Carling Cup - Third Round
West Bromwich Albion 0 Arsenal 2
Fatigue finally caught up with West Bromwich Albion asthey tasted defeat for the first time since September 12.
Forced to play their second match in three days, Albion seemed jaded and, therefore, no match for their illustrious opponents.
Albion defeated Wolverhampton Wanderers 3-0 here on Sunday but, largely, there was a feeling of anti-climax as Arsenal, more adept, slicker in their passing, moved into the fourth round of the competition.
The irony was not lost on Jeremie Aliadiere, the Arsenal striker, who scored twice and did most to ensure defeat for Albion. He spent most of last season on loan with Wolves, although he was never this good in the Football League. If he was, Glenn Hoddle might still be in charge over at Molineux.
Albion last tasted defeat when Bryan Robson was still the manager and optimism was in decline.
Since then, Nigel Pearson has supervised the early stages of the revival and Tony Mowbray has arrived as manager in a move that aroused approval throughout the football community.
But if last night proved anything it is that even a weakened Arsenal team is still superior to anything that the Coca-Cola Championship has to offer. And so, alas, the gap between the Premiership and the Football League grows to unprecedented levels.
It would be ridiculous to suggest that Mowbray's honeymoon period is over but the lessons learnt here, coming after Albion had scored 14 goals in their previous four matches, were sobering.
In an expected act of squad rotation from Mowbray, Albion began last night with only five players who began the previous match against Wolves. Only Curtis Davies, Paul Robinson, Jonathan Greening, Nigel Quashie, and John Hartson survived the cull.
Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, was equally keen to make full use of his squad. There was, inevitably, no place for Thierry Henry but the Arsenal team was still rich with talent, pace and strength. The best thing about Arsenal, however, is their one-touch football. It is a joy to watch, even if it can be extravagant and self-indulgent at times. It was their movement off the ball that ensured a taut first half, with chances few and far between. For the opening half hour, both teams were restricted to long-range shots.
Nathan Ellington, Albion's best player in the first half, came closest to scoring when his fierce shot from a 25-yard free kick was turned aside by Manuel Almunia in the Arsenal goal. Theo Walcott and Aliadiere caused problems for Albion in wide positions but, generally, the home side kept their shape well. It would take a work of brilliance, or, perhaps, a dubious refereeing decision, to break the deadlock — and so it proved in the 33rd minute.
Aliadiere, formerly on loan with Wolves, evaded two challenges on his way into the penalty area. He appeared to lose the ball just as Paul Robinson intervened with a needless challenge. The contact was negligible, if there was any at all, but Aliadiere fell to the ground to earn a penalty. The Arsenal striker took the kick himself and scored with a low shot, much to the chagrin of the Albion supporters, who did not appreciate either his exaggerated celebration or his affiliation to Wolves.
But Aliadiere was not finished. At the start of the second half, before Albion had even settled, the Arsenal striker scored again, although this time the goal had more to commend it. From a cross from the right by Walcott, Aliadiere flicked the ball into the far corner of the goal from 18 yards.
This sparked Albion into action and they should have pulled a goal back in the 53rd minute when Jonathan Greening, taking a fine pass by Diomansy Kamara in his stride, found space inside the penalty area but blasted the ball over the crossbar when the situation called for more composure. It was out of character for Greening. He played well, even if he saw less of the the ball than he wanted or deserved.
Suddenly, Arsenal's one-touch football in midfield, their arrogant pursuit of excellence, was deemed inappropriate. They were forced back as Albion, showing more passion, and inspiring more noise among their supporters, dominated possession and dictated the pace. If only they were able to show more intelligence inside the penalty area.
Long before the end, it was obvious that Albion were running out of ideas and, as supporters vacated their seats, there was a deathly silence around The Hawthorns. Arsenal always looked the likelier of the teams to score and Walcott nearly increased the lead when he broke clear inside the penalty area but struck the ball wide of the far post.
A third goal would have been harsh on Albion but Arsenal still deserve their place in the fourth round.
WEST BROMWICH ALBION (4-4-2): Hoult; Watson, Davies, McShane, Robinson; Greening, Chaplow (Gera, 58), Quashie (Albrechtsen, 68), Carter (Kamara, 39); Ellington, Hartson. Substitutes: Steele, Wallwork.
ARSENAL (4-4-2): Almunia; Connolly, Djourour, Senderos, Clichy; Walcott, Denilson (Randall, 74), Song, Flamini; Adebayor (Traore, 24), Aliadiere. Substitutes: Poom, O'Cearuill, Simpson.
Referee: M Atkinson.
Bookings: Arsenal — Clichy (foul).
Attendance: 21, 566.