Sunday, 4 May 2014

Gunners must make sure complacency doesn’t become an issue

By Joss Bennett
After Everton’s defeat to Manchester City yesterday, Arsenal went into their final home game of the season with Champions League participation already secured.

With this in mind, and with an FA Cup final to play in just under 2 weeks, Arséne Wenger might have made a host of changes as is often his wont when there’s little to play for.

Instead the manager made just one change from the eleven that started against Newcastle, with only Aaron Ramsey left out in favour of Mathieu Flamini over a possible thigh strain.

Despite initial reports he could miss out, Bacary Sagna started in what could be his last appearance at the Emirates for Arsenal, while Abou Diaby made the squad for the first time this season.

With Arsenal hitting form and the Baggies needing a win to make sure of Premier League safety, it was an open start as the away side came forward in the first minute and Craig Dawson swung a cross from the right that went over everyone.

Arsenal had their first chance of the match after four minutes when Mesut Ozil’s chipped ball into the box was held up by Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski volleyed wide.

West Brom came forward again just three minutes later when Saido Berahino was played in behind the Arsenal defence but chose not to look for the pass and his shot was deflected into the arms of the goalkeeper.

After surviving the early scare, Arsenal then took control of the match and Ozil built on his fine display against Newcaslte with an excellent run into the box. 

When his low cross was deflected out to Santi Cazorla, the Spaniard’s shot was blocked out for a corner.

And from the following corner, taken by Cazorla, Giroud opened the scoring with his 16th goal of the season with a powerful near post header after 14 minutes.

With Arsenal well in control after the goal, James Morrison looked to spoil the party when Sagna gave the ball away near halfway and the midfielder looked to lob Wojciech Szczesny from way out but over-hit his effort.

The Gunners then had two opportunities in quick succession to double their lead, with Ben Foster blocking a cut-back from Lukas Podolski before Cazorla skied a volley high and wide from the edge of the box.

Just after the half-hour mark, Berahino was given two cheap chances when another long range shot was awkwardly parried by Szczesny and the youngster blasted over inside the six yard box before seeing the flag up anyway, and then curled another effort over just seconds later.

Wenger’s side responded again and again it was Cazorla who had the final shot, latching onto Podolski’s cut back and curling a low effort towards the corner which Foster tipped around the post brilliantly.

Arsenal nearly ended the first half on a high as a couple of counter-attacks looked promising but fell to the wrong man in Flamini and then Monreal and eventually fizzled out before the whistle went.

The opening 15 minutes of the second half were uneventful as both teams looked a little slow and a couple of counter-attacks each came to nothing.

On 60 minutes, Ozil’s quality almost showed as he picked the ball up on the left of the box and whipped in an excellent cross which Giroud was just unable to make contact with.

The first change of the match came in a like for like swap just after the hour, with on-loan Kim Kallstrom replacing Vice-captain Mikel Arteta.

The switch meant Flamini moved into the more defensive of the two central midfield berths.

The home team had almost 20 minutes of the second half to wait for their first piece of defending, as Per Mertseacker blocked a dangerous looking low cross at the near post.

With 20 minutes to go, Wenger made his second change as Cazorla was replaced by Czech midfielder Tomas Rosicky.

With no goals or real chances to speak of for Arsenal, it was West Brom who almost scored first in the second half when Morgan Amalfitano got in behind but was pushed wide and saw his effort blocked by a combination of Mertesacker and Szczesny.

A minute later Arsenal got their first chance of the half from nothing. A blocked clearance was knocked down by Giroud but Ozil couldn’t get the ball under his control and eventually scuffed an effort wide.

15 minutes before full time, Podolski somehow failed to make the most of a poor clearance from Jonas Olsson as he sliced his effort off the post and into Foster’s hands.

After picking up a booking earlier, Nacho Monreal made way for Thomas Vermaelen for Arsenal’s final substitution. West Brom made their first change at the same time, as Victor Anichebe replaced Amalfitano.

With time running out, Berahino got into the box and drilled a low cross towards goal which was cleared behind by Laurent Koscielny.

Between the two corners that followed, West Brom made another change and Matej Vydra came on to replace Youssuf Mulumbu.

In the final two minutes of the ninety, Arsenal pushed on in search of a second, killer goal. Vermaelen released Podolski on the left wing but the German’s cut-back was blocked.

Seconds after, Kallstrom had a half-chance from a cross but headed wide.

As the three minutes of injury time started, the Baggies made sure the tie remained a contest when substitute Anichebe had the strength and time to turn in the box but a shot to nothing was blocked behind.

That proved to be the last real action of the match, with Arsenal happy with a traditional 1-0 win but in truth somewhat fortunate not to be punished for a complacent second half.

With 13 days to wait and nothing else to play for, Wenger will have to make sure complacency doesn’t rear its ugly head again in the Cup final against Hull City.

The win keeps Arsenal on track to finish the season with 79 points. A tally that would be a record high for a fourth-placed team in the Premier League, the club’s highest tally since 2008 and also more points than they achieved in their league win of 1998.

While perhaps not the most comforting statistics when much of what could have been this season has been lost, it does show the importance of keeping momentum going before the cup final and taking as many positives as possible into next season. 

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