Arsenal v West Brom Preview: Arsenal look to break scoring drought
Sigh! It wasn’t supposed to be like this. It was supposed to be a thing of beauty, not this…this monstrosity. Three matches and two weeks ago, we were booking our best finish in a decade, offering a nifty bookend to winning our first bit of silverware in a decade and a season ago. Instead, we’ve staggered and stumbled through our last three matches, dropping seven points from nine, and now have to settle for a third place finish—provided we can get at least a point from the Baggies.
If we lose, of course, we then have to worry about goal difference and Manchester United. If we lose and they can beat Hull, there’s an outside chance that United could slip past us to claim third. Therefore, let’s just do what we’d been planning to do all along: beat West Brom. While it’s a welcome change of pace to be backing our way into third instead of scrambling to snatch fourth, that’s no reason to cross the finish line as if we’re coasting on the last fumes in the tank.
This is not to suggest that a win will be easy—the Baggies are undefeated in their last three away matches (with wins at Selhurst Park and Old Trafford and a draw at St. James’). We’ll set aside their 3-0 demolition of Chelsea, ascribing it to the sending off of Cesc Fabregas and Chelsea’s mailing it in after winning the League two weeks prior. Tony Pulis, who took over on New Year’s Day, has whipped this squad into better shape—they’ve lost just five matches in 17 after losing ten of their first 20 and are now safely ensconced midtable.
Tough task at hand
Undefeated in their last five games, they’ll pose a challenge to an Arsenal squad that has looked increasingly jaded and leggy of late, scoring just once in three matches. Arsène said after the slog versus Sunderland that we “lacked a change of pace”—until Theo Walcott came on and tested Pantilimon almost immediately. From his introduction, we looked much more aggressive both through his own direct approach and through the space and chances he created for others.
West Brom will probably continue to play four centre-backs, shielded by Claudio Yacob, among the lead-leaguers in tackles. There will be plenty of space on the wings, in all likelihood, with an invitation/dare to cross into the box, but those CBs are well-drilled and more than capable of winning aerial duels. With nothing to risk and less to gain, this much-vaunted defensiveness will only be exacerbated by a reluctance or outright refusal to get forward.
A draw suits us just fine, of course, and maybe there’s a lesson to learn from Chelsea—one point is better than none. I don’t think we’ll have to worry about United overtaking us on goal-difference but by why risk it? Discretion is the better part of valour, after all. We can probably look forward to pounding and pummeling Pulis’s pawns to little effect either way. I’d expect a dour match in which the Baggies resist any and all efforts to score or be scored upon—which is not the same as saying they can deny us.
West Brom 0-1 Arsenal
Arsenal 1-0 West Brom
West Brom 1-1 Arsenal
Danny Welbeck has been ruled out while Mikel Arteta, Laurent Koscielny, Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, and Mathieu Debuchy face late tests and are likely unavailable.
POSSIBLE STARTING XI Ospina; Gibbs, Mertesacker, Gabriel, Bellerin; Coquelin, Ramsey, Alexis, Özil, Walcott; Giroud