West Bromwich Albion 2 - Arsenal 3
Two goals in the space of three minutes gave Albion an early lead against Arsenal after an almighty howler from Marton Fulop had laid the ball at the feet of Yossi Benayoun to draw first blood. Unfortunately, Fulop had been given his only Premiership appearance of the season thanks to an injury to Ben Foster, and how the Birmingham loanee was missed.
Arsenal equalised before half time through a superb strike from Andre Santos, and it was another mistake by Fulop in the second half that saw him punch the ball where he should really have caught it and allow Laurent Koscielny the chance for a simple finish.
The game was followed by the customary lap of honour after some presentations - James Morrison for Goal of the Season and Ben Foster for both the players' and supporters' Player of the Season, and a farewell speech from Roy Hodgson.
Albion finish the season in tenth place, albeit only on goals scored, and exceeded last season's final position - but with Hodgson gone, Scharner leaving, Foster's future uncertain and Olsson stalling on a new deal, is it the end of an era?
At the Hawthorns, Albion completed the season with a defeat by Arsenal which they scarcely deserved.
England Manager Roy Hodgson made his last Albion team selection. Catastrophically, Ben Foster lost his ever-present record due to a groin injury and was replaced by Marton Fulop. Also unfit was Chris Brunt, replaced by Simon Cox, whilst James Morrison was preferred to Keith Andrews.
Albion and their debut goalkeeper made the worst possible start when the Gunners opened the scoring in the 4th minute. A tackle by Morrison on Van Persie ricocheted towards the penalty box, Fulop hesitated, and unsure whether to kick clear or pick up, effectively left the ball for Benayoun to dribble into the vacant net. Albion responded well and by the quarter-hour mark were ahead. In the 12th minute, James Morrison broke strongly through the centre of the Arsenal rearguard and played a perfect ball for Shane Long, level with a wide defender, to race clear and slot past keeper Szczesny. Morrison was involved again in the 15th minute; he picked up deep, strode forward, and chipped a perfect ball for Graham Dorrans, who nodded on before hammering a brilliant half-volley past Szczesny and just inside the far post. The Gunners pressed for another goal and it arrived in the 30th minute. Mulumbu was caught out by Song and Santos pounced, taking the ball past one defender, before lashing a low shot which Fulop could only push onto the post and into the net. Play switched from end to end in the lead up to the break and Van Persie was lucky to receive a yellow not a red card, for a lunge on McAuley near the corner flag way after the ball had been cleared.
The half began with a couple of controversial incidents. First Morrison, well on the way towards another man-of-the-match award, was hacked from behind by Jenkinson and limped off to be replaced by Andrews. Then, in the 55th minute, Arsenal were awarded a corner when the Smethwick End were convinced McAuley hadn’t touched the ball. It was to prove costly, for when the ball was swung into the six yard box Fulop made a complete hash of clearing. A simple catch or a strong punch would have dealt with the situation, but he pushed the ball weakly back towards his goal, into the danger area, where Koscielny had the simple task of volleying into the net from close range. The setback inspired another Albion rally. From a Dorrans corner kick Jonas Olsson rose highest but his header was cleared off the line by Van Persie. Then in a neat move, Dorrans found Mulumbu who fed Keith Andrews on the edge of the box and he swivelled and hit a powerful rising drive forcing Szczesny to make a flying save. Finally, Jonas Olsson almost inspired a late equaliser. He crossed the halfway line, nutmegged a challenger and fed Billy Jones cutting in from the right. Unfortunately, a slightly heavy first touch allowed Gibbs the opportunity to make a perfectly timed sliding tackle. Cue the final whistle and unnecessarily extravagant celebrations from the visitors for simply finishing 3rd, 19 points behind the two leaders.
James Morrison had an excellent first half, setting up both goals. Jonas Olsson stood out, both in defence and pushing forward. Graham Dorrans scored a brilliant goal and Shane Long and Marc-Antoine Fortuné linked up well. Any of those five could have been chosen as man-of-the-match. Marton Fulop gave the worst goalkeeping performance I’ve ever witnessed. Had Ben Foster played we would have kept a clean sheet and with any reasonable keeper we would have won 2-1. It’s so crucial to retain Foster, whose confidence, shot stopping, handling, distribution and kicking have been superb and Olsson, we only won one and lost four of the six league games he missed.
