Thank goodness for that. Arsenal’s scoreless run in the Premier League is finally over, broken in yesterday’s 3-1 win over West Brom.
Nicklas Bendtner was the hero on the night, bagging two goals – and very nearly a third – on the night while Kolo Toure also chipped in, nodding a header in from a splendid Andrey Arshavin cross. All three goals as well as West Brom’s came in the first half as our boys wasted four clear opportunities to extend the lead in an extremely dominant performance.
Arsene Wenger threw up a number of surprises in the team selection. I had expected Arshavin to be rested after playing an hour against Fulham, but the manager chose to start the Russian up front with Nicklas Bendtner, meaning Robin van Persie was dropped to the bench. Also dropped was Abou Diaby and Carlos Vela for Alex Song and Emmanuel Eboue respectively, while Johan Djourou stepped in for the injured William Gallas.
The starting team may have been a surprise but it was even more of a surprise to see Arsenal score so early. Indeed, it took just four minutes. Samir Nasri’s poorly struck corner fell to Denilson who fed Bendtner and the Dane broke our four-game scoreless run with a smart, left-footed finish. He didn’t strike the ball particularly well, Bendtner, but the accuracy of the shot meant it snuck past Scott Carson in the West Brom goal.
The sense of relief I felt when the ball went in was immense. My idea to get The Otter up early to watch the game early had broken The Curse of Morgana Clarke and we were well on our way. But almost as soon as we scored our first goal in four games, we went and conceded.
Djourou conceded a free kick 25 yards and from a seemingly innocuous situation, West Brom’s Chris Brunt fired home a low effort. On first viewing I believed Manuel Almunia to be at fault but the replays showed it was none other than Emmanuel Eboue. For some bizarre reason the Ivorian, who was placed on the edge of the wall, decided he would go walkabout and opened up a gap for Brunt to shoot into. I don’t want to dwell for too long on this given the final outcome of the game, but it was once again a disappointing effort by Eboue.
In the grand scheme of things, though, it mattered little. Bendtner wasted an excellent chance to double his tally while Almunia made a smart stop at the other end, before we scored again. Arshavin flighted a lovely free-kick from the left onto the head/shoulder/chest of Toure and the stand-in captain notched his first goal of the season.
Things got even better for us just minutes later as Toure chipped a lovely ball into the path of Bendtner and the Dane slammed a sweet volley past Carson. It meant a 3-1 half-time lead, a ridiculously welcome change from the 0-0s that had greeted Arsenal fans for the past four matches.
Half-time saw an unexpected change as Toure was forced off with injury, replaced by Abou Diaby. The substitution meant a reshuffle as Song went to centre-back and Diaby slotted into the middle alongside Denilson.
The second half burned into life 10 minutes after the restart when a series of Arsenal attempts were denied. First Arshavin was denied by a lovely save by Carson after good work by Bendtner, before the same combination was denied by the West Brom keeper just a minute later. Then Diaby produced a wonderful piece of skill to weave past a marker before having a powerful effort blocked by another defender. Then on the hour mark, Bendtner weaved into the area only to see his well-struck effort cannon off the post.
West Brom could have pulled one back when Marc-Antoine Fortune had a shot tipped away by Almunia, but we always looked in control of the match and had the last effort of the game as Arshavin had another shot saved on 90 minutes. And that was it – three goals, three points and much-needed boost of confidence.
In terms of performances I thought there were two standouts; Bendtner and Arshavin. The Dane was by far our best player, creating chances at will with his bustling dribbling and overall workrate. The Russian, on the other hand, impressed with his neat passing and creativity. Although his fitness isn’t there just yet it’s clear Arshavin has a brilliant footballing mind and is capable of seeing passes and plays that other players in our squad – excluding Cesc Fabregas – just can’t see.
In summary, it was by far a perfect team effort but at the end of the day we got exactly what we needed; three points. We’re just three points behind Aston Villa now and with the Birmingham club facing a tough trip to Manchester City tonight there’s every indication that it might stay that way.
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