Given their appalling end to last season, Arsenal begin their League Cup journey in round 2, for the first time since the mid-90s.
Perhaps a bruised ego would be the worst to come out of the night, but Arsenal are in panic mode all the same. Losses away to Brentford and at home to Chelsea have done very little to raise the already dreary mood around the Emirates Stadium, so a win against last season’s Premier League dropouts West Bromwich Albion was needed.
Though West Brom fielded a fairly weak team, Mikel Arteta was taking no chances, seven changes from the side that played on Sunday, including full-debuts for Aaron Ramsdale, Nuno Tavares and Martin Ødegaard.
Despite their relatively inexperienced lineup, West Brom came out of the blocks at 100mph, barely giving Arsenal any time at all on the ball. Arsenal didn’t help matters with several loose passes placing their teammates in greater danger, including new boy Aaron Ramsdale.
West Brom threw themselves into tackles and tried as hard as they could to pin Arsenal down.
But for all their high-pressing, West Brom were eventually undone by Arsenal. Unable to properly clear the ball or get it from underneath Bukayo Saka, the Englishman rifled a shot at Alex Palmer, who was unable to hold it and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was there to tap in the rebound.
West Brim kept some pressure up from there, but soon Arsenal were through again. A terrific ball from Mohamed Elneny released Nicolas Pépé, who was through on goal from a magnificent run and his shot…cannoned off the post, straight into Aubameyang’s path for another clear tap in.
It felt harsh on Pépé for him not to have a goal to his name, but he was soon rewarded as this time Aubameyang was let loose on goal for a first-half hat-trick, but his cute little chip was denied by the goalkeeper, the Arsenal captain then produced a brilliantly acrobatic overhead kick to give the ball to Pépé, who tapped in the third.
It may be a scoreline entirely brought about by tap-ins, but Arsenal didn’t care, as they were 0-3 up at the break.
It didn’t really take long for the scoring to resume in the second-half. A wonderful backheel from Martin Ødegaard, beautifully dummied by Aubameyang allowed Bukayo Saka into the box for a terrific right-footed finish into the far corner. Nothing “tap-in” about that one.
Arsenal extended their lead further when Ainsley Maitland-Niles (on for Ødegaard) fed Aubameyang on the edge of the box, who took a touch outside and curled a brilliant effort into the top corner to complete his hat-trick.
Alexandre Lacazette was brought on next and his impact was immediate. A free-flowing Arsenal move saw the Frenchman feed Nicolas Pépé, who’s deft chip bounced off the crossbar and out.
But soon it was Pépé returning the favour for Lacazette. Great work from the Ivorian on the wing allowed him to fizz a tantalising ball across the penalty area and for Lacazette to emphatically smash home for the final goal.
It was a good night for Arsenal, but few will be carried away by it all. It was a 0-6 drubbing against a team a full division lower than them and who were also ostensibly playing their B-Team.
Nevertheless, there were still some interesting points to take from the game.
Nuno Tavares looked enthusiastic but erratic. The left-back seemed to have made his mind up on what he was going to do well in advance and was unable to control his excitement of doing it. More often than most, Tavares was unable to control his speed or his general ball control, which led to him either losing balance or losing the ball. Several loose passes were enough to give the impression that he is still not yet ready for Premier League football.
It was a good night in front of goal for Aubameyang as well. A hat-trick is great in anyone’s books, but the forward really did look to be back to his very best once more. Arsenal fans will need to see this more consistently if he has truly turned his form around, but it was a fantastic showing nevertheless.
It was another great performance from Bukayo Saka. His slow start to the season is clearly down to his late start in pre-season and an extended break following his EUROs excursions. He worked well with Ødegaard and linked up well with Aubameyang where needed.
Of course, Arsenal’s next game is away to Manchester City, anyone expecting a repeat performance from Arsenal is perhaos wishing their life away, but a win against West Brom will certainly have calmed some troubled waters for now and serves as a reminder of the quality Arsenal still have.
32.) Aaron Ramsdale
21.) Calum Chambers
16.) Rob Holding
31.) Sead Kolašinac
20.) Nuno Tavares
25.) Mohamed Elneny
34.) Granit Xhaka (Lacazette 67’)
19.) Nicolas Pépé
8.) Martin Ødegaard (Maitland-Niles 61’)
7.) Bukayo Saka
14.) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (c) (Martinelli 76’)
1.) Bernd Leno
22.) Pablo Marí
15.) Ainsley Maitland-Niles
23.) Albert Sambi Lokonga
10.) Emile Smith Rowe
35.) Gabriel Martinelli
9.) Alexandre Lacazette
West Bromwich Albion team:
36.) Alex Palmer
21.) Cédric Kipré
33.) Caleb Taylor (Richards 82’)
31.) Saul Shotton
34.) Ethan Ingram
32.) Quevin De Castro
23.) Robert Snodgrass (c) (King 74’)
20.) Adam Reach
41.) Tom Fellows
29.) Taylor Gardner-Hickman
9.) Kenneth Zohore (Faal 65’)
West Bromwich Albion subs:
37.) Ted Cann
39.) Zak Delaney
30.) Rico Richards
38.) Toby King
40.) Modou Faal
42.) Jovan Malcolm