The plan was clear. To maximize points in the easier stretch of games before the big showdown with Chelsea. The West Brom match was a clear opportunity to win three points. An golden opportunity for the Gunners to vault to the top of the table following Chelsea's loss against Man City.
What we have in two games against so called lesser opposition has been quite similar - the loss against West Brom yesterday was a continuation of what happened against Sunderland.
The Black Cats can argue that they were distinctly unlucky not to get a win. They looked the better team for most of their match. West Brom put that to rest. They were the better team. Arsenal only showed up in the last 15 minutes of the match to extricate themselves out of a three goal deficit. Samir Nasri's goals were a wonderful vanity showcase but the Baggies successfully threw all 11 men to close down shop. Roberto Di Matteo's tactics won out. His men outplayed Wenger and the Gunners.
In these two matches, the Gunners have revealed a familiar lack of effort and intensity against sides that have looked far hungrier and more focused. We have too many error prone coasters on our team. Perfectly illustrated by the second goal gifted to West Brom by Song and Arshavin trying to finesse their way out of trouble and Almunia's slack reflexes.
Almunia is an easy target. The Spaniard showed a familiar return to indecisiveness but he had good company in Bacary Sagna and Gael Clichy who bought themselves tickets to a perpetual daydream. Sagna was mush against Jerome Thomas and Peter Odemwingie in the first two goals. And Clichy failed to apply himself against Chris Brunt for the third. The trio had their way against Arsenal.
Tactically too there were a number of shortcomings. Arsenal is a painful team to watch when their normal fluid passing stalls. The Baggies threw them off rhythm with their high pressurizing tactics and the Gunners lacked a counterattacking game to make a quick breakthrough (Walcott could have made a difference). With no plan B it was an increasingly confident West Brom that dictated terms.
Much has been said of Wenger's refusal to get a quality goalkeeper. When does stubbornness become stupidity? In games like this. The one thing that Man Utd and Chelsea have going for them is the utmost confidence in their custodians. Jonny Evans has been an absolute disaster but he breathes easier knowing that Van Der Sar is perfectly capable of cleaning up a mess. We really do not have the luxury of ball watching with Almunia in goal.
Wojech Szczesny might not be the immediate answer but at this stage Wenger is running out of options. One way of expediting Szczesny's exposure will be to draft him for the Braga return. With a half dozen goals as buffer there is some leeway. If he inspires confidence we could see him stake a claim to the goalkeeping job ahead of schedule.
The one constant in this season is inconsistency. We walkover Braga imperiously, flick aside Spurs, but we stumble in matches which could prove pivotal in a very tight season. We are unable to forge ahead on a pattern of familiar mistakes repeated season in and season out. On what grounds does Wenger claim that his boys have turned to men? So far I have yet to see a magic switch that will make this season any different. Next weekend it's the ruthlessly opportunistic Drogba and Chelsea and on the evidence so far, we are on track for our customary humiliation.
One more point. Former players seem to have made a habit punishing Arsenal. David Bentley, Emmanuel Adebayor, and Jerome Thomas have all come up with big goals. Maybe Hleb is licking his lips too?
Update: I know, I know - Arsenal has no dearth of goalkeepers just good ones. And there is Vito Mannone ahead of Szczesny. But Wenger seems to be playing it two ways here. He can thrown in Fabianski to "improve his confidence" but at the same time he wants to protect Szczesny. So the Pole is going to warm the bench without any chance of playing matches and magically watch his talent grow? He is not out on loan and he is not even in Carling Cup consideration. Yet, the conventional wisdom is that he will be ready in a couple of years to take over the first spot. How is that possible?