Arsenal 3 – 0 West Bromwich Albion
1 – 0 van Persie (22)
2 – 0 Vermaelen (39)
3 – 0 Arteta (74)
Arsenal head into the international break on a high, unbeaten since the last Fifa conspired interruption in October, a run of six wins and a draw. It was not the most taxing of Premier League fixtures that the club has ever had with Albion’s trio of absences seemingly weakening them at the knees and beyond. That said, Arsenal were utterly dominant from the start, controlling possession with an ease that made you wonder how anyone could have spoken of a crisis this season. They were that good; Albion were that bad.
Ahead of the match, questions were asked of Arsenal about their reliance upon Robin van Persie’s goals. Yesterday, the strikers did not answer the question, the team did with the usual (expected?) van Persie effort accompanied by one from defence and midfield. It was Thomas Vermaelen’s first in an Arsenal shirt since scoring in the 3-1 win at The Britannia Stadium in February 2010. The gap between those goals merely serves to highlight how long he has been missing.
The Belgian’s return has coincided with two clean sheets. Coincidence? No, a significant contributing factor no doubt but combined with the willingness of those in front of him to hassle, harry, chase and cajole the opposition into surrendering possession, it is a potent mix. Alex Song once more personified that with a solid example of the defensive midfielder’s art. Yesterday was an example of how good the main central defenders are at the club; Vermaelen, Koscielny and Mertesacker seem interchangeable with minimal disruption. The paucity of the visitors attacks helped in the apparently seamless change between the latter duo in partnering the former but that should not be used to decry their abilities.
For all of their possession, Arsenal did not create a clear opening on goal before van Persie broke the deadlock. Ramsey released Walcott on the right, the England international broke into the area but was unable to replicate last week’s finish; Foster parried the shot into van Persie’s path and the Dutchman made no mistake. That is the ultimate in Arsène’s desire for efficiency, a goals to chances ratio of 1:1.
Albion passed the ball around well but never made progress, through a lack of accuracy or more often than not, Arsenal brains guiding their feet onto an interception course. The second and vital goal arrived as half-time approached. van Persie turned provider when he pulled the ball back from close to the by-line for Vermaelen to drill home. It was a goal that would have driven Roy Hodgson to despair such was the distance that it travelled on its unimpeded path to the Belgian.
Vermaelen might had a brace but his header early in the second half was wide of the goal. The third came with fifteen minutes to go. Arsenal broke at pace, the move ending with van Persie laying the ball into Arteta’s stride for the finish. Even after all of the celebrations, the Spaniard’s hair was still unruffled and perfectly in place. Perhaps Hasbro will be looking at him to model the new Action Man dolls?
Three points and a win that feeds the growing positive mood around the club. Who knows, perhaps even contract talks might begin and progress? Marco van Basten spoke recently of the decision that van Persie faces over his future,
I still think Arsenal are the most beautiful club in England. At Man City and Chelsea, they will never have that class and style. Arsenal have the most amazing stadium, they have a style of play, they have a beautiful shirt – in every way I consider Arsenal as the ultimate football club.
It is the club where Robin belongs
van Persie sought to underline the importance of his role in the club with a hand in the other Arsenal goals. van Basten highlighted why a new contract should be agreed,
The foundations are there. It is up to Robin to create winning ways so Arsenal will be the very best of those big clubs in the top six in England. I know Robin can’t do it all on his own. But he will have to put pressure on the people in charge, on the board, on the owner, on everyone who is involved in the highest echelons of the club, that they keep doing the right things for Arsenal, so the team can compete at the highest level.
Last year Arsenal still had a really good team and could have gone a long way to winning the Premier League title. Now they have lost two pillars from their team in Fabregas and Nasri.With a few more top- quality players around him, Robin will improve his chances when it comes to winning things and being successful
Too much water may have passed for that this season but there are still 81 points to play for and in this Premier League season, nothing can be entirely ruled out. As it is, Arsenal are winning the games they need to claw their way back into form and the top four. Post-match, Arsène re-iterated that the points gap to Manchester City is too great to talk of anything other than qualifying for the Champions League. Everywhere he looks, the advice is the same, Spend! Spend! Spend!
