Arsenal 2 WBA 0
If Arsene Wenger is as good as his word, can we expect to see him ‘suspend’ Santi Cazorla for Arsenal’s next three games?
Don’t count on it, despite the Arsenal manager’s promise to ‘have a word’ with his Spanish midfielder after the shocking 25th minute deception that changed the course of their game against West Brom on Saturday.
Wenger, you may remember, called for a three-match ban for any player found guilty of diving, such was his dislike of the dark art that is becoming a depressingly common talking point.
Earlier this year he said: “If an obvious dive is punished by a three-match ban, the players would not do it anymore. I would support it.”
Wenger also supports strong retrospective action by the FA on any player shown to be a diver. “We should have a superior committee of ethics who could still punish a player like that. Because you go home and you think he now gets away without being suspended and the whole situation doesn’t make sense.”
That pretty much summed up the feeling of Steve Clarke and his players after Cazorla’s dive conned referee Mike Jones, who then let Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain off with a foul before the Arsenal winger was himself tripped for the Gunners’ second penalty, both converted by Mikel Arteta.
Despite both sides going into the match on losing streaks, Arsenal were the better side but never looked like scoring, with Gervinho particularly poor in a toothless attack. No wonder Arsenal supporters were chanting the name of Thierry Henry, who was sitting in the stands. The Frenchman is still a hero in these parts and could return on a short-term loan from New York Red Bulls like last year. Yet outside the Arsenal faithful, Henry, like his compatriot Robert Pires, is remembered as much for cheating as for his wonderful skills, and now Cazorla is falling into that category.
Steven Reid’s boot did not touch the Spaniard’s leg, but the way Cazorla went down clutching his shin and rolling on the turf suggested he’d been caught by a chainsaw.
Former Arsenal captain Martin Keown said the referee had been conned, but the players were not fooled, and Cazorla knew it, according to Shane Long: “Reidy said he dived and you could see from Cazorla’s reaction that he was a guilty man. It was ridiculous.
“Everyone on the pitch can see it except for Arsene. I don’t want to say too much and get into trouble, but I feel that we were hard done by today. When you come to a place like Arsenal you need a bit of luck and when everything goes against you it makes it hard.”
What also made it tough for West Brom was Jack Wilshere’s form. He looked like his “old young self” again according to Wenger. The England midfielder, still only 19, admits he is not back to full fitness but was outstanding on Saturday.
“I’ve got maybe 90% of my sharpness back, but with every game I feel better and better,” he said. “When I get up to 100% then I can really show what I can do. It’s a new experience for me, having a long-term injury. I spoke to players who’ve been there, and they said that when you come back, you have a good game, then another when you’re not so good.”
Wenger admits he needs to manage Wilshere’s return to fitness carefully, and says resting the teenager for Arsenal’s midweek trip to Greece paid dividends.
“I have to be cautious. It was good to leave him at home in midweek because today was the first time I have seen him very close to the player he is and we have to see if there is any reaction. It is good to play him two or three times and then give him one game breather.”
Wenger acknowledges the buzz around the player, admitting: “He excites me too. I played him when he was 16 because I saw something in him. I am just happy that a boy of 19 can play football again after being out for 17 months.
“He analyses his game and what he can do. He works hard in training and the surprising thing for me is that he is ahead of schedule in his recovery. I expected him to be back at his best next February but he looks much earlier.”
But Wenger also admitted: “When he plays at that level and we are under the pressure we are to win games, it is difficult to leave him out.”
ARSENAL (4-3-3): Szczesny 7; Sagna 7, Mertesacker 7, Vermaelen 7, Gibbs 7; Arteta 7, Wilshere 9, Cazorla 7; (Podolski 87), Oxlade-Chamberlain 8, (Coquelin 77), Giroud 6, Gervinho 5 (Rosicky 81).
WBA (4-5-1): Myhill 7; Reid 7, Olsson 7, McAuley 6, Ridgewell 6 (Popov 6); Brunt 7, Morrison 7, Mulumbu 8, Gera 6 (Rosenberg 75), Odemwingie 6(Lukaku 62); Long.
Referee: Mike Jones.
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