Arsenal’s charge towards the Premier League crown got off to the best possible start with a 1-0 win over West Bromwich Albion on Saturday. New boy Samir Nasri got his first goal for the club and the only one in the game inside four minutes, comfortably side-footing home after lovely lead-up play involving Gael Clichy and Denilson.
There were a couple of surprises in the starting side that Arsene Wenger put on the pitch. Indeed, Nasri made his first start for Arsenal on the left side of midfield as Theo Walcott moved to the right. Meanwhile, Emmanuel Eboue replaced Aaron Ramsey as Denilson’s central-midfield partner (yes, you heard me) while Wenger chose to start Nicklas Bendtner in the place of Robin van Persie, officially the most injury-prone player in the universe.
Arsenal started the game as well as they could have hoped, stroking the ball around with ease and being rewarded with Nasri’s opener. West Brom were made to look like a poor version of Derby County in the opening 15 minuts as Walcott had a header blocked on the line and then Gallas fired narrowly wide with a fierce attempt from a fair way out. Indeed, such was the venom in Gallas’ shot that for a moment I thought Toure had made his way onto the pitch for a temporary cameo.
Even at this early stage I thought Arsenal were going to win by four or even five goals, such was the ridiculous dominanace of Wenger’s side. But no player could add to Nasri’s opener in the first half as shot after shot flew wide before the break.
Things changed a little bit after half-time as Arsenal’s intensity dropped slightly and West Brom raised their game. Djourou – who otherwise had a marvellous game – tried to play an opponent offside when maybe he shouldnt’ve as first Almunia was forced into a good save and then the Swiss player was forced to clear off the line. It was as strong a display of a player for making up for his own mistake as you are ever likely to see.
For the rest of the game, not much happened apart from some decent chances for Adebayor and a couple of blazed efforts by Eboue. But it mattered little as Arsenal’s defence made sure West Brom never went close to scoring and allowed the boys to get away with a reasonably impressive 1-0 win.
I was particularly impressed with Nasri’s performance in this game. To score a goal so early was great but it was his speed, control on the ball and particularly his strength that impressed me most. For such a small guy he displayed great upper-body strength and the way he was able to use his low centre of gravity to bounce of challenges reminded me a little bit of Lionel Messi. It’s early days yet for the Frenchman but thankfully he is confident of producing similar performances going forward:
“When I first met the boss, he said that maybe I would need a bit of time, maybe up to six months – but actually I felt really good straight away. Now I will have to continue week in and week out, and hopefully I can keep playing like that, it will be brilliant.”
Other notable performances came from Djourou, Adebayor and Eboue.
Apart from his one poor decision to go for an offside when it wasn’t on, Djourou rivalled Nasri for Man of the Match honours. He was strong in the air and calm on the ground and showed good positioning throughout the match. I know there will be people saying that it was only West Brom but I would encourage those people to watch the game two seasons ago when a 20-year-old Djourou helped Arsenal beat Manchester United 1-0 at Old Trafford. He can certainly play and with the form he’s showing at the moment I see no reason why Toure should be brought back into the side.
As for Adebayor, although he didn’t score and made a couple of strange decisions, this match showed exactly why he will be important for Arsenal this season. The guy’s work ethic and willingness to get involved was impeccable even if his finishing wasn’t up to scratch. I’ve read some supporters saying he was selfish at times but when you watch a player peel left time after time and whip in cross after cross he deserves to go alone every once in a while. All he needs to work on is making the right decision at the right time, something I’m sure Wenger will give him some help with.
And then there was Eboue. He wasn’t perfect yesterday but I thought he had a strong game. And while I don’t think he is the long-term answer to Arsenal’s defensive midfield slot and I still think that Wenger needs to make a signing – I certainly believe he can be relied upon to fit in from time to time. Either way, I do think he’s thrown the cat amongst the pigeons to a certain extent.
I’m sure there will be some people a little worried about the fact that Arsenal were not able to kill off West Brom. But I would advise them to sit back, chill out a bit and take note of the comments made by the manager following the match:
“I am pleased with the fact that we didn’t concede a goal. We scored two on Wednesday, one today, so it’s better than the reverse. Overall it was a good week for us. A winning start, a win in the Champions League, so yes a good week.”
At the end of the day all you can do is beat the sides in front of you and that is exactly what Arsenal has done. Liverpool, the only other ‘big four’ side to play two games this week were not able to do it while an admittedly understrength Manchester United were not even able to win the one game they had to play. As for Spurs, well…
Before I go today I just want to give a big shout out to all the boys from Arsenal Australia who made it down to the Pig ‘n’ Whistle Riverside in Brisbane on Saturday night to watch the game. It was a pleasure to meet you all – particularly Jammathon from Third Gen – and I look forward to watching future Arsenal matches with you guys down the line. I’ve included a great photo from the night in this post.
Just another reminder to all Australian Gooners that the official Arsenal Australia Supporters Club organise events all over the country, so if you’re interested in watching the matches with like-minded fans then go to their website and get involved.
Here’s cheers to a job well-done and the first Arsenal victory of many!
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