This morning sees a sizeable chunk being thrown in Dortmund’s direction for Mario Goetze whilst Stevan Jovetic is going to leave Fiorentina and bang in the goals at The Emirates instead. His £50m is burning a hole in the media’s pocket. That sum is going to increase as the window approaches, especially if this morning’s report of the club trying to renegotiate the shirt sponsorship deal is correct.
Whether Emirates want to renegotiate now is the key and a £20m deal may not fit into their agenda. Arsenal would certainly need to have a good business case for them to want to pay that much now when there is no necessity to for another three years or so. However, the airline has put Fifa on notice that they are unhappy with their partnership and you wonder if there has been an indication given that their involvement in football as a whole is under review, or a more studious review than is normal.
West Bromwich Albion arrive at The Emirates for this afternoon’s Premier League encounter, a sore reminder of when things went awry this season. A reminder, as if they needed one, for the team that turning up does not equate to a victory; they have to work hard it. The Arsenal squad are in a bouyant mood, a run of one defeat in ten matches has changed the season around. It begs the question, when does a season turn the corner from the poor start that has been made? Eight wins and a draw for any other team in those ten would be considered such a turnaround.
But this is Arsenal and that is not the case. You would have thought that winning 5-3 at Stamford Bridge might have changed that perception but perhaps a place in the top four is the solution, and sufficient points ahead of anyone who might have a game in hand. A win today is will not see that happen, indeed drawing level with fourth place on points would mean that even by the topsy-turvy standards of this season, today’s results and performances have been astonishing.
Vulnerability and over–confidence were Arsène’s watch words yesterday, keen to dispel the myth of Manchester City’s invincibility whilst not letting Arsenal get too far ahead of themselves. It’s okay, Arsène, nobody is calling Arsenal title contenders yet. Or probably at all this season. It’s one of those campaigns where going about your business quietly is probably the best course of action. Keep on winning, close the gap on those above, pick off rivals one by one and see where you end in May.
To do that, one or two more players need to step forward and shoulder goalscoring responsibilities. Robin van Persie is in a rich vein of form and under those circumstances, it is not surprising when others look to pass to him rather than take on the shooting opportunities. However, his form and fitness cannot be relied upon – no player can be expected to play 50 games in a season and score a goal a game. It is for Theo and Gervinho, amongst others, to step forward.
Walcott has made no secret of his desire to play centrally and has the pace to do so. Often criticised for being athletic but not a talented footballer, his shortcomings of few goals and wayward delivery are gradually being laid to rest. It is one of those issues though, that requires time. Consistency of performance over several seasons will decide whether he can fulfil his ambitions. Like Gervinho, he is capable of scintilating speed and opportunism; both are capable of frustrating with seemingly easy chances going begging. Despite his protestations to the contrary, it would be of little surprise to see him seek a solution to the problem in January’s transfer window.
And goals is the issue with the forwards. No-one can criticise their workrate or the selflessness of their play. For a number of seasons the squad have been generous in their construction of chances for others; perhaps a bit of selfishness might do wonders for the individual’s confidence and as a by-product, that of the team.
Creativeness is something normally associated with midfield and attack. Arsène has a history of converting midfielders into full backs; now he has to convert a full back into well, a defender. Andre Santos’ raids on the left have brought more goals in the first months of his Arsenal career than Gael Clichy managed over his entire career. That is no problem but it is the defensive duties which cause consternaton. Or more accurately, a mass outbreak of hypertension.
There is little to argue with the manager’s contention that an attacking defender can win games; if their colleagues are not on the ball, they can lose them as well. Due to injury, Wenger has found on the right a youngster who can deliver a decent cross. This season has been pressure that Carl Jenkinson might well have wanted to do without but he is adjusting to his circumstances, growing with confidence with every game.
