Goal Blizzard Buries Baggies: West Brom Report & Ratings

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

A hugely encouraging performance on a snowy night in the Midlands saw Arsenal come away with all three points, a clean sheet and four goals to the good.

With the important caveat that we were facing the leakiest defence in the Premier League, we should all just take a moment to enjoy a confident, dominant performance.

Two goals in the first half, two in the second and some excellent displays from individuals (with the young contingent shining again) saw us comfortably through what might have been a difficult away game. When you get to the player ratings you will see a very rare thing: a three-way tie for Man of the Match.

We know that Sam Allardyce has, in the past, frustrated Arsenal by getting committed, well-organised performances out of inferior players. He has only been in the West Brom job for two weeks but I thought his message would be starting to rub off on them and they would give us a tough challenge. Thankfully, the walrus magic is not happening yet.

Mikel Arteta stuck with some of the young players who have fuelled his team’s recent revival: Saka continued as right attacking midfielder and Smith Rowe took up the drifting sort-of No 10 role he occupied against Chelsea and Brighton.

Mari was preferred at CB despite Luiz being available: a pleasing example of El Patron showing that if you play well enough when you get your chance you can keep your place even when supposedly more senior players comes back from injury or suspension.

Laca was started as the central striker again (the position he filled so well against Chelsea and in the second half against Brighton), with Aubameyang as the wide left attacker (I assume Martinelli’s game time is being carefully managed after such a long lay-off, so he was on the bench).

We started the game on the front foot with Tierney causing all sorts of problems for Albion down our left and Saka looking dangerous every time he picked up the ball. Two of his crosses almost found Auba at the back post.

Kieran Tierney opened the scoring with a brilliant solo effort on 23 minutes, “giving the eyes” to the West Brom defender as if he was going to cut inside, then pushing the ball outside him and going the long way round to collect it. The defender was just about able to recover before KT turned him inside out again, sliced into the box and curled home a beauty into the far post. “Kieran Thierrny” as someone said in the comments last night.

The goal was no more than we deserved for our pressure, movement and attacking intent and four minutes later we had another – and this one was pure Wengerball. We moved the ball from side to side probing for an opening. Bellerin made the telling forward pass to Smith Rowe, who pulled off a Bergkamp-like turn and immediately slipped an acute-angle pass to Saka, who pinged it straight to Lacazette. Laca slid a first time pass into the box, right into the stride of Smith Rowe, who squared for Saka to tap into an empty net.

The speed of thought and movement was delicious. It shows what can be achieved with one-touch passing and fast give-and-go football (it was crucial to the goal that both ESR and Saka went like the clappers the moment they had laid off the ball).

We had more opportunities before half time but went into the break comfortably on top as the weather conditions worsened.

The pitch was noticeably whiter when we came out for the second half and I’m sure that played a part in a sloppy period of play for the next 15 minutes or so. The West Brom players had no doubt been given a going over by Allardyce and they upped their game. But players from both teams were slipping and the ball was holding up in the thick slush, making it risky to play across the back.

West Brom got the ball in the net, but the goal was correctly ruled out for an earlier offside (I noticed how well our defence had stepped up as a unit to put the Baggies striker off).

On the hour mark we got our third. The rejuvenated Lacazette started the move, driving through the middle of the park before laying off to Saka out right. Saka got into the box and put in yet another lethal cross. The West Brom central defender, panicked by the presence of Aubameyang, sliced his clearance off the post. It came out to Smith Rowe who belted in a powerful shot well save by the ‘keeper, only for Laca to tuck away the rebound.

Four minutes later after another great run and cross from Tierney, Lacazette had his second and Arsenal’s fourth. It was Laca’s fifth goal in four games.

There were opportunities for more goals later on, particularly as the snow eased off and the conditions improved, but in the end we settled for 4-0.

West Brom had very few chances, a result of their own struggles and our resolute defending. Leno had to make two good stops (one early and one late) but otherwise was not troubled. The early one resulted from Xhaka doing one of those ridiculous toddler tumbles where he waits for the slightest contact in his back before toppling forward like a chimney being demolished. The ref rightly ignored this nonsense and West Brom almost scored. Cut it out Granit – I know it has worked in the past to win us cheap free kicks, but referees are wise to it (and you). It was a shame because apart from that he had a really good (if unspectacular) game.