After the game the fans gave Roy Hodgson a memorable send-off, as the manager and team were applauded on a lap of honour. Credit to the handful of Arsenal fans that stayed behind to join in.
ALBION FORMRATE: GOOD
MAN-OF-THE-MATCH: JONAS OLSSON
Albion have played Arsenal four times on the “last day” of a league programme and before today had won one, drawn one and lost one. The most recent match was at The Hawthorns in 1985 and we drew 2-2, goals from top scorer Garry Thompson and winger Carl Valentine. In 1968, Doug Fraser scored in a 2-1 defeat seven days before the Cup Final, but we still finished 8th, one place above the Gunners. On Saturday 30th April 1960, sixteen year old Bobby Hope made his debut and Alec Jackson scored in a 1-0 home victory which clinched 4th place and earned the Club “talent money”, probably around £10 per player, quite a contrast to the riches accruing these days from a place in the Champions League. The team was: Wallace, Howe, Williams G, Drury, Kennedy, Robson, Jackson, Kevan, Allen, Hope, Carter. Today’s was our 116th league match against the Gunners and in total we’ve recorded 32 victories to their 57, with 27 matches drawn and a goal difference of 154 to 205.
Albion have completed the season in 10th place with 47 points; our first top ten finish since we were 4th in 1980/81. We’re nine points ahead of Villa (16th) and a massive twenty-two points clear of Wolves (20th), meaning we’re top West Midlands Club for the first time since finishing 3rd in 1978/79. With Stoke 14th and Blues, Leicester, Forest, Derby, and Coventry nowhere, we’re the No.1 Midlands Club for the first time since 1968/69, forty-three years ago.
It's been another record breaking Premier League season. Our away record was outstanding, better than any team outside the top five, including of course Chelsea, Everton and Liverpool and our best in the top flight since 1978/79. We won seven and drew five matches and although we might have anticipated victories at Norwich City and Blackburn Rovers, to win at Newcastle United after 34 years (10 games), Aston Villa for the first time in 32 years (13 games), at Stoke City after 29 barren years (18 games) and then at Anfield over Liverpool for the first time in 45 years, after 21 unsuccessful matches, is astounding. However, arguably, the most memorable triumph was in the Black Country Derby at Molineux, when we trounced Wolves 5-1 and sent them on a downward spiral into the Championship. Mick McCarthy was not the only manager to lose his job after defeat by the Baggies, Andre Villas-Boas suffered the same fate after our home win over Chelsea. The victory over Wolves at The Hawthorns, followed six days later by success at Villa Park, was the turning point of the season; but the best home performance was a brilliant 4-0 victory over Sunderland, our first match after completing the double over the Dingles.
The only disappointment was that Villa weren’t relegated, despite failing to win any of their last ten games. Unbelievably the thrashing we handed to Wolves at Molineux was the beginning of a run of fourteen games without a win, which saw them plunge from 17th to rock bottom. This season has been our most successful in the Premier League; we've matched last year’s points total and finished a position higher.
Roy Hodgson was in charge for fifteen months and in fifty league matches we picked up 67 points, at an average of 1.34 points per game. He has earned the respect of players and fans, who will all wish him well as Manager of England.
Performance-of-the-Season goes to Peter Odemwingie for his hat-trick at Wolves. Goal-of-the-Season is awarded to James Morrison. Three players picked up seven Man-of-the-Match awards, so they take the three top places in Player-of-the-season, with Jonas Olsson 3rd, James Morrison 2nd and Ben Foster the winner.
A personal update, this was the 1066th consecutive competitive Albion match that I’ve attended, dating back twenty-one years to 1st April 1991. Over that period Albion have won 404, drawn 273 and lost 389, scoring 1475 and conceding 1416 goals.
Apart from the most inept display of goalkeeping since Zuber whats is name, I though Arsenal were poor & actually created very little. The slightest touch they fell over, and once again a poor ref. Anyone else thought the one foul he booked should have been a straight red? Some good performances today by us, Long & Cox worked their socks off as did MAF, but thought Ridgewell had a bit of a mare.
One other gripe - the kids won the Birmingham Senior Cup a few weeks ago - why was this not at least mentioned & ideally presented to the fans at half time. Secondly, I understand that the club runs a team for blind players and we won the league. Again - not worth a mention? I mean - we win so much silverware don't we!