Santos, I believe, is still adapting. His flambouyant style has not been curbed yet but the Premier League is perhaps more clinical in capitalising on human error. Whenever you change jobs, you take time to adapt to the culture of your surroundings and employers. Some do so more quickly than others, compare Santos with Park for example. I suspect the Brazilian will become tighter as the defence becomes more cohesive.
There will be a change in the back four this afternoon; Per Mertesacker seems to be linked with a rest so Laurent Koscielny comes in to partner Thomas Vermaelen. This partnership, whatever it may end, has to be nailed pretty quickly. Vermaelen has done well in his return but Koscielny and Mertesacker have done well in combination whilst the Belgian was out. To leave either out is harsh but necessary.
Other than that, there will be few changes. van Persie will return whilst I suspect Arshavin will drop in for Walcott. Possibly Arteta will be warming the bench, taking a rest although as he has no international fixtures is that necessary. Perhaps not. The line-up I expect this afternoon is:
Szczesny; Jenkinson, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Santos; Rosicky, Song, Ramsey; Arshavin, van Persie, Gervinho
Just in case the Arsenal players were feeling confident, they are playing with the weight of recent history against them. Arsenal have not won any of the last six November encounters against The Baggies, 4 draws and two defeats. Indeed of the twelve meetings in this month, Arsenal have only won 3, the last in 1951 which was the only home victory in the dozen as well. Perhaps we can change that and have a 5th of November to remember for the right reasons.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.
West Bromwich Albion 2 – 2 Arsenal
1 – 0 Reid (3)
2 – 0 Odemwingie (58)
2 – 1 Arshavin (71)
2 – 2 van Persie (78)
Arsenal showed the character that is so often deemed to be missing in retrieving a deficit that arose through the flaws that have so often been shown in the past. Arguments will be made for this being two points dropped or a point gained, the dominance of either view depending on your outlook for the season.
Albion were two goals ahead but had been pummelled. At the end of the match, Arsenal had over sixty per cent of the possession and eighteen attempts on goal to the hosts four. Arsenal made two defensive mistakes and were punished. The Baggies might be a yo-yo team but are not going to return to The Championship without a fight.
Arsenal have wobbled but like the Weebles of yesteryear, refuse to fall down. Defeated in domestic cup competitions, ousted from Europe’s top table, the battered and bruised visitors refused to cower as the title race seemed destined to move out of their control.
West Brom came out of the traps quickly and within three minutes were ahead. Brunt’s corner found Reid to power home a header from point blank range. The returning Aaron Ramsey had been assigned the task of marking the Albion midfielder but failed to track his man effectively. One goal down but most of the match remained to retrieve the deficit.
Dusting themselves down from the set back, Arsenal gradually assumed a control of the game that reflected the two teams relative positions in the Premier League. Albion were assiduous in their defending, banks of four and five confronting the Arsenal players, stifling any attempts to stretch the play.
On one occasion in the first half, Arsenal found width. Clichy broke on the left, his cross met by a looping Robin van Persie header which bounced off the crossbar into the path of Aaron Ramsey. The Welsh youngster attempted to find redemption via the back of the net, instead found Carson blocking his way to goal.
Arsenal’s dominance required more attacking nous; it arrived in the form of Marouane Chamakh at half-time, Denilson withdrawn as the visitor’s sought to turn possession into points. It did not bring about immediate dividends.
Albion threats were few and far between. As the pitch churned, Brunt wasted a good opportunity to increase the lead before the fickle finger of fate turned on Arsenal once more.
Mulumbu hoisted an archetypally English ball over the top of the defence. Odimwingie gave chase with Squillaci and as the two seemed destined to tangle for possession, Manuel Almunia met them, almost collided with Squillaci and left the Albion forward a straightforward finish. No hiding for Almunia, his rashness had cost a goal and the withering look of Squillaci said it all.
There can be no excuses from the Spaniard, his view unimpeded as the ball came over the top of the defence. The bounce spat the ball into an alternative course than one might have expected but even the deceptively slow Squillaci was in control of the situation enough to force Odimwingie toward the touchline. Quite simply, the goalkeeper should not have been in the position that he found himself.
