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quite incredibly, roy hodgson's west bromwich albion team came within fifteen minutes of doing the double over the arsenal, after winning at the emirates in september and holding them to a draw in this reverse fixture at the hawthorns.
there aren't too many teams in the PREMIER LEAGUE who can boast having taken 4-points from the arsenal in the course of a season. the baggies are now five games undefeated under hodgson, but despite the evident positives, the baggies are still looking for what-would-be only their second win under the new gaffer. they came close in this one, and only the gunners' superior skills and a little bit of luck saved them the point in the end.
the first noticable change that hodgson brought to the albion was to revise the playing shape from a strict 4-5-1 - which roberto di matteo started using at half-time in a match against newcastle united in last year's CHAMPIONSHIP and rarely deviated from after that - for a more defensive minded 4-4-2. this was revealed in the wolves game, with both marc-antoine fortune and peter odemwingie featured in the strikers positions. considering that the gaffer is bit more the tactician than your average manager, this was probably not altogether unexpected.
the surprise has been in the re-evaluation of certain members of the first team and how the personnel were being used. the most unexpected move, of course, has been the shrewd re-introduction of abdoulaye meite in partnering jonas olsson at centre-half. he has also been responsible for the rehabilitation of scott carson, who's playing has been much improved since his recent lay-off, and putting 30-year old irish international, steven reid, at right-back has been nothing short of a revelation. returning nicky shorey to starting left-back was long over-due, and his intelligent use of marek cech as a substitute in a defensive midfield position is obvious, but effective. the gaffer has even voiced an interest in the possibility of bringing ishmael miller back to the club. i'm even expecting simon cox to make a starting appearance soon.
hodgson knows what a player is capable of and never defers to popular or fashionable opinion about his footballers.
what hodgson has been able to do since coming to west brom is tighten up the defense, both at the back and in midfield, without detracting from the attacking flair for which the baggies are known. both youssouf mulumbu and paul scharner have scored goals recently, while players like james morrison and chris brunt are covering their defensive duties more constistently. the strike pairing of marc-antoine fortune with the high-scoring peter odemwingie always looks dangerous, especially when playing together on the break. playing in tandem with a big, strong centre-forward lends another dimension to odemwingie's game; as was clearly illustrated in the recent match with wolves.
despite the lack of wins, the baggies are definitely considered a form team at the moment and everyone knows the relatively high quality of football that they are currently playing.
while i think most albion fans were happy with the point, i was a little disappointed and thought the baggies were going to win this one. andre arshavin scored a goal of such quality that it was literally unstoppable, and the arsenal were lucky with the equalizer following a fortuitous cross which came banging back off scott carson's far post and robin van persie's slightest of touches being just enough to just edge the ball over the line past a wrong-footed abdoulaye meite.
other than the arshavin goal, however, the baggies were the better team all day and probably deserved the win. especially as they were down to 10-men and protecting a 1-0 lead for a full seven minutes of the first-half, with james morrison requiring four or five stitches in his head following a collision with an arsenal defender.
while i was absolutley elated with the last minute equalizer against wolves (especially as i was there), i was converseley and equally disappointed that the baggies didn't hang on and win this one. they had the better chances and dominated the game completely.
the baggies took the lead in the 3rd minute on a steven reid goal scored from a free-header on the first corner-kick of the game.
after throwing up a stern defensive performance in the first-half, which saw both james morrison and paul scharner recieving pretty bad head injuries (the latter having to come off at half-time), the baggies went 2-0 up on a dreadful mistake by manuel almunia. coming out of his area for a ball he should never have come for, and creating a mix-up with his defender, sebastien squillaci, the arsenal keeper left peter odemwingie an opportunity to take advantage and cleverly roll the ball into an open net.
with the baggies on an unbeaten run under roy hodgson, and with a resurgent liverpool coming to the hawthorns in two week's time, the baggies have their work cut out for them in keeping the gaffer's record intact.