Arsenal 2-3 W.B.A.
I have for a long time inexplicably looked out for West Brom’s results, a footballing peculiarity I can trace back to collecting Panini stickers in 1980, when theirs was the first team I had all the stickers for. At that time, with players like Robson and Regis, they were one of the better sides in the old First Division.
Yesterday they may have won a few more admirers with a display of real craft, commitment and counter-attacking skill. It’s very unusual for Arsenal fans as one to applaud an away side off, but all four corners of the ground did just that yesterday. The Baggies had been brilliant.
But what of Arsenal?
With very few exceptions, we were lifeless, listless and sloppy.
The fact that Wenger was left scratching his head – “I didn’t recognise my team today… many players made massive mistakes… unexplainable” makes any objective judgement on what went wrong pretty tricky.
Something, as Wenger said, wasn’t right from the start. I said to my brother, 15 minutes into the game, that I thought we were going to struggle and he shot me down in flames for being a miserable old git. But I was right; there was a lack of focus and urgency throughout and we got what we deserved.
For a side with title ambitions to find itself 3-0 down to a promoted side, having already conceded a penalty, tells you that it wasn’t all about the excellence of West Brom’s performance.
That lack of focus and urgency, coupled with a pandemic of defensive errors, made it the mess it was.
Between the sticks, Almunia was an absolute disaster. It was he who gave the penalty away, but if you thought his smart save would be the springboard to a commanding second half performance, you couldn’t have been more wrong. He was blameless for the first WBA goal, but erred badly for the second, and ambled unconvincingly out his box, leaving the goal gaping, for the third.
With every error he and his understudy makes, Wenger loses credibility. There is only so long you can defend the indefensible. The simple fact is this: Lehmann was dropped for making two errors. Wenger cannot drop Almunia for his multiple errors because the only other established option is even worse. The situation is risible.
The ironic jeers that then greeted every simple piece of handling will not help his confidence but the fans are not aiming their frustration at him, they are aiming it at Wenger. Like the caller who rang into 606 and called Arsenal a team with a £56m profit but a 56p goalkeeper, they do not understand how this three-year-long experiment has not been shelved.
But let’s be honest, he wasn’t the only one and it would be most unfair to pick on him alone. Watching your defence unravel in front of you in the way it did would have tested the mettle of any goalkeeper.
Sagna at right-back was all over the place, Song and Eboue were sloppy and ineffective. Diaby, Chamakh, Arshavin – the list goes on. Our two new central defenders, having quietly impressed in the season’s opening salvos, looked vulnerable all game.
Of the starters only Nasri, who battled hard all game and deserved his two goals, comes out with credit from yesterday’s mess. Wilshere did OK but he’s no superman.
For me, the most frustrating thing about it was the sense that having taken several steps forward in the early stages of this season, we’ve shot ourselves in the foot with this performance. Two steps forward, one step back.
All the old Arsenal failings – poor goalkeeping, sloppy defensive errors, plenty of possession but no way through, lack of bite and fight – reared their ugly heads again, just when we needed it least.
I accept we played 120 minutes in midweek, and our injury list is very long. But these are not excuses – the players are all experienced, and mostly all internationals. They just never turned up. It worries me that without Fabregas’s effervescence and bloody-minded will to win, we can at times look like a sports car without a driver.
We can but hope it’s a one-off, but it’s a worry, because we’ve been here before in seasons past.
Blip or bubble burst? We’ll know soon enough, with two huge tests next week.