We are now three points behind Chelsea in sixth with more winnable league games coming up: after we play Newcastle in the FA Cup next weekend we then have Palace and Newcastle again in quick succession.

It’s early days for our recovery and the memory of that truly dismal run is still fresh in all our heads, but we do seem to have turned some kind of a corner with the introduction of the energetic young players and the shift in formation to what some call a 4-3-3 and what I call a 4-2-3-1.

The excitement among the players seemed positive (I loved the way Luiz was way off the bench to hug Saka after his goal) and there are grounds for more optimism than we have had since last season’s FA Cup win.

Player Ratings

Leno – 7

Not that busy, but was faultless when called on. His handling in difficult conditions was excellent.

Bellerin – 6.5

Picked up a yellow early on and was substituted on 54 minutes. He was involved in Saka’s goal and made a number of good forward runs, but also was a little sloppy in possession once or twice.

Holding – 8

He was really dominant at the back and dealt with everything that came his way. His passing out has improved a lot and he seems very comfortable with playing out from the back.

Mari – 7

I like the big Spaniard. He never looks flustered and defends well. He even sprayed a couple of long David Luiz-type passes.

Tierney – 9 (Joint MoTM)

Many have said that our wee Braveheart is a future Arsenal captain. Whatever ‘ingredient X’ is, he has it in spades: skill, energy, strength, attitude. What a great young player.

Ceballos – 7

Some really good moments from Dani, although there was also some loose passing at times (at least most of his wayward passes were ambitious, forward-looking ones that he overhit). Along with Xhaka he formed a reliable central midfield partnership, keeping the ball flowing from side to side and out to our dangerous flanks.

Xhaka – 7

An understated performance but one that should not be overlooked. He did simple things well all night long and that is not to be sniffed at.

Smith Rowe – 8.5

His play for the Saka goal reminded me of Bergkamp. I can give no higher praise than that. He continues to look like he should be an automatic starter except when needing a rest.

Saka – 9 (Joint MoTM)

The English language is going to have to come up with some new superlatives for this young man. Most of all I love his fearlessness. He plays on the front foot and expects things to come off. He is on course to be a world superstar.

Lacazette – 9 (Joint MoTM)

Laca’s recent performances are a lesson to all of us who are tempted to write off players when they’re going through a bad patch. Five minutes ago the Frenchman was “dead wood” who should be offloaded in January. Now he’s back to being a vital part of our attacking threat. The difference, of course, is that we have shifted to a new formation with a Number 10 (ESR) which allows him to have players much closer to him as the lone striker. The previous system left him isolated and having to try to hold up the ball and hang on to it, which is just not his game. In short, formation and team selection can have a huge impact on whether a player seems great or rubbish – it’s not always the player’s fault. Laca gets joint MoTM not just for his two goals, but for his all-round effort and involvement.

Aubameyang – 7

See above. Auba is taking a lot of criticism right now, but we have not been playing in a way that best suits his game. However, last night he showed more effort and determination and was very unlucky not to be on the scoresheet. He was inches away from two Saka crosses and had other chances that were saved or blocked. Like Laca, it will come good for Auba soon.

Subs

Maitland-Niles – 6.5

Ainsley was a little shaky when he came on, but still managed to contribute reasonably well. He needs more regular game time.

Willian – 6.5

I have been giving him a bit of a hard time lately. Last night he did a couple of really useless things (giving the ball away too softly) but he also had a couple of very nice moments. He’s going to have to work his way back into first team consideration with excellent outings in fringe games or as a sub. In that regard, this appearance was OK and no more.

Willock – 6.5

Joe got 16 minutes and was energetic.

