In what seems at the eye of a very turbulent, virulent storm the Arsenal had a chance to potentially break a run of goalless winless games with their Carabao third round tie against West Brom. A game you would be forgiven for having fresh memories of Premier League West Brom of last season rather than one of the form teams of the Championship who are scoring goals for fun.
Winning was not a standard formality and Mikel Arteta had to be mindful to pick a team that would be capable of winning the tie. He went as strong as he could sacrificing the opportunity to blood any fresh faced youngsters in the process. It was easy to predict newly signed Martin Odegaard and Aaron Ramsdale would make their first appearances for their new employers.
West Brom surprisingly made eleven changes from their last Championship game which on paper should have made it an easier task for the Gunners to complete but playing weakened teams can often have the opposite effect on the opposition as psychologically the expectation levels go through the roof which can add pressure on the stronger team to not only win but score early and score lots of goals in the process.
The lineup did raise a few eyebrows to start with when it was unsure how the defenders would line up. Kolasinac, Chambers, Tavares and Holding led to initial assumptions Tavares would be shunted to right back again to add to his bizarre run out there on Sunday and Kolasinac squashed the initial rumours he was in Turkey finalising a move to Fernabache. The Tavares idea was baffling considering Ainsley Maitland Niles was on the bench. However once the game started it was clear Tavares occupied his natural position on the left with Chambers playing right back. Kolasinac slotted into the defence as the left sided centre back alongside Holding.
Against stronger opposition a risk of sorts but against a roughly young team less of a risk. Elneny occupied the midfield shield alongside Xhaka whilst Odegaard was tasked with adding the quality to supply to the attackers of Aubamyang, Pepe, and Saka.
Have to admit after an initial shaky start the team settled into their flow. There was never quite the big threat from West Brom and most of their attacks were dealt with quite comfortably. The only real dangers came from our own players with a couple of under hit passes playing the defence into trouble at times. One moment required Aaron Ramsdale to rush out quickly to beat the ball away from the incoming Zahore which resulted in the West Brom attacker coming off worse in the challenge.
The midfield held their own but it was clear how integral Partey would be in the midfield axis when he returns. Mohammend Elneny in the first half seemed to have more touches than any other player on the pitch. Always looking to receive the ball but the range of delivery and movement was limited. If anything it hamstrung our progression up the field. Not to be critical of Elneny, I believe he is a useful squad player to have, he just keeps things basic and ticking over. He did what he had to do for this game but against better opposition he wouldn’t be a difference maker.
We went in at half time 3-0 up with Aubamyang getting off the mark with two and Pepe adding a third. We managed to take advantage of the West Brom high line getting in behind the defence and although the finishes may not have been elegant by any means you need that bit of luck for the ball to rebound to your attackers in those situations.
Second half the goals flowed, the pick of the goals from a team perspective was scored by Saka, linking up well with Odegaard to receive a back passed one-two and slot past the keeper. From an individual perspective Aubamyang scored a peach to complete his hat trick with the type of finish we used to see from him. This season I have a feeling these will be a lot more frequent than the last 12 or so months.
On reflection it was the perfect game for Arsenal to build up some confidence before the trip to Etihad. After being hit with Covid it was great for Aubamyang and Lacazette to firstly get minutes and secondly bag goals. The new boys were able to get minutes out there with Odegaard slotting back in like he never left. There was a bit of initial rust but he grew in confidence the longer the game went on. Aaron Ramsdale had a steady debut, did everything right when called upon and has certainly put to bed any of the last lingering doubts over his transfer to Arsenal. Tavares does look a good attacking threat, so comfortable on the ball and navigates out of one on one situations with ease. The real test is how he copes defensively against decent attacking teams. For now his integration into the team is going well.
Saka gained more valuable minutes as he seeks to gain full fitness and Pepe getting off the mark was good for him to gain confidence.
I believe you will struggle to find an Arsenal fan treating the victory over West Brom as more than it was: A decent run out against a weakened team. Arsenal know they will be up against it against Manchester City but the cloud of negativity that hovers over the club after the poor start to the season will have been tamed just a tad.
The players can go into training for the weekend with more of a smile and positive vibe. Good team morale is as important as individual talent when it comes to football. The pressure will still be there but facing Manchester City having not scored a single goal compared to your best striker finding his shooting range makes all the difference psychologically going into a big game.
The draw for the third round resulted in a home tie against AFC Wimbledon (Thanks Kevin Campbell). Should be a nice game with some cheaper tickets where we could blood some youngsters this time.
Enjoy your day people
This post has also featured on Gunners Town site which I write for.