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West Bromwich Albion 2 - 2 Arsenal: match report

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1 - 0 Reid 3'

2 - 0 Odemwingie 59'
2 - 1 Arshavin 70'

2 - 2 van Persie 78'

Arsenal were ineffectual for the first sixty-five minutes today, allowing West Brom to score on their only two shots on target without generating much threat themselves before the appearances of Nicklas Bendtner and Marouane Chamakh and a more direct style of play brought two goals and nearly a third before time ran out at the Hawthorns.

It did not take long for West Brom to open the scoring; three minutes in, Chris Brunt swung in a corner, nobody from Arsenal got near the end of it, and Steven Reid rose almost unchallenged to power a header in past a helpless Manuel Almunia.  It was far too easy of an opportunity to give to a Premier League side, and Arsenal were duly punished.

Arsenal, without Cesc Fabregas in midfield, often find it difficult to string together intricate passing moves, but not even Cesc could've prevented some of the shoddy team play happening in the first fifteen minutes today.  The midfield of Denilson, Aaron Ramsey, and Jack Wilshere found it tough going, the former passing it straight out of bounds on two occasions as West Brom worked hard to fill passing lanes and pressure the man with the ball.  Rarely did the Gunners manage to work the ball out from the back without running into difficulties, and when they did get it to the attacking third, they elected to cross it more than they tried to pass it, which West Brom's central defenders found much to their liking.

Twenty minutes in, James Morrison was injured in a clash of heads, and while he was off the pitch for nearly ten minutes getting five stitches and a head bandage, Arsenal began to find a little fluency.  They had their first real chance of the match twenty-six minutes in, Robin van Persie heading a Gael Clichy cross against the bar, the rebound falling to Aaron Ramsey, who chested it down and shot it straight at Scott Carson rather than either side of him.  It was the effort of a rusty player, and one that he should have buried.

Arsenal were starting to shoot a little bit, and Wilshere looped in an effort that Carson saved easily before two successive Arsenal corners came to nothing.  Morrison returned, and Arsenal continued to probe as West Brom defended deep and narrow, breaking on the counter with speed through Odemwingie.  The Nigerian's speed was always a threat against the slower Sebastien Squillaci and Denilson, and indeed the latter had to make a saving tackle that earned him a yellow on a Baggies counter.

Arsenal's passing became quite sloppy again, Clichy and Denilson giving it straight to the opponent.  Half time loomed, but not before van Persie sliced an effort about fifteen feet wide of goal.

The second half started with an Arsenal substitution; Arsène Wenger removed Denilson for the frontline aerial threat of Marouane Chamakh.  Arsenal began to find a little fluency as the Moroccan held up the ball well and provided a target, but Albion still were a threat on the break, and indeed, they should have made it two after 52 minutes, Reid sliding in and putting a Marek Cech (subbed on for Paul Scharner, who was on a yellow) cross just wide at the far post on an incisive, easy counter.

Arsenal were playing a little better than they had in the first half.  Aaron Ramsey came off after 57 minutes for Nicklas Bendtner, signalling a consolidation of the tactical shift to more direct play.

They would need it, too, for one minute after the change, they were two goals down.  A hopeful long ball bounced towards the Arsenal area, Squillaci in pursuit with Odemwingie.  Almunia left his line and came charging out, Squillaci got between him and the ball, neither actually played it, and Odemwingie pounced on the mistake to roll it across the line from 18 yards before Laurent Koscielny could rescue the situation.  It was a terrible mixup, similar to the one against Birmingham City in the Carling Cup final, and Arsenal were looking defeat squarely in the eyes.

Koscielny received a yellow card two minutes later for a bad scissors tackle on Odemwingie before van Persie skied a free kick about ten feet over the bar.  Just when it looked like Arsenal were out of luck, though, they started to turn it around.  The hold-up play of Bendtner and Chamakh had offered a different route other than through the clogged middle, and Arsenal took advantage of the new way.  Andrei Arshavin, who had had a more or less forgettable match, rifled a tremendous half-volley past Carson and in at the far post out of nothing, and Arsenal had their foot in the door.

It was 2-1, and Arsenal were on the up.  Crosses lofted into the area were suddenly causing Carson and the West Brom back line all kinds of problems.  Odemwingie came off for Marc-Antoine Fortune, but Arsenal continued to send every Albion break back at them, and soon enough, they had made their pressure count again with a very un-Arsenal goal.  Nicklas Bendtner brought down a cross in the area, and in the ensuing confusion, van Persie managed to slide in and prod a loose ball just over the line as chaos reigned.  There were appeals for handball against Bendtner from the crowd, but it was 2-2, and the Baggies were suddenly looking better for a loss than a win.

But they were still dangerous.  Squillaci, who had looked much better since his error, in fact, made a tremendous last-ditch block on Fortune.  Arsenal won a corner, which van Persie headed wide, before two minutes later heading it straight to Carson.  Four minutes of extra time loomed, Arsenal with all the pressure now.  Wilshere shot over from 18 in extra time, Clichy rifled a volley which Carson saved well, and the resultant corner saw Arsenal with a decent penalty shout as Sagna was tripped chasing the ball on the far side of the box.  No call came, though, and Arsenal won one more corner which brought only the final whistle of the match.

It was one point gained more than two lost, probably, but Manchester United won against Bolton, and increased their advantage to five points with a game in hand for Arsenal still.  Arsenal are by no means out of the title race, and hopefully the return of Fabregas and Theo Walcott after the international break, along with Alex Song, will see them push United all the way until the end, one way or the other.