Arsenal v West Brom: The Handbrake Is Off

With star men committed to the collective cause and Aaron Ramsey impersonating Cesc assuredly, Arsenal are on the march again.
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A fourth league win in a row against West Bromwich Albion further signalled Arsenal's relentless desire to occupy their Champions League berth.

In the past, Arsene Wenger has accused his side of “playing with the handbrake on”. This has applied even more this season, as Arsenal have failed to get out of first gear several times of late. However, this was not a criticism applicable to Saturday’s performance against West Brom.

From the off, the Gunners were dominant and seemed their old selves. The intensity of their pressing game – something which has been lacking recently – was back too, and the improvement of their overall performance was obvious. Arsenal showed their superiority throughout, creating several chances, putting three of them away clinically, whilst restricting West Brom to nothing but scraps.

Wenger had also said that the players’ creativity would return with confidence – perhaps another ‘Wengerism’, but one that did seem a good point – and he has been proved right, as the free-flowing football returned. Van Persie’s goal was thanks to a sublime through-ball by Aaron Ramsey which received its due plaudits, but the third goal was by far the most aesthetically-pleasing.

The move was started by Thomas Vermaelen, who bypassed the West Brom midfield with a through-ball to Van Persie, who sprinted forwards before giving it out wide to Tomas Rosicky. The Czech played it back into the captain, who laid it off to Mikel Arteta who applied the finishing touch with a sumptuous finish. It took just nine seconds from Vermaelen’s pass to hit the back of the net.

Arsenal have long had trouble breaking down resilient teams at home, but on Saturday they had no such problems. After being frustrated for the first 20 minutes, they didn’t let their heads drop and managed to slice their opponents open and go 1-0 up. While worries about their creativity had been present, it seems that Aaron Ramsey’s steady improvement will see them through the transitional era after the departure of Fabregas and Nasri, while the return of Jack Wilshere will only serve to help that shift.

As well as the confidence and spirit in the team though, the pleasing thing was that Arsenal managed to comfortably kill off their opponents. After a break-neck start against Sunderland they were pegged back to 1-1 after easing off, and the same happened against Stoke.

Vermaelen seems hungrier than ever and that certainly transferred onto the pitch and infected his team-mates.

No such thing happened against West Brom though. Van Persie had spoken in the programme about Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor’s knack of growing stronger when he senses his opponent is getting weaker, and how he hoped Arsenal could gain that trait, and they seemed to be exponents of that very ability at the Emirates on Saturday.

Not content with going a goal to the good, they kept the pressure up and made it 2-0 soon after. You get the feeling that the goalscorer of the second was a big part of that – after a lengthy absence, Vermaelen seems hungrier than ever and that certainly transferred onto the pitch and infected his team-mates. The likes of Carl Jenkinson and Laurent Koscielny are also clearly desperate to secure places in the side now that they have a chance, and that may have led to what was an improvement on their performances.

Jenkinson’s crossing was excellent, despite not being productive on many occasions due to his team-mates’ position, while Koscielny keeps getting better and better. Graeme Bailey, who works for Sky Sports, ridiculed his call-up to the French national team before the game, but if Bailey saw his performance against the Baggies he would have been eating a large slice of humble pie.

It will be a great relief for Arsenal to have fixed their handbrake – not just in the short-term but in the bigger picture as well. Now they will want to continue to work through the gears in the league and carry on gaining ground on those above them. On current form they seem a good bet for the top four – you get the sense that Tottenham and Newcastle will not be able to sustain their form, while Liverpool continue to struggle.

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