It mean that a small hill became larger yet nowhere near mountainous in its size. Bendtner came on for Ramsey, Wenger deciding that the lead was retrievable and Albion unlikely to hold out against an attacking onslaught. It was a substitution which would prove rewarding.
The players needed to regather their strength, physically and mentally. A quick response would have refilled energy levels, drained through the deflation of the host’s second. van Persie provided a small tonic but his free kick drifted harmlessly past the post.
With twenty minutes to go, Arsenal gained the necessary foothold. Chamakh is following the path trodden by Arshavin in regaining form, emerging from the bench to provide assists, followed by goals. It would be a timely return if that is the case. The Russian picked up the ball in midfield and laid it wide to Chamakh. His measured pass found Arshavin’ bustling run into the box, the power built by the pocket dynamo unleashed in his shot.
Back in the game, Arsenal turned the screw. The Albion defence, already stretch buckled once more, breaking point reached. Arshavin’s cross swirled to the far post where Bendtner returned the ball into the goalmouth. Dithering Albion defending was punished by an incisive Robin van Persie tackle, the ball poked into an empty net as Carson looked on despairingly.
Arsenal sought a winner, the urgency missing for big parts of the game now evident. In truth it was much as before. Albion riding their luck, Carson once more called into action displaying the inconsistency which saw his international career end before it started; culpable in van Persie’s equaliser, the Albion custodian redeemed himself with a save from Clichy as the pressure grew.
The final whistle brought relief for the home fans, an emotion matched by Arsenal’s less the elation. Dropped points because of defensive errors will bring forth criticism, bearing the brunt will be Manuel Almunia.
Goalkeeping is a touchy subject. Almunia had won plaudits in Barcelona, one of only two players to emerge with any credit from the Champions League exit. That has quickly evaporated and the welter of abuse towards him is swelling. He made the mistake but Wenger’s options are limited. Were there a match this week, I wonder if the manager would have taken a risk and played Lehmann.
As it is we go into the international break which allows him and his staff to work on the Spaniard, rebuilding his confidence following yesterday. It will be necessary; no matter what you think of Almunia, to play Lehmann is a huge risk. With a respect to the German, some reserve matches over the next fortnight would not go amiss. Training is one thing but match sharpness another.
The Premier League table identifies one thing, a point not to be forgotten. Arsenal sit second, one game in hand, five points behind Manchester United, the two sides still to meet at The Emirates. The destiny of the title is in their hands, the grip loosened a little but not wrenched out of their control.
Arsenal 2 – 3 West Bromwich Albion
0 – 1 Odimwingie (50)
0 – 2 Jara (52)
0 – 3 Thomas (73)
1 – 3 Nasri (75)
2 – 3 Nasri (90)
Odimwingie missed pen (37)
Having seen Chelsea lose at Manchester City, Arsenal would have entered this match confident of victory and cutting the gap to the Premier League leaders to a solitary point ahead of their visit to Stamford Bridge next weekend. As it was a lifeless performance maintained the four point deficit, individual errors contributing as much as the collective to a defeat that should never have happened.
Chief scapegoat this morning is Manuel Almunia but to pin this all on the goalkeeper is to allow others to escape criticism. There is no doubt that the Spaniard has given Wenger a headache, one he must have thought was not going to arise given the performances his first choice goalkeeper has put in this season. They have been forgotten as the abuse has fallen on Almunia’s head in a deluge. Culpable for the second, he was not the only miscreant for the third but a major contributor.
Post-match, Arsene was deflated and bemused, mixed in with the palpable anger, a potent cocktail for the players to handle. Rightly so, he told the world that his charges took from the game all that they deserved: “zero points”. As vibrant as the performance had been on Tuesday night, this was limp. Verve, fleet of foot, quick-minded; all words associated with the team on a regular basis. All words which will be missing from any analysis of this fixture.