That must be the worst goalkeeping performance in Premier league history - the stuff of horror movies. Other than the three Arse goals I can't remember another direct shot on goal of any consequence that he had to stop - thank god. If that was Fulops audition for next season he blew it.
Thankfully the loss didn't have adverse consequences for us, but Spurs must be peed off. I thought we played well enough that even if we had had only mediocre goalkeeping we would surely have taken all three points.
I suppose we ought to be happy that we have finished in the top 10, are top W Midland club, can look forward to another year in the best league in the world and can garner some vicarious pleasure from seeing our ex-manager leading England - BUT I feel a little flat. We don't have a manager, nor a goalie and our centre half can't make his mind up. All three were key to our (relative) success this year. JP needs to pull a few rabbits out of his hat again this summer. (Claudio Ranieri is an intriguing thought).
I'm sorry to see Scharner go. He was not a game-changer and is past his best, but he added a lot of character and colour to the squad.
Thank you Roy Hodgson (and coaching staff), the players and the awesome fans for keeping me entertained once again thoughout our long Canadian winter.
Philip Cole (RSABaggie):
Our last match was screened on satellite TV here in South Africa, the first one I've seen in a few weeks and a quite bizarre end to a season that has also been rather strange. A couple of features of this strangeness are:
1. Roy Hodgson, known for producing sides that are strong at home and weak away, produced the exact opposite with us this season. We had the lowest home points total outside the relegated three and the dire Aston Villa but the sixth best away points total. Amazing!
2. To put it in perspective, here are some facts for fellow stattos: Our home points total was worse than in our relegation season of 2008/09 and the Great Escape of 2004/05 and only one better than our relegation of 2005/06. It was definately our away form that kept us up!
3. Yet, for me at least, the season breaks into three almost equal phases which I think give some insight into what we need to move forward, as follows:
3.1. Phase 1 up to and including the home win against Bolton. Total form: P12 W4 D2 L6; Home form: P7 W2 D1 L3; Away form: P6 W2 D1 L3. In this first third of the season our record home and away was the same. After a tough start and the traditional home defeat to Stoke we begain to pick ourselves up with the big consecutive wins over wolves and Villa seeming to kick start our season. Am I the only one that sees the early loss of Zoltan Gera when 1-0 up against Spurs as a bit of a turning point, when we lost a playmaker who was freshly back and looking confident?
3.2. Phase 2 up to and including the home defeat against Swansea. Total form: P12 W3 D3 L6; Home form: P6 W0 D1 L5; Away form: P6 W3 D2 L1. In this second third we could do nothing right at home and very little wrong away! At home we really looked dire the whole time, with the exception of the massive rearguard action against Man City. We huffed and puffed and struggled to break organised teams down. I really think that we lacked a good playmaker to unlock defenses with Zolly out, Brunt inconsistent and Morrison carrying too much of a load as a result. At the same time we had a couple of record breaking and hard fought away wins to Newcastle and Stoke that both showed great character ...
3.3. Phase 3 up to the end of the season. Total form: P14 W6 D3 L5; Home form: P7 W4 D1 L2; Away form: P7 W2 D2 L3. In our final third of the season we noticeably improved, starting with the confidence boosting demolition of the Dingles, which sent them into a melt-down from which they never recovered. We seemed to be playing consistently how Roy wanted us to - organised but with plenty of creativity through the midfield. We also achieved some huge victories over Chelsea and Villa. We got some form going at home for the first time in the season, which is what finally pulled us up to mid-table.
All in all, a successful season when we avoided the much feared second-seasonitis and in my view stepped up a notch to establish ourselves in mid-table. Most of the credit for this belongs to Roy Hodgson who finally got us playing the way that he wanted and got the best out of a squad that can be best described as adequate with a few bright spots. In my view mid-table is an over-achievement given the quality of the squad, which suffered considerably in my view in the middle-third due to injuries. In my view we need the following in order of priority:
I know this is supposed to be a match report, so I'll simply say that the match encapsulated both the plusses and minuses of our season. On the plus side, we outplayed an Arsenal side that really needed to win for much of the game and we looked sharp every time we went forward. On the minus side, our F(u)lop really was a calamity that visibly unnerved our defence, who wanted to do everything short of handling the ball to stop him having to make a save for most of the second half.
Enjoy the summer while our winter comes in here in South Africa!
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