Ian Hart: Emirates defeat leaves room for optimism

Action from Albion's clash at Arsenal on Sunday. Picture by Phil Westlake (PW Sporting Photography)
Action from Albion's clash at Arsenal on Sunday. Picture by Phil Westlake (PW Sporting Photography)

Sunday’s visit to Arsenal was a bit of a strange one really. Having watched the Albion play the Gunners at Highbury and an FA Cup semi-final at the same venue I recall an electric atmosphere.

The 3,000 travelling Albion fans provided something on a par with that memory at the weekend but with the 55,000-or-so Arsenal fans it was a different matter. Sterile is the word that probably best sums it up and it was a sad state of affairs when you think of how passionate and fanatical the Arsenal faithful have been over the years.

A real disappointment was the amount of empty seats in the home sections at the Emirates. Arsenal could quite easily have moved existing ticket holders to allow the Albion a further 3,000 tickets which they could easily have sold and in the process added to the atmosphere.

As for the game, a real case of ‘what might have been’. As arguably the first real ‘huge’ away game the occasion was always going to be a bit special. That said, I felt we gave Arsenal too much respect early on, and at times almost seemed in awe of them. When they took the lead it really came as no surprise but obviously if Solly March’s excellent effort had ended up six inches inside the post, at 1-1 it’s a different game.

Ultimately we didn’t start playing until Arsenal scored again, and really went at them in the last ten minutes. I left North London thinking we could and should have done more, I’m not saying we could have won but we’ll never know what would have happened if we played for the full 90 rather than the last ten.

Then again, there’s an argument that says Chris Hughton’s mindset in setting up with clear intention not to get a hiding in games like these is the way forward.

However on a positive note the individual performances of Solly March and Lewis Dunk again throw up serious possibilities that if they continue, one or perhaps even both of them could yet find themselves in contention for next summer’s England World Cup squad. I doubt Glenn Murray will be anywhere near the plane for Moscow but his return to fitness is a real fillip for the Albion, especially in light of the next four games straight after this weekend’s international break.

Amex dates with Everton and Southampton, coupled with visits to West Ham and Swansea, while only representing 12 points, could define the rest of the season.

The seven point haul so far is encouraging, but we need a minimum of seven from these four games.

While home form is always going to be key, you could arguably say that with what we’ve already seen from our four upcoming opponents the Albion could win any of these four games, hopefully all four. By the same token, some might argue they could lose all four, but that’s the magic of the Premier League!

n British Justice has always been the envy of many right around the globe.

Innocent until proven guilty has always been a big part of that culture, so therefore I cannot understand how the ECB can even contemplate not including Ben Stokes in the Ashes squad until the ongoing police investigation in Bristol is completed.

He’s been foolish, and almost certainly deeply regrets his alleged actions, but will it affect his performances Down Under? No.

Will his exclusion affect England’s chances of retaining the Ashes? A resounding yes.