Wenger took the final fifteen minutes as the ‘positive’ from yesterday; it shows the paucity of options that he has. It seemed watching his post-match press conference that he struggled to withhold criticising his goalkeeper in public, a familiar feeling following the chastisement that Fabianski received for Robbie Keane’s ultimately irrelevant equaliser in midweek.
Wojech Szczesny is being called for, Superman may arrive. Those who demand, and chastise Wenger for not signing, Mark Schwarzer would do well to heed his performances this season for Fulham; the required improvement he is not. Amid this clamour, Vito Mannone must feel like an interloper at the goalkeeping party.
Changes were wrung by the manager from Tuesday, tiredness must have dictated his thinking – This can be the only reason for Wilshere not starting, Denilson usurped by the returning Diaby – with an eye cast eastwards to Belgrade. He, like the players, had this one pencilled in as a home banker. It proved to be anything but that, crushingly so.
If anything, the lessons from the Stadium of Light had not been heeded. That performance was not as flat as this but the personnel lacked the spark. Yet the result could have been different. Barely a quarter of an hour passed, Samir Nasri kept the move alive and proved to be Arsenal’s only bright spark on a thunderously dark afternoon. Eboue’s telling cross found Arshavin at the far post, the woodwork twice denying the Russian.
A hint of the defensive lapses to follow came fifteen minutes later. Odimwingie moved effortlessly in from the wing and unleashed a strike that Almunia turned onto the post. The warning was not heeded for Eboue’s stray pass and Song’s attempted interception found Albion feet willing to capitalise on the mistake. Odimwingie was sent through as Almunia raced to meet the ball, taking the man instead, fortunate that cover had arrived so that a yellow rather than red card was shown.
The perfect opportunity for the visitors was spurned, Brunt’s low penalty was too close to Almunia who got a firm hand to the ball, gathering at the second attempt. Half time came and the feeling was that Wenger would deliver the required words of wisdom to bring about the necessary improvement. Or at the very least, a rocket to provide some life.
Whatever was said was forgotten instantly. Albion were livelier and got their deserved reward within five minutes of the restart. Having two right backs in the side did nothing to improve defensive co-ordination. Not for the first time, Thomas wriggled past Sagna. He sent a low pass into the path of the unmarked Odimwingie, who arrived following a perfectly timed run, to find space six yards out. Shambolic marking, punished.
Matters became depressingly worse within ninety seconds. Arshavin and Song dallied, trying to pass the ball out of defence, Albion quickly seized possession through Jara. Similar meanderings had cost Arsenal at Anfield on the opening day; a repeat performance received the same punishment.
Releasing the ball to Brunt, Jara continued his run. Fed by a backheeled pass, he ran into the area and shot straight at Almunia. A routine save became a nightmare as the Spaniard allowed the ball to glide off his hands into the net. Whilst there may have been power in the shot, it should not have been allowed to enter the net.
Mindful of the penalty incident in the first half and with his team two down, Almunia came to meet Brunt and failed to pressurise, standing upright when he had committed himself to a position which required a blocking dive. He did not make that challenge, Brunt squared for Jerome Thomas to wipe away memories of last season’s red card in the Carling Cup. Three down, seemingly there for Albion to inflict the worst ever home defeat at The Emirates.
As it was, a brief pulse was found in the limp body of this performance. Nasri pulled one back with fifteen minutes to go, reducing the deficit further at the start of injury time, a gung-ho attitude emerged but it was too little, too late. No heroics from the home side and a merited win for the visitors.
Much talk about the visit to Stamford Bridge next weekend. A more pressing issue is Tuesday night; victory is imperative, not for qualification but for confidence. Once that match is out of the way, attention can turn to Stamford Bridge.
The announcement of record profits for the club yesterday completed a decent week, the only cloud being the points dropped at Sunderland. Based on this morning’s exchange rate of £1 = €1.173, Arsenal’s turnover beat Real Madrid’s by €3.5m for the same period. It means that Arsenal is at the moment, the biggest football club in the world, until United and Barcelona post their results at least.
