The thousands filing out of Emirates Stadium last Saturday were, in the main, pretty content with the 4-1 win over Reading.
It was a conclusive and comprehensive victory; one that maintained both Arsenal’s good run and their push for a top-four finish.
But, deep in the bowels of the stadium, Steve Bould was not so happy… and frankly we would not want it any other way.
Late in proceedings, Reading had somewhat surprising breached the Arsenal defence when Hal Robson-Kanu plundered a header at the far post.
For a man whose greatest pride was derived from the “nil” in “1-0 to the Arsenal”, it spoilt a mini-revival in defensive terms. Consecutive clean sheets at Bayern Munich and Swansea had given Arsène Wenger’s side new sense of solidity for the final stages of the season.
With the Frenchman having lost his voice, it was left to his assistant to do the talking ahead of the trip to West Brom this weekend.
And, as the loudest noise on the defensive side of the backroom staff, he had still not forgotten the clean sheet that had got away.
“Yes it [annoyed me] immensely,” he said. “I thought it was a fairly poor goal but we've been speaking about it. We're trying to correct things at the minute and it is going OK.
"We were delighted with the win against Reading because it was a difficult game coming off the international week and, generally, we haven't performed to the greatest level after everybody's been away"
“Overall we were delighted with the win against Reading because it was a difficult game coming off the international week and, generally, we haven't really performed to the greatest level after everybody's been away. We were expected to win and, other than not getting a clean sheet, I think everything went perfectly.”
It is wrong to suggest the backline has been revolutionised in the past few weeks. After all, Arsenal go to The Hawthorns with the best defensive record away from home in the Premier League this season.
In fact arguably the biggest change has been at the other end - namely, early goals. In three of their last five games, Arsenal have scored before the 11th minute. That is a significant change for a notoriously slow-starting side who went into last weekend’s game clear at the top of the 'second-half table' but only midway in the first-half version.
“I think, especially at home, we've started a bit slowly and have looked a bit nervous and jittery,” admitted Bould. “But during the last months and weeks, I think we've won the crowd over. Going ahead with an early goal settles everybody down and we've looked much more like an old Arsenal team. It certainly helps.”
For a side that have previously 'yo-yoed' between the top two divisions, West Brom have had a fine season. They did not dip out of the top six for the first half of the campaign and have never been lower than ninth. Manager Steve Clarke is renowned for being an unfussy, uncomplicated football man and he has fashioned a team which may lack star names but has organisation and resilience in abundance.
Bould is cut from similar cloth and perhaps that is why he has such respect for Saturday’s opponents.
“It's a very good West Brom side and it's a really tough game,” he said. “I think Steve Clarke has done a magnificent job there. They've been more or less up there for the whole season.
“They've had a little dip but we know it's going to be a really tough game. They've got a good back four, a good goalkeeper and they don't let in an awful amount of goals.
“If you look all the way through [the side] they've got quality. Sometimes the front two change so they've got the luxury of being able to switch players and I think they've got a good bench. We're under no illusions. We know it's going to be a tough game but we're more than capable.”
It was a similar situation last season when Arsenal needed to win at West Brom on the final afternoon to secure third place ahead of Tottenham. A rollercoaster game was decided by Laurent Koscielny’s scruffy goal but, just as importantly, a magnificent sliding tackle for Kieran Gibbs to deny the home side an equaliser in the final seconds.
Arsenal are involved in a similar scrap with Chelsea, Tottenham and Everton right now. The left-back’s 11th-hour intervention shows the diligence and determination the successful side will need to demonstrate down the final few furlongs of the 2012/13 campaign.
“There's always something that can change a season,” said Bould. “It was a fantastic effort from Kieran that day and it did save the season. It's amazing really, the fine balance that exists.
“But all along we've known it's down to how we do over the next few months. We're capable and we've got a good run going. [We just need to] keep winning games.
“Like I say, if we win 3-2 every week, nobody is concerned. We just need to win games and put pressure on and hope that one of them wilt away. We're aiming for as high as we can get.”
A win over West Brom will put Arsenal in the top four for 24 hours at least and, just as Bould was concerned about the effect of international break before the Reading game, their top-four rivals could be influenced by Thursday’s Europa League commitments.
On Sunday, Tottenham have a tricky-looking home game with Everton while Chelsea entertain a Sunderland side who might be a different proposition under new manager Paolo di Canio.
While not wanting to lose focus, Bould admits the addition of European competition can influence the crucial latter stages.
“It can do because it's extremely tough with the travel, etc,” he said. “I think sometimes if a negative result comes along within that timespan, it can affect your season.
“But we know it's going to be tough anyway and players always like to play. Primarily I think we've got to concentrate on us, concentrate on what we do and concentrate on winning games.”
That’s Bould - strong, straightforward and with the highest standards.
His annoyance at an otherwise meaningless goal last weekend is somehow reassuring. The emotions so prevalent in the Bould ‘the player’ clearly remain prominent in Bould ‘the coach’.
Arsenal: Diaby (knee), Wilshere (ankle), Walcott (groin)
West Brom: Mulumbu (suspended)
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