West Bromwich Albion 0 - Arsenal 6
Boys against Men
The man in the WBA shirt, wearing a large rubber duck around his waist at the Headingley Test, and the man in the Arsenal shirt he was drinking with, the latter astride (inside?) a sheep, had obviously decided that a day at the cricket would be money better spent than going to watch a League Cup tie between their two sides, and they were probably correct, given that Valerian Ismael put out a complete second string side, by making 11 changes to the starting line up, but also lost one of his first choice second XI, Tulloch, in the warm up, and England having an absolutely rampant day against India.
The Arsenal side, for a League Cup game in which they traditionally give a run out to their most promising youngster was incredibly old, and hence incredibly strong, albeit including the goalie who had sat out our first XI's 4-0 win against Sheff Utd, ahead of his move into the Gunners' second choice spot.
Albion kicked off, however the ball played back into the right-centre back area was immediately dispatched into touch: not the greatest of starts and, within a minute, new boy Castro, playing right centre-mid alongside the experience of Snodgrass, lunged in and picked up a card.
Five minute later though, things were looking up as the "high press" saw Zohore attempting to make something of an underhit back-pass to the keeper, although in failing to capitalise on it, he may have picked up a knock which limited his effectiveness for the rest of the game.
With Albion still pressing as ten minutes elapsed, Fellows would have two chances to get off a shot, the first being blocked as he advanced into the inside-right channel, the second drawing an at-stretch save out of the keeper from the centre of the edge of the box. The resulting corner was very well worked and gave Reach a great chance to hit the target from the inside-left side of the box but, sadly for our chances of going ahead he failed to find it.
Five or so minutes later and the early promise evaporated after Castro failed to clear a ball bouncing around the edge of our box and saw it end up at the feet of an attacker who advanced into out box and got off a shot that Palmer could only divert across the goal for Aubameyang to tap-in.
I actually though that we stopped pressing as high after the goal, but around the the thirty-five minute mark we were high enough to see a long ball played over the top that Palmer had to leave his area to clear, but in doing so, clattered into Kipre, who remained down for some time.
The time allowed for the stoppages, for the treatment to Zohore and Kipre though would be enough for Arsenal to put the game out of sight, with Albion being cut to pieces down our right just as the extra time started although the shot that hit the post with the keeper exposed did fall nicely for another uncontested tap-in. Shortly after that, Aubameyang would work his way down our right-hand side but after his initial shot was blocked he somehow managed an overhead-kick cross to set up yet another six-yard-box tap-in, Pepe the benefactor.
Five minutes after the restart, Arsenal scored a goal that suggests Albion's second string are not yet fully up-to-speed with the high press, in that Sako was allowed to run, with ball at his feet from the halfway line, all the way onto our back three, where a slick one-two got him goalside with just the keeper to beat, and beat the keeper he did.
Indeed, I thought that any semblance of a high-press had pretty much given way to retreat into packing our half and trying not to leave too many gaps, as, at 4-0 down there was little sense of any attempt to try and rescue the tie.
Having said that we did get three corners in quick succession, although the first of those was lumped straight out of play beyond the far post, and in-between two of them, Zohore cushioned a header from deep cross to a team-mate whose shot was blocked and then did well to get power into a header, as the ball dropped again, but the keeper saved.
As the hour ticked over, Albion loanee, Maitland-Niles, got a run out, although I wasn't aware him being involved as Albion gave the ball away on our left, after which Arsenal moved it quickly to our right, from where Aubameyang was able to cut inside and curl the hat-trick goal into the far corner.
Shortly after that we got a glimpse of some of the centre-forward options already being developed at the club, as 18-year-old Faal came on to replace Zohore, although whether he might have been able to prevent Arsenal passing it out, all the way from their keeper inside his six-yard-box through us and up to Pepe, who was free to run in one-on-one with our keeper is hard to say, however the Arsenal man's chip hit the bar.
Within two minutes though, Lacazette, having come on off the bench so as to leave no-one in any doubt as to the gulf between the two sides on the night was able to fire in from the edge of the box with our attempts at marking players completely at sea.
Fifteen minutes left and was time for Snods to be replaced, either to have a rest ahead of a spot on the bench in the next game, or more likely to give Toby King fifteen minutes of game time.
The huge imbalance in the two match-day squads was probably reflected in the final scoreline although had we taken the lead early doors well, who knows. Fair to say that most of the periods of pressing after we'd gone behind were undone by the the two centre-mid players not pushing high enough and so giving Arsenal an easy pass through, and furthermore, once we had gone behind, the longer the game went on, the impression that there aren't really any of our second string who justify consideration for a start in the first eleven grew, and that's slightly worrying given how hard the first eleven are being asked to work.
Having said that, it might be an interesting thought experiment to ponder how last night's side might have done against the Posh at the weekend, and how our first XI would have done last night.
From the moment the draw was made the result was going to be predictable. In fact I turned to my colleague and forecast 6-0 to Arsenal having seen the respective line-ups.
No such luck for us to be drawn against Barrow, we have a must win Arsenal first team with Arteta's job on the line and should we have won he would probably have had his P45 by now.
I do not criticise Ishmael's selection as our priorities lie else where but it is plainly obvious that a high press game, should we win promotion, will leave us so exposed with the level of quality of the players we currently have at the club. This was very evident in the goal we conceded at Blackburn.
It is also doubtful that quality players of Premier Ilk would be comfortable playing in this style of football.
Having said all that as long as the first team squad can maintain their high press for 46 games (questionable) then the system is certainly suited for Championship football and has a certain element of excitement about it.
In the long term though the gap between the rich clubs and the rest is becoming ever wider and I fear that at best Albion will continue to be a yo-yo club. Such is life.
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