EPL Preview: West Bromwich Albion vs Arsenal
Steve Clarke’s West Bromwich Albion host a resurgent Arsenal at the Hawthorns today afternoon. The Baggies were sitting in the Champions League spots of the Barclays Premier League at one point and while Arsenal will be hoping to occupy that berth come the end of the season, the hosts are no pushovers and will be hoping to collect all three points with a push for Europe still very much possible for the seventh-placed side.
West Bromwich Albion: LDWLW
30/03/2013: West Ham United, 1-3 (A), Barclays Premier League
16/03/2013: Stoke City, 0-0 (A), Barclays Premier League
09/03/2013: Swansea City, 2-1 (H), Barclays Premier League
02/03/2013: Chelsea, 0-1 (A), Barclays Premier League
23/02/2013: Sunderland AFC, 2-1 (H), Barclays Premier League
Although Albion are enduring an inconsistent period at present having picked up only two wins in their last five games, the Baggies are just one win short of the highest number of wins recorded by them in the Premier League season (14) and and their best points return in the top flight since the 1984-85 season when they won 16 games.
Steve Clarke’s boys, however, have never kept a clean sheet against Arsenal – not since they were managed by Norbert Stiles in November 1985. That match finished goalless and Clarke will be hoping his team will remember the time they went to the Emirates and upset the Gunners 3-2 in September 2010 to collect their first away win in 18 games.
30/03/2013: Reading, 4-1 (H), Barclays Premier League
16/03/2013: Swansea City, 2-0 (A), Barclays Premier League
13/03/2013: Bayern Munich, 2-0 (A), UEFA Champions League
03/03/2013: Tottenham Hotspur, 1-2 (A), Barclays Premier League
23/02/2013: Aston Villa, 2-1 (H), Barclays Premier League
The Gunners have only lost one of their five previous games in all competitions and did well to put four past Reading at home considering that they generally perform poorly after an international break,. But that was just a warm-up to what will definitely be a much tougher challenge here.
Arriving at the Hawthorns with the best defensive record away from home, Arsenal will be wary of what is a very dangerous side. Games against West Bromwich Albion have played some part in defining Arsenal’s seasons in the past and nowhere was it clearer than last season, as it was a game that ensured Champions League football for the Gunners.
Although boss Steve Clarke does admit Markus Rosenberg hasn’t seen much action this season, it is likely that the Sweden striker will continue to warm the bench because of the form of Romelu Lukaku and Shane Long have displayed, scoring 19 goals between them in the league.
West Brom have both Zoltan Gera and George Thorne out for the long term with ACL injuries, while James Morrison will miss out because of a hamstring injury.
Squad (from): Ben Foster, Steven Reid, Jonas Olsson, Goran Popov, Claudio Yacob, Liam Ridgewell, Markus Rosenberg, Shane Long, Chris Brunt (captain), Boaz Myhill, Jerome Thomas, Scott Allan, Graham Dorrans, Luke Daniels, Romelu Lukaku, Youssouf Mulumbu, Gareth McAuley, Peter Odemwingie, Billy Jones, Gabriel Tama?, Marc-Antoine Fortuné
Probable Starting XI: Foster; Jones, Olsson, Ridgwell, Popov; Mulumbu, Allan, Odemwingie, Brunt; Long, Lukaku
With only Abou Diaby out for the long-term, the Gunners have both Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere for this game. Nacho Monreal is also available having shaken off a knee complaint that he sustained during the Reading game.
Another casualty, however, is Gunners manager Arsene Wenger, who is suffering from a throat infection. Should he not prowl the bench today, the Gunners may find themselves lacking a push in the right direction if things go wrong.
Squad (from): Wojciech Szczesny, Bacary Sagna, Per Mertesacker, Thomas Vermaelen (captain), Laurent Koscielny, Tomas Rosicky, Mikel Arteta, Lukas Podolski, Jack Wilshere, Olivier Giroud, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Aaron Ramsey, Sebastien Squillaci, Nacho Monreal, Santi Cazorla, Lukasz Fabianski, Francis Coquelin, Andrei Arshavin, Carl Jenkinson, Gervinho, Kieran Gibbs
Probable Starting XI: Fabianski; Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal; Arteta (c), Cazorla, Wilshere; Podolski, Giroud, Walcott
West Bromwich Albion: Romelu Lukaku
The man touted to succeed Didier Drogba at Chelsea has come a long way in learning the ropes of the Premier League this season. With 13 goals in all competitions for his adoptive side, his physicality, height, strength and skill both on the ball and off it represent a dangerous threat his young age seems to belie.
Arsenal: Per Mertesacker
The Gunners have kept two clean sheets in as many away games recently and key to that resurgence in defensive stability – they’ve only conceded one in their last three games – is giant German Mertesacker. Although he does lack pace at times, he makes up for it with his astute reading of the game and positioning – qualities that will be necessary to shackle Lukaku and his team mates.
This game is going to be far from easy for Arsenal. West Bromwich Albion’s relatively late arrival to the glitz and glamour of the Premier League belie an inner belief and quality that the Gunners cannot take for granted. Should they be caught off guard, the waves of relief that flooded the back end of last season will not be so forthcoming this time.
West Bromwich Albion 1-2 Arsenal