RockyLIves

23 Responses to Goal Blizzard Buries Baggies: West Brom Report & Ratings

  1. fatgingergooner says:

    It’s amazing what scoring first, keeping clean sheets, and winning matches can do for confidence. The youngsters have injected some energy and more importantly, have played without the fear that the more experienced players were stuck with due to poor form. I don’t believe that there has been some amazing shift in tactics, it’s just that a couple of wins in a row can give players momentum and then the play improves from that. I said a few weeks ago that it wouldn’t surprise me if we got a scrappy win and then suddenly looked like Barcelona and we would wonder what all the fuss was about….🤷‍♂️

    Let’s hope it continues and let’s hope that Arteta continues to play the players in form rather than waiting for those in a lull to play through their drought.

    Also, did anyone else notice the sly dig from Özil about Arsenal looking good with a number 10 in the team. He just doesn’t get it does he? It’s not the number 10 position that’s the issue, it’s the number 10 not willing to do the work. I don’t see that problem with ESR.

  2. Pete the Thirst says:

    Wonderful performance last night. Speed, effort and enthusiasm. The youngsters showing the way again.

    Shout out for AMN’s long johns

  3. GoonerB says:

    Thanks Rocky. Marvelous post. It’s amazing how different I feel getting up after a game like that. It’s a bit sad that my next 48 hours behaviour is dictated by Arsenal games. Is that just me? A big happy birthday to LBG by the way.

    One thing I noticed about us in the last 3 games is the hunger of each attacking player to get into the box at pace. Literally no-one wants to pass up a sniff of a goal scoring opportunity. That included Auba, who will come good and be vital to our season again, and you are right Rocky in pointing out the folly of writing a player off.

    The reality is that the burden of good play and goal-scoring needs to be shared out among the key players in and around the 1st team squad. Players like Auba, Pepe and Willian will be required to find form when we have to rotate out the likes of Saka and ESR.

    We need those players that many are writing off to step up again soon if we are to finish the season strongly and perhaps even achieve something meaningful.

    I am fully invested in the quality of our youth and using them far more than we have done till recently, but think the older players will still be highly important.

    I maintain that as important, if not more so, than the pure fearlessness of youth having an impact is the switch in formation. We must now fully invest in this formation come what may.

    We won’t win them all and will look more laboured in some games, but all top teams do. However I think with the new formation we will get stronger and stronger and become increasingly effective in it.

    Rocky you made the point about the formation. It is something I said before but all the following are a variant on the 4-3-3 system:

    4-2-3-1
    4-2-1-3
    4-1-2-3
    4-1-4-1

    The subtle difference between each one is dictated by which players play. For instance are the 3 CM’s more attacking or defensive. 1 defensive and 2 attacking is different to 2 defensive and 1 attacking?

    Are the attacking wide players more forwards who operate wide or wide midfielders who can attack?

    It is vital to continue with the 3 CM’s at the expense of the 3rd CB and it is vital we play with the inverted wide attackers whichever they may be.

  4. RockyLives says:

    GoonerB
    You have been calling for those ‘inverted wide attackers’ for a long time now.

    You must be very pleased at seeing how that tactic is now being used to such good effect.

  5. GoonerB says:

    Really pleased Rocky. I was going to do a post sometime before the Chelsea game but never found the time. It would have been titled “release Saka from the Sack”…… I’m all about class you know, nothing cliched about me.

    The basis of it was that although Saka looks effective on the left he could be even more devastating from the right or in the 10 role and we were not exploiting all he could offer by playing him on the left.

    I think this formation gives us that 4 point attacking goal threat I was talking about through the number 9 the number 10 and the 2 inverted wide attackers.

    The inverted wide attackers are a significantly higher goal threat coming in on their more lethal shooting foot but also the more natural instinct to cut in and be more dangerous to the opposition creates the space more effectively for the full-back to burst into on the overlap. On top of that we have the extra ACM as well.

    It won’t win us everything right now but I hope we stick with it. Then it is just about having the right personnel and squad depth to make it truly effective on a consistent basis.

  6. GoonerB says:

    Did anyone see the penalty decision for Spurs 1st goal yesterday. With the use of VAR I personally can’t believe that the free kick wasnt given against Bergwjin instead. You could see he puts out his leg with no intention to play the ball and only playing the defender coming through and it ends up a studs up challenge on the Leeds defender.

  7. RA says:

    A terrific Post, Rocky, merci Monsieur,

    The ratings were also spot on, and I could not agree more with the joint MoTM, with a plea for Emile SR to join them.

