quickest to the rebound and nodded the ball past the prone Foster to give Arsenal the lead.
Lacazette’s and Arsenal’s second arrived in the second half as Madley did point to the spot when Allan Nyom appeared to push Ramsey to the ground as the Welshman threatened to get away. Lacazette stepped up and executed the perfect penalty as he arrowed the ball into the bottom corner of the net, making it impossible for Foster to save it despite having dived the right way.
In between both Arsenal goals, West Brom did have another fantastic opportunity during the first half as a looping ball across the Gunners defence found Rodriguez at the back post and the Englishman’s header went past Cech, only for Nacho Monreal to acrobatically clear the ball off the line. It was a fantastic clearance by the Spaniard and was testament to his entire performance as he stood head and shoulders above the rest. Monreal was simply exceptional making a number of decisive interceptions and clearances and really does appear suited to the back three.
In the centre of that back three though, Mustafi does need to be mindful of diving into rash tackles and jeopardising his side. On another day Bobby Madley would have pointed to the spot and Arsenal’s task would have been made all the more difficult as a result. Even after the let off, Mustafi was still needlessly diving into tackles and really should be spoken to by the coaching staff as such behaviour will only lead to him being a liability when against Chelsea he showed how good he can be.
This may not have been the most convincing of victories but since the horrendous defeat to Liverpool, Arsenal have managed to regroup and are now only one point outside the top four and 6 points off the lead. It is of course extremely early in the season, but Arsene Wenger may be feeling content at having seen his side recover from an early storm to be relatively well placed in the table. The daunting upcoming schedule, playing in Belarus on Thursday and then 12pm on Sunday, will however considerably test the squad’s resolve. It will be interesting to see how they react.