What matters is that of those clubs, Arsenal is the most profitable. In itself, the size of that profit does not matter; the business strategy which underpins the financial results is the key. The club is well run, a belief beyond dispute, and is living well within its current means. Even stripping the profitability of the property development from the results, the bottom line was more than double that of the Spaniards. As Uefa’s regulations begin to tighten, Arsenal is one of the clubs which has the least adjustments to be made.
For that, the Board and manager deserve credit. Wenger noted the inherent hypocrisy of football:
We make a profit because we don’t spend – it’s as simple as that. What is unbelievable is that people reproach me for making a profit but no-one says a word about people who lose money. I manage in a safe way – but it looks like we are in a business where the quality is to lose money.
With the number of clubs operating unsustainable business models, quite rightly Arsenal should be held up as the example. The progress of youngsters in England is a subject of heated debate yet not practically implemented with any success outside of Arsenal. Despite having three of the countries most talented youngsters, Wenger is consistently derided. As he observed yesterday, he is in a no-win situation:
you [the media] reproach me for not buying players but if I buy players Jack Wilshere doesn’t come out into the first team. You cannot have everything and I know that and I’m long enough in the job to have a development policy to educate the players. The most difficult thing is to play them and to stand up for it.
Nobody else in the world [brings through as many young players]. I’ll give you one day the list of those at the top level who have made careers with me and you will see. You will be absolutely astonished.
The production of young players has to be sustained for it to be successful. Nobody can argue that Ferguson was successful in bringing one generation through but few of any note since, certainly none who benefitted the national team. Arsenal appears to be in better shape, the proof of which will be seen in years to come.
On the pitch, West Bromwich arrive seeking their first league victory at Arsenal since 1983. Not many fixtures between the two sides have taken place due Albion’s yo-yo nature, two draws in 1986 and 2004 their best results. Arsenal has hosted this fixture five times in summers past, winning all of them.
For this afternoon’s fixture, the impact of Tuesday’s extra time may yet be costly. Rosicky and Eboue picked up knocks in the drubbing of Tottenham although Abou Diaby may return to the bench following his lay-off. Fabregas and Walcott are both targetting the Chelsea match next weekend whilst Alex Song’s suspension was served on Tuesday.
Defensive changes are limited with Thomas Vermaelen not yet recovered and Keiran Gibbs suffered a bruised foot having bruised the pride of the over-hyped Aaron Lennon. It means that the back four will be as you were from last weekend.
Key this afternoon will be finishing Albion off once a lead has been established. Even going down to ten men, there were enough opportunities to do so at Sunderland, penalty and other misses proved costly in the end. The gap to Chelsea is four points, a win and favourable result at Eastlands this lunchtime can see that halved at least.
The team I would expect this afternoon is:
Almunia; Sagna, Squillaci, Koscielny, Clichy; Denilson, Wilshere, Song; Arshavin, Chamakh, Nasri
The visitors have yet to score away from home, conceding seven goals in their two games. Arsenal has the opportunity to add considerably to that scoreline and finish the week on an even bigger high.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.
Carling Cup 3rd Round
Arsenal 2 – 0 West Bromwich Albion
1 – 0 Watt (68)
2 – 0 Vela (76)
The youngsters progressed through to Saturday’s draw, gaining more useful experience than was perhaps garnered from last season’s 6 – 0 drubbing of Sheffield United. Until the point of Jerome Thomas’ deserved dismissal, it was an even contest, Arsenal the better team in the opening phase, Albion coming to the fore towards the end of the first half.
In the end, Arsenal’s superior numbers proved too much for Albion although the visitors contributed massively to the second goal with a moment that will no doubt turn up on a Danny Baker DVD of comedy defending. Wenger will be pleased with the efforts of the squad, no-one appearing totally overawed by the occasion, particularly those debutants in the first team.
Senderos had the opportunity to prove himself as a contender for a first team spot and did little wrong last night. Equally, he did little prove his doubters wrong either. He will, I suspect, prove to be a useful squad member before moving on in the summer on a free transfer. He had a couple chances to head himself onto the scoresheet but was unable to convert either opportunity early on. The closest either side came to breaking the deadlock was Sanchez Watt’s effort that dribbled against the post.
