Arsenal bored fans to death against West Brom at the Emirates on Boxing Day but managed to find a winner to avoid slipping even further behind Chelsea in the title race.
As the teams were announced before the game, fans were demanding to know a number of things.
Firstly, where was Theo Walcott? Had he overdosed on coffee from after getting his new machine? Not so it seems, at least not according to the official story which claimed he has a ‘slight’ calf strain. The Ox was also missing, unable to recover from the injury he picked up against Manchester City last week.
The other questions centred around a player who was included – Olivier Giroud. Starting his first Premier League game of the season, it saw Alexis shunted out wide to the chagrin of many.
His inclusion would have made sense had Arsenal employed the tactic of crossing the ball into the box with Giroud in the middle waiting for it. Or, perhaps, using runners for him to hold and flick to. But they did none of this and with two wide men who like to cut inside starting the game, the width that is needed to get round a team that plays like any Tony Pulis side was completely absent from the side.
It was a slow game, the kind we’ve witnessed far too often from this Arsenal team over the past six years or so. Sitting deep with ten behind the ball (back six with four in front), West Brom let Arsenal have the ball and simply said ‘try and get through’. In the first half, we simply couldn’t.
West Brom began time wasting before 20 minutes were on the clock as we all settled in for re-run 2,467 of ‘Arsenal v The Bus.’
Giroud should have won a penalty with a little over five minutes left of the first half, but the ref was having none of it. That, and a few long range efforts were the main talking points of the half. Iwobi also went close with an improvised shot inside the box but neither keeper was called on to produce anything remotely resembling a difficult save.
45 minutes of passing sideways in front of their deep block of 10 players. Do our players think this constitutes playing well? pic.twitter.com/PAws3ghMGr
— JB™ (@gunnerpunner) December 26, 2016
The second half started with Claudio Yacob employing an NFL-style block on Olivier Giroud with the referee looking straight at it and just deciding to ignore it totally. Pulis had sent his side out to try and wind Giroud up to get him a second yellow. The way the afternoon had been going for Oli, you wouldn’t have bet against it.
Alexis almost found a breakthrough twice in quick succession a few minutes after the restart. Pouncing on a spilled Iwobi shot he put it inches wide and from the resulting corner, he smacked the post as Gabriel sat on the ground after being shoved over. He summoned a great save from Foster soon after as he tried to force the matter on his own.
Foster then denied Giroud who finally found some space to get away a shot as yet another keeper played out of his skin at the Emirates.
The 70th minute came so that meant a few subs, Arsene Wenger generally preferring to replace tiring legs than change tactics (hence why he always subs around the 70 minute mark) and Lucas’s introduction almost paid off immediately. The Spaniard put in the most dangerous cross of the afternoon, but Olivier Giroud wasn’t quite quick enough to get his toe on to it.
With Ramsey on and Coquelin off we were now engineering more space. Bellerin would have scored with his head had he been Giroud.
There were only minutes left on the clock when Giroud did find the net, a goal that seemed unlikely to come. We’d grabbed the points via the Frenchman’s head, but many questions remain that will not be answered because we’ve been asking them for years.
We’ll hear about handbrakes and lessons and every other soundbite we’ve listened to for the last six years or more. Mental strength, fatigue and a few others will no doubt get a run out, but none of them will hide the familiar failings that plague this team.
The personnel change, but the problems remain. That can surely only point to one person as the problem?
But hey, at Least Cech kept a clean sheet, eh?