Arsenal 1 - West Bromwich Albion 0
A heroic performance by Ben Foster wasn't enough to stop Albion losing by a single goal at the Emirates Stadium, but they came very close to earning a point for their defensive display.
Despite reducing Albion to just 24% possession and 3 shots on goal compared to their own 26, it took Arsenal until the 86th minute to get ahead, Olivier Giroud getting the better of Gareth McAuley and beating Foster with a looping heading into the corner of the net.
Albion slip to ninth in the table, the lowest placed team with a positive goal difference.
At the risk of sounding unrealistic - I was quite disappointed by our showing here.
I know that if you just look at resources then this is a real mismatch and that we should never expect anything from games away to top 4 sides. But Arsenal had lost two on the bounce and have repeatedly looked brittle when put after pressure after 60 minutes.
I thought we defended quite well but on the ball for the most part we were abysmal. I'm not talking about last-ditch defending although there was plenty of that - I'm talking about the aimless hoofs nowhere near Rondon which we did countless times when not even under real pressure. In particular - when we had the chance for players to gallop up the pitch with the ball, a few exceptions aside, we really didn't - we just booted it back to Cech.
I thought Morrison was a big miss again - even when not playing well he makes that difference in the first 10 seconds after we win it back. The difference between hoofing it and keeping it, carrying it up the pitch or getting up near Rondon. If he was fit he should've started or made an appearance after 60 minutes.
If he wasn't fit, put bloody Leko on the bench because once again our subs weakened us. As the game opened up with 20 to go it was ideal for Leko or anyone with real pace - We got lots of chances to break and cause Arsenal problems but we didn't have the players or tools to do it.
If we look at the bench - is Gardner ever going to offer anything? Would Pulis ever put Galloway on - I'm sure Pulis would put Brunt or Evans to left back before Galloway so it is a wasted place. How many good cameos does Leko have to make before he gets a chance?
I'm not going to knock the players - they did work hard, they did execute what they were asked to do really well, and there were some great defensive performances but I don't think we can complain about the result when we look at how little of the ball we had and constant defence versus attack nature of the game. But for an unbelievable performance from Foster, missed chances and fortunate bounces off the woodwork this could have been 3 or 4 easy.
I'm hoping we have a bit more of a go against Southampton.
Tony's turkeys get stuffed, right at the death
O-liv-i-er, O-liv-i-er, O-liv-ier, Gi-roud Tony's plan failed when they crossed it to you.
Watching Pulis's Albion on Boxing Day felt a bit like those Christmas Days of one's youth - you know the ones - the ones when you unwrapped the present and saw, to your delight, that Santa had delivered exactly the make and/or the model of the object of desire that you had seen on display in the shop, or that one or more of your friends already had, and so you knew exactly what joy it would bring, only to then discover that it didn't come with batteries and that your parents hadn't bought any, and so, the object of your desire merely ended up lying doing nothing, whilst you had to watch everyone else having a much better time.
Pulis afforded Wenger's Arsenal more respect than he'd given to his mate's ManU in returning to the back six tactics that he'd used last time down in the Smoke, with Brunt and Phillips once again pantomime dames, or the wrong-footed full-back sisters, deployed outside of the usual back four, and it was the usual back four inside them too, Evans returning to replace Olsson, who at least got to sit on the bench but, in doing so, ruining Leko's Christmas as the latter would not even make it.
As it turned out, Plan B - throw Leko on after Plan A has failed and we're failing to hold onto the point we started with - even if deployed, would have only see the youngster given less than seven minutes to save the world, given that playing six-at-the-back against Arsenal failed ten minutes later than it had failed against Chelsea, though perhaps Leko can console himself with the thought that at least he's clearly moving up the pecking order at the club, with one of the players he might well have considered himself vying for a right wing place for, McManaman, having now been loaned out to Sheffield Wednesday, so now he just has to get past Brunt. On that same theme though, do spare one of your Christmas tidings for Galloway, yet another product of Albion's loan market dealings who's getting plenty of exposure to top flight football by watching it from our bench. Haven't these kids ever seen that Xmas movie where the brightly painted wagon, promising fun and frolics, doesn't turn out to be what it appeared to be?
What made this dreadful Christmas panto all the more funny, in that odd way that some woeful play around Christmas-time is always funny, is that, as with Chelsea, Plan A failed because of our inability to deal with a long ball, although the festive season ball that McAuley, Cinderella on the day, would finally get to go to, would not even be one that asked him to leave the fire-place (geddit!?) in front of his goal, as he did against Chelsea, but would be a cross ball towards Giroud, himself only getting a walk-on part in the play, so as to reprise his line leader role of old, because of an injury to Walcott. (Must have made Pulis wonder how unlucky he could consider himself to be, to have come up against Arsenal when they were forced into playing a number-nine and thus be capable of scoring from a cross into our box)
Two players worthy of curtain call applause were Foster, without whom the scoreline might have more closely reflected the possession stats, coming in at around four-to-one, not we ever looked liked getting the one in our part of the scoreline of course, and Yacob, who seemed to be using some hidden trapdoors on the Emirates stage through which he would constantly appear, as if by magic, so as to block out another slick Arsenal passage of passing, or another piece of dribbling by Sanchez, just as it looked as though they'd found a way through.
If there was a sixpence in this pudding of a performance, then it'll be the extrapolation of the trend suggesting that next time our one dimensional manager deploys a back six in an attempt to anti-football his way to the clean sheet that keeps the point he gets just for turning up and asking his players to act out these dreadful roles, McAuley isn't going to allow the opposition to concede until the 96th minute, and that may just be enough, whatever it says for Leko's chances of getting a few more minutes, to see us asked back for another pantomime season.
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