There have only been a handful of games this season which I thought were going to be easy. The home game against WBA was one of those. Such experience can make one respect a sentence like – there are no easy games in the Premiership – instead of ignoring it as a cliché. So Arsenal travel to the Hawthorns in what is another potential banana skin against a side battling relegation.
I haven’t seen West Brom play after the change of manager so I’m not sure if there have been any major changes to their tactical approach. Going by Hodgson’s style at previous clubs I expect to see a well organized defence with persistent pressing by five men in the middle in a manner similar to Sunderland. It will not be easy for Arsenal to bring the ball out from the defence in the absence of Song and Diaby so Wilshere will have to play in a deeper role and take more responsibility in terms of holding off the pressure to link the defence with the offence. His excellent experience against Barca will be handy.
Arsenal will also need to move the ball as a fast tempo to break the rhythm of this pressing and to create openings. That means the players will have to play with a high level of confidence and energy. After a week’s break there should be no room for excuses like ‘we lacked sharpness’.
The other major tactical points worth noting are in defence. The West Brom attackers use the spaces between the midfield and defence, and between the defenders themselves fairly well. The two centre-backs will have to track their movement without fail and should not allow the likes of Odemwinge, Brunt, and Morrison to get in the gaps unmarked. They also have players in the middle who can play some defence splitting passes. That means the midfield and forward players will have to do a good job of closing down the man on the ball.
Even the full-backs will have to do better with their positioning because the West Brom wingers are definitely better than the likes of Fabio and Rafael playing on the wings. Sagna and Gibbs were quite poor against United. Hopefully it was a one-off blip for Sagna and with Clichy back both flanks should be better protected.
The big question for Arsene will be the attacking midfield role. He could pick Nasri, Rosicky, or Ramsey for that role. If Rambo is fully fit he’d be my choice but I’m not convinced about his sharpness.
These days Arsene starts Rosicky in the middle and Nasri on the flank but in this game I’d swap the two. The main reason for that is to have Nasri on the ball more frequently.
The reason for picking Rosicky on the right ahead of Bendtner or Eboue, the only other options, is that he can play the tippy-tappy game. If the Dane is picked in that role Arsenal will struggle to deal with West Brom’s pressing and will not be able to bring the ball out to the attacking areas that often.
I’d also instruct Wilshere and Denilson to play much deeper than usual and not stray too far in front of the defence. Arshavin will leave the left exposed so having only one deep-lying midfielder will leave too many vacant spaces for the defenders to cover.
With so many second string players in the starting line-up the tactical focus has to be on a patient and cautious approach. I don’t expect Arsenal to pile on the goals in this fixture but a grinding win with a couple of telling moments created by Arshavin, Nasri, or RvP should suffice.
Probable starting line-up,
Almunia – Sagna, Squillaci, Koscielny, Clichy – Denilson, Nasri, Wilshere – Rosicky, RvP, Arshavin.
I know the likes of Denilson and Rosicky are not popular figures but at the moment this seems to be the best possible line-up. If things are tight, Ramsey could be introduced at half time or the hour mark.
I expect this game to be settled with a one goal margin. If the tactics are right and there aren’t any glaring individual mistakes it should be at the right end.