Arsenal 1 West Bromwich 0: Nasri makes instant impact as familiar failings haunt Arsenal
Wenger's men let chances go astray in face of West Bromwich's brave opposition
Sunday 17 August 2008
The call from some quarters of the press box when Arsenal went ahead after just four minutes was "game over". That proved to be an accurate prediction, but the same voices fell quiet in the second half as by then the hosts' confident start had given way to nervy defending and a reliance on counter-attacking. Had it not been for a double clearance off the line five minutes into the second half, West Bromwich would have left north London with an unexpected, butdeserved, point.
It was surely not what Arsène Wenger would have imagined prior to kick-off, even when facing last season's winners of the Championship. However, after triumphing but being outplayed for large chunks of Wednesday's Champions League qualifier against FC Twente, the signs of weakness in the Gunners' armoury became more and more evident.
They were pushed back by West Bromwich, who may not turn out to be one of the Premier League's whipping boys on the evidence of their energy and persistence as presented here.
Wenger himself was put on the back foot with the line of questioning in the wake of this disappointing performance, being forced already to say he would rather finish in the top four than in mid-table and win a domestic cup, which was a clear dig at local rivals' Tottenham's performance last season.
While he then professed himself "happy" with two wins in a week, he also admitted that his side's failure to convert all their first-half possession, leading to West Bromwich dominating proceedings, was "the same old story." With regard to letting the Baggies back into contention, the Frenchman also revealed a hitherto unseen masochistic streak: "You [Arsenal] felt like you deserved to be punished."
At first there had seemed plenty of reason to believe it would be Tony Mowbray's men made to suffer. Not only given their status as new boys back at this level but the prospect ofEmmanuel Adebayor, 30 goals in his back pocket last year and a new wad of cash in his front one this summer, versus Leon Barnett, once of Luton, was one reason.
Another was trying to find the Baggies' goal threat, although Ishmael Miller showed power and presence.
He had one shot well saved by Manuel Almunia after 50 minutes and Paul Robinson's follow-up was cleared off the line by Johan Djourou.
West Bromwich are back in the Premier League for the first time since being relegated in 2006. Two years in the Championship may have restored their confidence but that time has also taken its toll on their staff. Only two players – midfielder Jonathan Greening and full-back Robinson– remain from their last game at this level.
Mowbray had four newcomers here and Scott Carson, Marek Cech, Kim Do-Heon and Abdoulaye Méïté must all have been wondering what they had let themselves in for after just four minutes. That was when Gaël Clichy found Denilson on the left and his cutback was met by the advancing Samir Nasri.
The Frenchman, on his debut after his £11 million summer move from Marseille, calmly slipped his shot past Carson's dive. Late on, Adebayor should have scored when one on one but the expected deluge never arrived. Nasri, signed to replace Alexander Hleb, may quickly make Arsenal fans forget the Belarussian, especially if he continues to be this influential.
Right-footed, but placed out on the left, the 21-year-old was given licence to roam and drift across midfield.
He did not get much chance as a substitute at Euro 2008 in a dismal French side, but stood out here and the prospect of him in tandem with Cesc Fabregas, currently injured, is a delicious one. He showed no hesitation in getting in his shot, one of the main criticisms of Hleb, and he did not flag despite playing the full 90 minutes.
Wenger said: "Nasri has shown he's an intelligent player, has good technique and can integrate well. He has also added scoring to his game, which people wanted from him in France."
It is the Arsenal manager who has extracted that from his new boy. It remains to be seen if he can extract a trophy from this team.
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