West Brom are a team that I respect. I’d even say I like them and will support them in their quest to avoid relegation. They are a team that deserves to do well in the Premier League. I feel this way because the Baggies are a team that tries to play football the right way. They fight hard, but not dirty; they try to defend well, exploit set-pieces, shoot from distance – but they don’t intentionally foul goalkeepers, or kick opposition players, and their manager is not a scumbag.
Simply put, if most of the smaller teams followed their approach the Premiership would truly be the best league in the world and England would have a much better chance at the international level.
Focusing on the match, the first point that we need to note is that this is anything but an easy game. It’s a game we should win and we can notch up some goals in this one, but if our players take it easy, it could turn into an embarrassment.
West Brom have won at home against Sunderland and Birmingham, and drawn with Tottenham. They also got past the Moneybags, albeit a weakened side, in the Carling Cup despite making 10 changes.
On the other hand, the Baggies haven’t scored away from home and have lost both their games. Considering the fact that they won’t score a “cheat goal”, I’m confident that we can keep a clean sheet in this one.
As I mentioned, they are a team that respects the game and tries to play football. We can see this from the way they pass the ball. The following chart shows their passes against Chelsea and Liverpool, two extremely difficult away games that they lost.
The attempted over 350 passes in both games. In fact, they average about that many passes in almost all the games they’ve played. And as you can see, there aren’t too many long balls; they’re a team that tries to bring the ball out from defence. Is it a coincidence that their manager is not an ancient Englishman? Let’s just leave that thought for another day.
I think this game can be an entertaining affair from the fans’ point of view. It probably won’t have the drama of end-to-end stuff that we seen when the ball is kicked from one penalty box to the other, but if you enjoy the “football” part of the game then this will be a nice one to watch.
Our defenders should also feel more comfortable in this after playing against the likes of Blackburn, Bolton and Sunderland. They’ll have a few long balls to deal with, no doubt, but it won’t be a persistent threat. As long as they keep up their concentration levels and do as well as they did at the Stadium of Light, Almunia should have a quiet game.
It’ll be interesting to see if their manager goes with two strikers or one. In most games they’ve used the quick and technical Odemwinge alongside the more physical Fortune. It’s a good pairing and certainly gives them a much stronger attack than they had a couple of seasons ago. But playing them both could leave them light in the middle and Arsenal could pass them off the park.
Apart from their first game against Chelsea, the visitors have not conceded more than 1 goal in any of their other games despite playing the likes of Liverpool, Spuds, and Citeh. That tells me it won’t be as easy to score against them as it was against Braga or Blackpool, even though their playing style might be quite similar to these teams. This will depend on how well they can press our players. Sunderland have given them a template to work on but pulling that off away from home will never be easy for a team like West Brom. I still expect them to work hard and make life difficult for us.
This could change if we can score early. We need to get off the blocks from the kick-off and establish our dominance. This is the kind of game where the opposition gains confidence with each minute they keep us out.
I don’t think we need any major tactical planning for this game. The players just have to go out and give their best, maintain their focus for 90 mins, and convert the chances that are sure to come our way. While I do appreciate and respect WBA, a good Arsenal performance should see us win by three goals with the added bonus of a clean sheet.
As far as the starting eleven goes there aren’t many choices. With the injury to Gibbs the back five are likely to be the same as the Sunderland game and Song will keep his place. The other two choices in midfield will be interesting. We could pick any two from Denilson, Wilshere, and Diaby. It will probably depend a bit on the fitness of the Frenchman.
I’d prefer if we went with Denilson and Diaby. Wilshere has played 4 games in 10 days and given the way he’s developing, I feel he will be a big player for us this season. It will be a real shame if we overstretch him right now and he ends up with an injury of some sort.
This midfield will also give us a chance to see Diaby in an advanced role, something I believe he can excel at, especially in such home games. Moreover, Denilson will probably do much better in this game than in a physical battle. This way we can get the best out of players we have.
Having said all that, I do have a sneaky feeling Arsene will continue with Wilshere in the starting line-up. That will make the choice of the third midfielder an interesting one. Will Jack play in a deeper role with Diaby ahead of him or will he play in an advanced role with Denilson behind him? I don’t want to speculate on this because I truly believe he deserves a rest.
No matter who plays in midfield, it will be imperative that Song shows some discipline and supports the defence.
These choices in midfield would put Nasri back on the right along with Chamakh in the centre and Arshavin on the left.
If Rosicky has picked up a knock it would be best to give him a rest. I’m not sure Vela did enough to keep his spot but, if we have a healthy lead, another cameo will do him no harm.
The starting line-up would look like,
Almunia – Sagna, Squillaci, Koscielny, Clichy – Song, Denilson, Diaby – Nasri, Chamakh, Arshavin.
I’m looking forward to some entertainment and a solid 3-0 win.