Arsenal failed to equal a club record of consecutive away wins and needed a huge slice of luck to get a point from The Hawthorns. The West Bromwich Albion midfield anchor of Claudio Yacob and Youssouf Mulumbu gave their playmakers no space to operate in and the Baggies’ ever-present back four had Olivier Giroud under control. With injuries to Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Arsenal were too intent on playing through the middle but without being stretched, West Brom were able to keep a narrow defensive shape. Carl Jenkinson and Kieran Gibbs tried to get forward but did not create much. It was a little surprising that Arsene Wenger did not turn to youngsters Serge Gnabry or Ryo Miyaichi to get in behind West Brom. No side can win with eye-catching football every week but teams that mount serious title challenges usually find a way of winning scrappy games such as Sunday’s encounter – as Chelsea did in the early kick-off. Arsenal never looked like doing this, stubbornly sticking to Wenger’s passing philosophy, and if their old-boy Nicolas Anelka had been in any sort of scoring mood, West Brom could have won by three.
Without a goal from their opening three games, West Brom sat bottom of the table on transfer deadline day. Their experienced and dependable defence was overworked by a distinct lack of quality in front of them. The Baggies badly missed Romelu Lukaku, mustering only four shots on target in that period. Since bringing in Morgan Amalfitano, Stephane Sessegnon and Victor Anichebe on 2 September, combined with the emergence of 20-year-old Saido Berahino, they are unbeaten in the league. Frenchman Amalfitano has provided quality out wide and can deliver dangerous balls into the area, such as the one to set up Yacob’s first West Brom goal. Anichebe was badly missed, his physical presence has gone some way to filling the Lukaku void. His return cannot come quick enough as Anelka looks woefully short of form and fitness. Sessegnon’s ability to run with the ball means he can single-handedly turn defence into attack in the blink of an eye and makes them a far more dangerous outfit. They now sit far prettier in 12th as they look for another solid season under Steve Clarke.
If there was a man on the pitch at The Hawthorns who needed the luck of a deflection, it was Jack Wilshere. His long-range effort was heading straight at Boaz Myhill until it struck Jonas Olsson. Deployed out of position wide of the left, the sight of him on the floor was more common than him finding a team-mate. Just in time for England’s crucial qualifiers, too. It is unsurprising that Aaron Ramsey’s purple patch and the signing of Mesut Ozil have coincided with Wilshere’s dip in form as he is no longer the hub of Arsenal’s flowing moves. He needs to find a way of fitting into the side quickly, because with the creative Santi Cazorla – who is more comfortable playing wide – still to come back from injury, he could soon find his place in the starting line-up under serious threat having previously been one of the first names on the team-sheet. In fairness, the way he attempted to play his way out of his personal nightmare was admirable and he improved after netting only his second league goal for the Gunners. This afternoon should give the 21 year-old plenty of food for thought though.
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