So by now you have surely seen that Arsenal failed to come away from West Brom with a win, and had to settle for a 2-2 draw yesterday. In a match we really needed to win to keep up with Man United at the top of the league, Arsenal typically had to do things the hard way.
West Brom took an early lead after some bad defending from a Baggies corner in the 3rd minute, Steven Reid climbing high to head home. Going 1-0 down that early in the game is never a good way to start the match, especially when you're away from home against a team battling relegation. But things got worse, when Manuel Almunia decided to leave his area in the 58th minute in an "attempt" to clear the ball from danger. It was probably the worst decision of his professional career, and there have been plenty of horrors in the past to compete. There was no need for Almunia to rush out and try and clear the ball, no need at all. Squillaci had Peter Odemwingie close to him, but not so close that it was a clear goal-scoring opportunity and Odemwingie was so far away from goal that the danger was minimal even if Squillaci messed things up. If Almunia had just allowed Squillaci to deal with the ball on his own, the disaster that followed would never have occurred. Instead, Almunia sprinted out to meet the ball, thus getting in Squillaci's way and letting Odemwingie collect the ball and slot home into an empty net. 2-0 West Brom and Arsenal's season effectively over.
Luckily the Gunners didn't crumble from this setback like they have before so often throughout this campaign. Arshavin soon pulled a goal back with a fantastic effort, showing nice control and accurate finishing. It wasn't long until Arsene Wenger's men managed to tie things up when a deep cross came off of West Brom's post/part of Bendtner and fell to Abdoulaye Meite who failed to clear the ball and van Persie pounced. In a weird tackle-but-shot-kind-of-thing the Dutch star connected with the ball enough for it to roll over the line and level the score. Arsenal had a chance to win it late on (Clichy's low shot narrowly pushed around the post) but could have lost it too were it not for a terrific last-ditch block from Squillaci. It finished 2-2 which is a fair scoreline given the events that happened during the game, but for a team challenging for the title, this wasn't good enough yet again.
Ever since Almunia supplanted Jens Lehmann as the Gunner's number one keeper, he has hardly endeared himself to the Arsenal faithful. When Almunia first took over from Lehmann in the 04/05 campaign, he started well enough but made too many mistakes to ever be a reliable choice. Almunia ousted Jens once again in the 07/08 campaign, this time for good, but again he was hardly convincing and ever since fans have cried out for Wenger to buy a new keeper in each transfer window since Lehmann left the club. Now 'Mad Jens' is back, all 41 years of the crazy German, and Almunia has fucked himself again with his performance yesterday. Jens was obviously just brought in as a backup, since Fabianski and Szczesny are going to miss a long time, but now Lehmann is in a position to see serious playing time. Almunia, gifted another chance to prove he belongs at this club, has fallen at the first hurdle and even his most ardent supporters will struggle to defend him for much longer. Wenger now has a dilemma on his hands; to stick with the sometimes-brilliant but often clumsy and error-prone Almunia, or chuck the baby out with the bath water completely and start the wise but elderly veteran Lehmann. Either way, surely Almunia's days at the club are numbered and the gloves must be handed over permanently to Szczesny and Fabianski in the summer. We can't keep throwing games away because our keeper is the weak link, and Wenger has let this problem grow for far too long.
Arsenal take a bit of a break now due to the internationals coming up, and don't play again until April 2nd when Blackburn visit the Emirates. In Gunners-related news, lasagnechef over at The Cannon has posted leaked photos of what is apparently going to be our new home shirt for next season. I have long heard the rumours that we are going to celebrate our 125th anniversary next year, and I've seen a different pic of this design before. Its extremely hard to know if this recent batch of photos are of a fake design because it looks pretty real to me and so far I like what I see. I agree with The Cannon, some red and white stripy socks would go well with that shirt. We'll probably have to wait until May/June to find out what the official design will look like but I reckon it won't be much different than what we are seeing below (click on the image to see it bigger).
Thanks for reading.