That said, there are few moral victories in sport, and so I doubt that there are many Baggies trudging home thinking, “well, at least we hung tough”. To those who are, it’s cold consolation, if any at all. I’ve been on the other side of such losses, and I’d almost prefer to have been roundly thrashed. Once Gnabry missed his spot-kick, I thought, “well, that’s it.” I can’t imagine (and don’t want to, either) what it must have felt like to be on the other end, thinking, “we’re going to pull this off” only to see not one but two misses slam shut the door. To have come so close only to see victory slip through their fingers must be agonizing, and I hope it doesn’t provide West Brom with too much motivation against us going forward.
Back to Arsenal. Back to Gnabry. For as much as we might bemoan the saved kick, let’s be honest. Penalties are a lottery. The shooter picks one of three basic options: left, center, right. The keeper chooses from the same. Even if the keeper matches the shooter, there’s placement, pace, timing. On the whole, Gnabry’s shot was among the better-taken of the ten. He just had the bad luck of being the only one whose shot was saved. Here, then, is a quick review:
- Reid: 8/10—well-taken, top-right corner and out of reach despite Fabiański guessing right.
- Bendtner: 6/10—decent but only midway between the center of goal and the right post. Good thing Daniels guessed wrong.
- Rosenberg: 4/10—very nearly down the middle, almost saved by Fabiański who dove to his left but almost deflected anyway.
- Gnabry: 5/10—similar to Bendtner’s but towards the left post. Daniels guessed correctly and parried.
- Morrison: 9/10—nearly perfect, top-left corner shot. The only element missing would be to have it glance in off the post.
- Olsson: 6/10—good shot, beating Daniels who guessed right. Extra point given for responding well to the pressure of the moment.
- Dawson: 1/10—plain and simple, you must make the keeper save, at a minimum. Putting it that far wide is inexcusable, especially given how a goal would have all but sealed the victory.
- Akpom: 5/10—again, another decent shot but only midway between the center and the post, benefitting more from the keeper guessing wrong than from the quality of the shot.
- Amalfitano: 1/10—as with Dawson, one must put it on-frame. Knowing that the squads were now level, it was all the more crucial to do so.
- Monreal: 6/10—similarly, the shot was midway between center and post and went in because the keeper guessed wrong.
While it may be too early to memorize and declare lines from Walt Whitman’s “O Captain, My Captain!”, it was gratifying to see Vermaelen take to the field and perform as well as he did. According to whoscored.com, he led the team in interceptions, shots blocked, effective clearances, and passing accuracy. In the absence of a true, in-form defensive midfielder (Arteta working back from injury and Hayden being, well, 18), Vermaelen linked defense to offense quite well and looks to be regaining the form and confidence that had abandoned him a year ago. Should this hold true, a center-back rotation of Vermaelen, Koscielny, and Mertesacker could be formidable indeed.
Long story short, we may not have deserved this win, but we got it. There’s a tricky visit to Liberty Stadium to face Swansea on Saturday, and we’ve continued a run that has seen us win 17 of our last 20 competitive matches (including eleven in a row on the road). We may have underestimated Swansea a bit last year, but we won’t do so again this year. On top of that, this is a squad that wants to win and knows how, whether it’s a squeaky bum like tonight or a 3-0 over Fener. In either case, we’re on a nifty little run. Enjoy it while it lasts!