Albion gradually got involved more and forced two good saves from Szczesny and, I think, it was Gilbert who made an important clearance. The turning point of the match was Thomas’ dismissal. He can have little argument about the decision of the referee, raising your hand to an opponent almost always brings about a red card. Wilshere is being criticised for his reaction to the initial contretemps but there is nothing written in the Laws of the Game that says the victim of foul play has to accept an apology nor an outstretched hand.
Wenger hinted that Thomas’ temprament was one of the reasons for his lack of progress at Arsenal and his judgement may not have been amiss in that respect. Whatever was said and I suspect it was a minor infraction, Thomas’ reaction was over the top. Di Matteo’s disappointment in the dismissal is no doubt compounded by the fact that his charges were giving a good account of themselves.
In the end, it was the introduction of Carlos Vela which proved inspirational for an attack that had at times lacked focus. The Mexican is apparently in contention for a place on the bench at Fulham this weekend and his telling cameo last night will have done his case no harm whatsoever. His shot was parried into the path of Watt for the deadlock to be broken and he took advantage of indecisive defending to round Kiely and walk the ball over the line following Randall’s exquisite chip to seal the win.
Of the youngsters, Ramsey set the bar highest to show his colleagues the standard expected to reach the first team for Premier and Champions League fixtures. Szczesny had a good game, providing some good saves and his pleasure enhanced by the clean sheet. Before the match, Wenger observed that he had perhaps overplayed Wilshere last season, raising expectations. Wilshere was industrious last night but on occasion ran into cul-de-sacs. Experience will perhaps cause some more patience in the desire to make things happen, Theo Walcott a template to follow.
Matches like this will go a long way to helping decide those who will and will not make it. None of the youngsters on show will have done themselves any harm last night. A good win, a useful experience gaining exercise even if had been a defeat. Whether such a youthful team would be able to progress against stronger opposition is open to conjecture. Saturday’s draw may well provide an opportunity to find that answer.
West Brom bring their monotonous and monotone “We hate Villa” chants to The Emirates in the first step of the youth team towards Carling Cup glory. Well, OK, that is the theory but as we found out last season, teams at the top of the Championship are rather more troublesome than those in Premier League when this competition comes around.
Having made a flying start, it will be interesting to see how Robert di Matteo approaches this tie. Their league form has been good and does he place more store in resting his first teamers ahead of their weekend fixture or is a case that he wants to keep up a winning momentum.
Whatever his views are, Arsene took the unusual step of telling di Matteo most of his starting line-up. Szczęsny, Gibbs, Traore, Silvestre, Senderos, Wilshere and Ramsey will be playing. You would also guess that Randall, Sanchez Watt and Barazite will feature with Bendtner up front to almost make up the numbers.
With Theo Walcott yet to make a first team appearance, this would seem to be the ideal opportunity to give him a runout of sorts to get some match fitness ahead of the Premier League and Champions League fixtures in the next month. Indeed, a central striking role should be a strong possibility since he needs the experience and has previously commented that he and Wenger both feel the cup competitions are the ideal opportunity to gain that.
Whatever the case, the youth team has done well in the past in this competitions and there is no reason to believe that the current mix of youth and experience cannot make any progress this evening.
With so many changes, these matches have breathed new life into the embers of a dying competition. As talk of European Super Leagues starts to gain more momentum, the League Cup in its various guises is somewhat of an anomaly amongst the major European leagues. I believe, although I am willing to be corrected, that the French are the only other major nation who have a comparable competition, introduced a few years back.
The lustre of a Europa League place is dimmed amongst the clubs who regularly compete in the Champions League. For Arsenal, the benefit is to give younger players experience against a higher standard of opposition than they would expect to encounter in the Reserves League. With so many teams giving the opportunity to fringe players, even that benefit is becoming a bit stretched.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.