West Bromwich Albion 0 Arsenal 2
League Cup Third Round
Tuesday 24th October 2006
Last week the reserves, this week the “A” team. Still not quite the real thing, but with noticeably more experience on show than the official second string, Arsenal’s League Cup incarnation comfortably strolled past West Bromwich Albion into the next round on Tuesday night. Strolled, sauntered and gambolled past them, in fact. The home supporters were still grinning uncontrollably following Sunday’s 3-0 gubbing of arch rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers and their team appeared in a similarly generous frame of mind. Double goalscorer Jeremie Aliadiere has received favourable notices for his performance, but in truth if he ever finds a team that backs off him and his colleagues so far and so often as West Brom that opposition will actually have to wave them through.
Not that Albion were short of industry. They certainly matched Arsenal for running around. It was just that there was absolutely no bite about their play. Whatsoever. Even 2-0 down in the last ten minutes they seemed unaccountably relaxed about the whole thing and their fans didn’t really seem to mind either. Eight days previously we watched Chelsea’s reserves chase down and harry their Arsenal counterparts, featuring four of Tuesday’s nights winners, to a virtually impotent standstill. West Brom, apart from a curiously gritty spell in first half injury time, granted Arsenal the freedom of the Hawthorns. For the first forty-five minutes it was like watching the Hogwarts All Stars versus the Muggles Select XI.
Aladiere’s first goal came when he set off from the left wing thirty yards from goal on a relatively straightforward dribble and gradually collected four defenders like an honour guard of fighter jets escorting a visiting dignitary until one of them finally bundled him over just before he ran it into the net. His spot kick was as straightforwardly clinical as his unchallenged despatch of a near post free kick early in the second half. Early on Emanuel Adebayor had provided Arsenal’s attacking fulcrum, inviting Arsenal midfielders to capitalise on his astute layoffs, but after his departure through injury in the twenty fifth minute it came as no surprise that, for all their mesmerically entertaining and intricate manoeuvres, the Gunners’ cutting edge could eventually only be delivered through the prosaic medium of the set piece.
West Brom rallied for a while after the second, providing an acceptably faithful impression of Arsenal’s own style for ten minutes, only with veteran former Highbury target man John Hartson to provide a genuine goalscoring threat. Had Jonathan Greening crowned several attacking waves with a thrilling strike on 54 minutes there could have been a game on again, but he blazed over from a poor angle with Hartson screaming for the ball in the six yard box and, with an impressively authoritative Manuel Almunia matching a couple of acrobatic, full length first half stops with dominance of most things launched into his area, Albion’s threat gradually faded back into obscurity once more.
Aliadiere certainly prospered in these convivial surroundings and elsewhere central midfielder Alexandre Song showed he’s maturing nicely, Gale Clichy scampered to great effect up and down the left wing, Philippe Senderos looked close to ready for full first team action and Theo Walcott once again sprinted about eye-catchingly without actually doing anything much of note to hurt the opposition. Is it just when we’re watching that he’s like this? He's dynamic against age-limited opponents, but doesn’t frighten experienced fully grown professionals so far. On the night, debutant Armand Traore on the opposite side looked more dangerous and far happier than when we saw him playing at left back against Chelsea. Everton now await the Harry Potter experience in round four.
Picture of the 118118 concert party putting on the show right there at Oxford Circus in March this year via technokitten's Flickr stream.