    It sounds a bit greedy, but with hindsight I would claim we could have scored 3 or 4 more goals.

    As you said, the exquisite movement off the ball invited some equally wonderful, swift passing between the goal scorers, much like it was back in the days of the Invincibles, altho we very occasionally reproduced some of that style during the Emery era too.

    A great start to 2021!! 👍

  8. RA says:

    Hi, GB,

    Some great supporting comments from you today, as well.

    The Spurs penalty was extremely ‘iffy’ but not a surprise.

    Pogba won an equally ‘iffy’ penalty for Manure against AV. He dribbled in front of a Villa player, and extended his arm behind him into the Villain’s chest /face so the Villa guy could not get close to tackle.

    He then slowed down, ‘retracted’ his trailing arm so the AV player ran into him — and over he went for the penalty that won the game — disgraceful.

    Old red nose would have been proud of him.

  9. Rasp says:

    Great celebration of the game thank you Rocky. I have little to add to the post or the comments. It was an excellent performance and everything that needs to be said as regards the way ahead was summed up by Thierny after the game. We need to keep doing what we’re doing … the most important game is the next one.

  10. RockyLives says:

    Looks like Lampard and Arteta will soon be waving at each other from different elevators going in opposite directions.

  11. RockyLives says:

    How do our resident PSG enthusiasts feel about Poch going to Paris?

  12. fred1266 says:

    Not a bad selection but regardless what psg will win the league CL is he a worthy candidate for that I think not

  13. Rasp says:

    It’s been that type of season Rocky. OGS was being slated earlier in the season and now they’re equal top. I wonder how much business will be done in the winter TW. For the first time ever I’m not bothered about bringing players in, I just want 5 or 6 to be moved on to release funds for the summer …. but only if we spend it on quality.

  14. RockyLives says:

    I remain unconvinced by Solskjaer and I wonder if Utd will regret not booting him at the bottom of their slump and getting in Poch.

    Of course they’ll probably go and win the league now I’ve said that.

  15. Rasp says:

    I agree he’s not convincing … but they were beginning to look ridiculous changing manager so often. There comes a time when you have to give a manager a chance. Many would quote SAF’s slow start when he joined UTD. Alternatively AW arrived and took the Prem by storm

  16. TotalArsenal says:

    Excellent match review and ratings, Rocky. Love the title too. A great start to the new year!

  17. jjgsol says:

    From what I saw, Pogba actually tripped himself up. The question is was it deliberate, or accidental.

    Whichever way, where was VAR?

  18. Stan Adams says:

    Certainly was a good performance from Afc and having Danni and Smith Rowe playing well in midfield made a difference Partey should be back soon and if he replaces Xhaka we would have a good midfield.
    Xhaka is to slow and Willock and Elneney are not good enough i hope they go,if we got Auoar then we are getting somewhere.

  19. Akinzo says:

    Rocky, you are the man. Excellent work if am perpermitted to say. Now, we can smile and banter like every football fan and not feel like going into hiding.
    I never had any doubt that we would come through. I always knew it was a matter of time. It can be best imagined what a can docapable do to the confidence of players.
    Yesterday’s amazing performance saw all the players playing with a buzz that we’ve rarely seen since the first two weeks of the season. At times , Saka was simply unplayable and he rapidly becoming the most important jigsaw in our puzzle. He has even look more glamorous playing alongside his academy peers.
    Mari hasnt played many games until recently but he’s one of the players categorised as bad buy by many until the last three matches. He plays with a calmness we’ve not seen for a long while in our backline and he can only improve.
    How long ago did a cross section of our fans wanted Lacassete sold in January? Now, they will y can’t imagine a first eleven without him.
    For the first time in a long while, i slept like a baby last night and there was a calmness around me. Long may it continue

  20. fred1266 says:

    The same type of trip happened in city game and no pen given

  21. fred1266 says:

    Jeez always want us to just to spend money sometimes like u all don’t think

    How u know auror would even suit the prem saka EMR cost nothing’s and playing way better than 50 mill pepe

    Give willock a chance

  22. RockyLives says:

    New Post

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