There is a mini-trend that Arsenal just have to curb. The Gunners have gone into the previous two international breaks on the back of defeats – United and Spurs – that have made the fortnight unbearable. It will be nice to have a positive feeling during the upcoming disruption. That means only a win will be the acceptable result at the Emirates against the Baggies.
The visitors had a tough start to the season losing their first three, and four out of the opening five. Since then they have improved and the loss against Liverpool last week was their only one in the previous five league games.
Hodgson’s side have a better away record than their home form with wins against Norwich and Villa on the road. More interestingly, their opening two losses came against Manchester United and Chelsea in games that were closely fought, especially considering the gap between the sides that one would expect. Arsenal will not have it all their way at the Emirates.
This could be an interesting tactical battle. Hodgson has faced Arsene in the Premier League with four different sides and has achieved a fair bit of success, especially with Fulham. West Brom will not be too dissimilar. Fulham relied a lot on a coordinated pressing effort in the middle third but Arsenal have retained the ball appreciably in the recent games, resisting the pressure applied by quality opponents. If West Brom try the same, they could be clinically dismantled. In this game we might see a more narrow defence that is happy to sit deeper.
However, there are some interesting numbers that could give us a hint about the visitors’ approach. They have collected seven of their total eleven points away from home. And five of their nine goals have come in the opening 10 minutes. We could see early pressure from the Baggies with the hope of forcing a mistake. Subsequently, with or without a goal, they’d ease off and drop back relying largely on counter-attacks and set-pieces.
The best way of disrupting their tactics is, of course, to score early. If Wenger sets his midfield up to absorb this pressure without conceding possession, has one wide player making central runs and another supporting Van Persie, Arsenal could take an early lead in this game which will take the pressure off and change the tactical dynamics. If Song and Arteta push up early on we could see the midfield getting caught in a no-man’s land leading to difficult moments in the defensive third.
Last season West Brom managed 3-0 and 2-0 leads. Those were lethargic performances with a number of individual errors. Arsenal were exposed on the counter-attacks, from a long ball, and via a set-piece. The defence has been better off late but question marks will hang over the back five until a long, solid run is put together.
By and large there should be enough quality in the Arsenal squad to see this one through. Then again, last season I was expecting an easy win so these days caution is the key mantra in my head.
Wenger does have some choices to make in his team selection and it must be a welcome headache for Le Boss. He will have to pick two from Koscielny, Mertesacker, and Vermaelen. The German complements the other two so from a balance point of view either pairing would work. However, I feel West Brom’s biggest threat is on the break and having two quick players like Vermaelen and Koscielny can be an interesting tactical choice. Some might say Vermaelen has already played too much just after returning from injury so the regular pairing of Koscielny and Mertesacker would work best. I guess such a decision is best left to the Boss.
In the middle Song, Ramsey, and Arteta are showing the benefits of playing together. I can’t see any reason for disrupting that combination unless there is a genuine fitness concern. Rosicky, Benayoun, and the others will have to bide their time. Ramsey had a poor game at the Hawthornes last season just after returning from injury. It will be nice if he can put a strong performance in this one.
Up front, Van Persie will obviously get his place back. The choice would be between Theo, Gervinho, and Arshavin. Again I don’t expect any changes unless one of the wide players is tired. Walcott would be the most likely candidate for a breather in that case.
Szczesny – Jenkinson, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Santos – Song, Ramsey, Arteta – Theo, RvP, Gervinho.
Here’s to a pleasant fortnight.