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Terry’s Baggies Blog

A KICK UP THE ARSE

18-08-2008

Albion made their first trip to the Emirates on the opening day of the Premier League season, and - predictably - came away empty handed. Terry Wills looks at the positives.

Arsenal 1-West Bromwich Albion 0. A not to surprising scoreline ( my pre match forecast was a 2-0 defeat) bearing in mind the trademark of Arsen Wegner’s footballing academy.

An early start for the convoy of coaches, a very speedy non-congested Motorway and we were there. The Emirates Stadium in my opinion superior to Old Trafford.

And if anything proved conclusively just how much the game has changed down the years it was evident within seconds.

At Highbury you’d be greeted by street vendors selling and shouting “Larkin’s Roasted peanuts-6 pence a bag”. NOW there are salespersons, with trays of pre-packed ‘mini doughnuts, selling these delicacies for a mere £3.00!

Plenty of time to wander around the Armoury, their main club shop, which in relation to most would be classed as Harrods versus ‘The Cabin’, run by Rita and Norris in Coronation Street.

Popular? If you wanted to purchase a shirt, complete with players name, large boards warn that the waiting time is one hour, while apart from the usual goodies they actually sell an ‘Arsenal Toaster’ that emblazons the letters A.F.C. when ‘Gooner’ spreads jam or marmalade on a slice of breakfast toast!

Up the steps, or ramp, to the away end turnstiles. Gazing up at the four tier’ structure encompassing Restaurant booking, waiter service facilities. Kenilworth Road? ‘Eat’ your heart out.

Enter the Emirates Amphitheatre complete with padded seats and ample legroom-raise eyes to ‘absorb’ the third tier, at spaced out intervals, proudly showing the dates of their ‘remarkable’ trophy winning seasons, complete with illustrations.

The first date 1930 the last 2005. (No wonder Gunners supporters are complaining at the lack of current success!).

For all that when it came to the quality of vocal support, the Baggies weren’t about to be second best to those who’ve moved from the ‘Highbury Library’ to the Emirates ‘Dentists waiting room.’

As to the battle of the choirs we won hands down. I mean how could Elvis’ ‘The Wonder of You’ booming out in the presence of 61,000 plus, expect to drain out a mere 2,900 passionate rendition of ‘The Lords my Shepherd’?

(One up to the Baggies. A pity that within three minutes of the start the scoreboard read Arsenal 1-West Bromwich Albion 0…..(Party Poopers.)

Tony Mowbray’s team selection was strictly limited .due to players missing through injury and Gianni Zuiverloon away on Olympic duty for Holland.

Scott Carson was given the nod over Dean Kiely. Meite partnered Leon Barnett in central defence and surprisingly Do-Heon Kim actually opened the Premiership campaign at the kick off in a 4-5-1 formation playing behind Ishmael Miller.

Then the reality check kicked in and IF there WAS anyone who doubted the difference in the quality of Premiership and Championship football this was the definitive answer.

In the Championship a team can give the ball away without being punished. Have time to pick out a team mate with seemingly time to spare and allow teams oceans of space to work in, etc.

Ah those were the days. Albion were immediately under intense pressure from the opening minutes. Arsenal, playing their usual ‘keep the ball’ passing game, exposing the defensive frailties all to clearly.

Right side Carl Hoefkens and Marek Cech resembled passing strangers and Mogga must have been tearing his hair out as time after time Denilson aided by ‘slide’ rule passes speedily skipped passed them to cause problems.

Three minutes and from a clinical passing move new signing Naisi stroke the ball home and in truth the ‘Kids in Disneyland’ scenario was proving a far too true experience for the majority of the Baggies players.

For me the body language and quizzical facial expressions seemed to imply they were asking each other the same question “What’s going on? Last season we were playing at Burnley on the first day and here we are at the Emirates facing Arsenal. What are we doing here”?

More intense pressure but thankfully the ‘Gunners’ were firing blanks, and slowly, very slowly, a modicum of composure began to give some hope.

Most of the few attacking situations revolved around my Albion ‘Man of the Match’ Kim. He looked comfortable on the ball. Passed intelligently and together with ‘Tiny’ Miller, who posed problems with his pace and strength, they managed to force a previously untroubled Arsenal defence to face a couple of potential dangerous situations.

But as usual any set pieces/corner kicks rarely cleared the near post and at half time I would imagine I wasn’t alone in thinking the one goal deficit could have been much worse.

To their credit, Mogga’s philosophy that they’d continue to play the same way as they did in the Championship proved true.

Jonathan Greening turned and probed, Morrison and Brunt, followed suit, in fact all the team whether in possession, or making errors (!) seemed to be following instructions.

Second half and a MUCH improved display .to give hope we would be able to compete with many of the Premiership ‘big’ boys.

Yes Arsenal were still looking more likely to score but a more composed defence allied to wayward shooting meant Scott Carson was never seriously troubled.

Up front a much trimmer, quicker, ‘Tiny’ Miller proved a handful and Baggies fans leapt to their feet to celebrate what looked like being an almost certain equaliser.

Agonisingly his shot was parried and following up Paul Robinson saw his shot blocked on the line. So near, and yet so far.

Substitution time. Marek Cech replaced by Sherjill McDonald (at the same time Wegner was able to call on Van Persie (!) Roman Bednar for Miller, and in a last throw of the dice on came Craig Beattie for Chris Brunt.

Plenty of possession and at last Arsenal knew they’d been in a game. Although they still looked capable of wrapping up the points with a killer second goal.

Arsenal deservedly won, although from post match media comments it was agreed Albion had given a promising performance.

So what new did Baggies fans discover from their first, and hopefully not last visit to the Emirates?

The defence still needs strengthening. A midfielder in the mould of Lee Carsley would be invaluable while up front a ‘proven’ striker MUST be signed.

Which inevitably brings me back to the decision to let a certain Kevin Phillips move over to St Andrews? A debatable decision that I pray doesn’t rebound if we're still searching for a player to keep us out of the bottom three come seasons end.

After all if you were a manager and losing 1-0 against Arsenal, and had a choice of substitute strikers, who would you choose between Sherjill MacDonald, Craig Beattie or Kevin Phillips.?

“I rest my self professed prejudiced case your Honour”!

The initial Premiership initiation is over. Next week instead of playing at the Emirates Amphitheatre with all it’s trappings of splendour it’s back to the ‘homely’ Hawthorns to take on Everton.

The ‘Toffees’ themselves haven’t enjoyed a particularly encouraging start so here’s hoping we can gain our first result which whatever happens will certainly be a long hard season.

“Come on you Baggies”

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