Well, that wasn’t too shabby was it? I remember playing Arsenal when they just battered us for 90 minutes and it was a case of how many. But nowadays we can take them on when they are in form and playing with a bit of swagger. I’m rather happy!
It hasn’t been a bad week to be a Baggies fan. I walked into The Hawthorns refreshed, unbeaten in 3 which included a historic win at Old Trafford. It seemed an age since the doom and gloom of Swansea. Dare I say I sensed confidence and positivity!
The team was announced and we still had injury issues. No Sinclair, Anichebe, Vydra, Foster, Reid, Gera or Thorne. Anelka returned for Anichebe and Sinclair was replaced in the starting XI by Berahino, who deservedly got his first start in the top flight.
We gave Arsenal the ball from kick off, that immediately lowered my expectations of the day. I can’t recall too many clear cut chances early on. Lots of eye-catching play from both sides but good defending and a lack of a killer instinct saw no chances.
Berahino worried Arsenal with a strike outside the area that was deflected by Flamini goalwards. It brought the best out of the Arsenal stopped who pulled off a great save. The keeper was already going one way, but moved his body well and got behind it. Unfortunately for Albion he met it when he did because any later and it either goes in or comes back into the area instead of away.
Arsenal never tested Myhill. Gibbs and Wilshere both failed to find the target when they should’ve done better but the Welsh international was called upon when Ramsey drove the ball low from a half cleared corner. Seeing the ball, late Myhill reacted with a hand that pushed the ball away and Mulumbu cleared. A very good save given pace and power of the strike.
Arsenal then cleared an Albion corner, Mulumbu found Amalfitano to keep the move alive, great positioning from Mulumbu and Clarke would’ve asked him to do exactly what he did. Amalfitano delivered a ball that we are becoming ever used to and Yacob, one of the smallest men on the pitch, got a free header to open his WBA account.
Whining Wilshere then saw himself booked for a late, nasty challenge on Yacob as the Baggies ended the half in control and comfortable. Quite possibly the best first half we have produced under Clarke. Solid at the back and unpredictable in attack.
They may have been last out on the pitch for the second half but Albion were clearly prepared for the next 45 minutes. They understood what was ahead, and at this level you have to take your chances or face punishment.
So when Berahino broke away and delivered a ball into Anelka’s path – a lovely drilled cross – the former Arsenal man somehow got ahead of the ball – criminal for a player of his ability and experience – but then couldn’t adjust his body so it just hit him and fell for the Arsenal defence to clear.
Arsenal’s quick break saw them create a chance and they couldn’t punish Anelka as Wilshere fired the ball into the Smethwick End. The pace and movement of Arsenal on the break is something that Albion were finding as their biggest test when defending.
Ridgewell then placed the ball down the line, Anelka was off, a tough angle granted but 1 on 1 he stroked the ball wide of the far hand post. He really should be hitting the target there and 2 chances down Albion were still only 1-0 up. You’d want Anelka there, I’m glad he got there and if it you want to drop it to anyone you want it to be him. But he has to hit the target on the two chances he has. Rebounds were available even if it was saved.
Arsenal then punished Anelka’s misses. Wilshere managed to fire a volley on target this time it was en-route to Myhil. Unknowingly, Olsson had it clip his shin pad and the pace of the ball saw it beat Myhill. A sucker punch to Albion who had dominated play from 35 minutes onwards.
Shane Long came on for the last 20 minutes and looked lively; making life difficult for the slower, tiring Arsenal defenders. His leap again surprised the opponents as he challenged well in aerial duels on a couple of occasions.
Jones found himself in a shooting position and he nearly doubled his Baggies tally with a strike on target but at a good height for the ‘keeper as he pushed it round the post for a corner.
Wilshere found Giroud in the box and he attempted to round Myhill. McAuley covered on the line but was not needed as Boaz flung himself in the way of a shot by the in-form striker. A great save from a man that hasn’t done much wrong (again) when called upon.
Late on Long went over in the box. Koscielny pushed him with no attempt to get the ball, it was nowhere near a point to jump for the ball and he knew what he was doing given Long winning previous headers he didn’t want to lose that one. Referee Mason waved away an obvious spot kick.
There wasn’t much more in terms of chances but it was a great game, entertaining and both sides tried to play football. The direct play was there but not needless, it was so enjoyable to see Albion stand up to such a stern test.
Well, well, well. What a difference a couple of quality players make, no longer relying on Dorrans, Tamas, Rosenberg, Thomas; it’s nice. Not so long ago we had Barnes and Tchyoi on our bench so progression is clearly there!
A tinge of disappointment given the way we played and the way we conceded but that is only natural. Ultimately it is a point not too many will get this season and now we go unbeaten in four games and have won 8 points out of 12.
Clarke has a big call after the international break with Anelka, Anichebe or Long. I would go for ‘Big Vic’, based on the Old Trafford game. He deserves a run given he never got one at Everton. He could be what we need from the start. I’ve got nothing against Anelka or Long, I just think Anichebe deserves a shot now after that performance.
Still, huge amount of positives now to mull over and then go to a Stoke side who need a win with belief in ourselves.
Have your say on Albion's draw here at Baggies Banter.