West Bromwich vs. Arsenal: Fatigue hits the team

   Fatigue finally caught up with a depleted squad that was playing its seventh game in 23 days. The Gunners drew 1-1 with West Bromwich on Sunday but still kept the lead in the Premier League.

   Arsenal’s exhaustion was obvious as its passing game was too slow to destabilize some well organized Baggies. The Gunners dominated ball possession in the first half but lacked penetration because Wenger left Gnabry on the bench and started Ramsey and Wilshere on the wings. The two British midfielders often drifted inside, making it more difficult for their team to stretch the West Bromwich defense. Ozil scored his first goal in the 2-0 win over Napoli last week, but he’s a much less prolific playmaker than Cazorla, who can turn into a second striker. Maybe the manager should have shifted Ozil to the right wing and leave Ramsey in midfield to have more shooting opportunities.

   The lack of attacking support in the West Bromwich box somehow forced Arsenal to resort to long-range strikes. In the 10th minute, Arteta’s effort from 25 yards deflected off Giroud before sailing wide. Then Giroud set up Wilshere in the 25th, but the England midfielder dragged his shot wide. Our best chance came from Ramsey, who capitalized on a corner from Ozil poorly cleared by the West Bromwich defense to fire a low drive from the edge of the box in the 40th. Although Myhill’s view of the ball was partially blocked, the West Bromwich goalkeeper managed to make the save.

   The Baggies were not much of a threat in the first half, except on set pieces. Arsenal’s lack of focus on a throw-in allowed Berahino to pick his spot in the 14th and fire a long-range strike that deflected off Flamini’s back. A wrongfooted Szczesny reacted quickly enough to change direction and make the save. But for the first time this season in the Premier League, Arsenal ended up conceding the opening goal. Following a corner cleared by Jenkinson, Amalfitano got hold of the ball and made a cross for Yacob, who beat Arteta and Jenkinson to the ball to head home in the 42nd. Three Gunners surrounded Yacob on that play but the passivity of the Arsenal defense helped the West Bromwich midfielder open the scoring. 

   Jenkinson started the match because Sagna picked up a hamstring injury against Napoli. His performance at the Hawthorns was poor and showed he’s not good enough for a contending team. Besides his poor decision-making and limited technique, Jenkinson also displayed a surprising weakness in the air. The English fullback is nine centimetres taller than Sagna but was still outjumped by Berahino and Long on Sunday. Wenger should definitely give Sagna a two-year extension so that Bellerin gets a bit more time to develop.

   The Baggies could have led 3-0 if Anelka had converted two clear-cut chances that came from Jenkinson’s flank. In the 47th, Berahino outpaced Jenkinson and Mertesacker to make a low cross for Anelka. Instead of attempting a first-time effort with his left foot, the French striker controlled the ball and lost possession. Five minutes later, Anelka ghosted past Mertesacker, who was covering Jenkinson on the right flank, to be clean through on goal. Koscielny played Anelka onside and was too far to intervene. Fortunately, Anelka sent his curling shot wide. Szczesny kept the Gunners in the game by punching away a powerful drive from Jones, who was not tracked by any midfielder in the 73rd.

   Wilshere’s performance in the first half was poor. The England midfielder had a high turnover rate. However, he managed to bounce back in the second half. He took a pass from Giroud in the 47th but shot over the bar. Wilshere was more clinical in the 63rd when Ozil made a long pass for Giroud. The Frenchman cut inside to find Rosicky, who teed up Wilshere for a strike that deflected off Olsson to beat Myhill.

   Wilshere nearly won a penalty in the 76th when Ozil squared the ball back. Mulumbu intercepted the ball with a sliding tackle but also brought Wilshere down with his trailing leg. That was a play similar to Koscielny’s foul on Agbonlahor for the second penalty in Aston Villa’s 3-1 win on opening day. Mason did not blow the whistle but the referee deserves some credit for being consistent. He didn’t award West Bromwich a soft penalty in the 35th when Sessegnon fell (dived) because of a slight shove from Gibbs. 

   The draw snapped Arsenal’s five-match winning streak in the Premier League. Much of the club’s recent success has been the result of the significant improvement this season of Ramsey and Giroud, who have scored four goals each. Take away those goals, and the Gunners would sit in the bottom half of the table. Giroud and Ramsey have already played 11 matches each in all competitions for Arsenal. It was therefore no surprise to see them jaded on Sunday.

   Giroud wasted a good chance to score the winner in the 72nd. Played onside by Ridgewell, the Frenchman chased a ball over the top from Ozil but fired a volley wide from 12 yards. Maybe a fresher Giroud would have at least caught the frame. The Frenchman’s movement in the box is good but twice he showed his lack of pace. In the 21st, Ramsey played Giroud in but the striker was beaten to the ball by Olsson. Then Giroud beat the offside trap to collect a through ball from Wilshere in the 76th. The Frenchman’s first touch was good but he lacked pace while attempting to round Myhill and the West Bromwich goalkeeper denied him.

   During most of his tenure at Arsenal, Wenger always had a speedy centerforward: Wright, Anelka, Henry or Van Persie. But since Giroud’s arrival last year, this is the first time that the club has no pacy anchor. Walcott and Podolski started a few times as lone strikers last season but proved too weak in the air to be viable alternatives. If Giroud gets tired or injured, Bendtner is the only option left and that’s not good enough for a contending team. Giroud and Bendtner are pretty much the same type of striker, although the Frenchman obviously has a stronger work ethic. Wenger needs speed up front to crack a well organized defense. The manager can either fast-track Akpom or wait until the winter transfer window for a proven centerforward.