West Brom v Arsenal
Barclays Premier League
Kick off: November 29th, 2014 1245 GMT
A victory against Borussia Dortmund was just what the doctor had ordered. We have secured a place in the Knockout Stage with a game to spare which means we can focus on the league until 2015. The first challenge in our path to return closer to the top will take place on Saturday lunch time.
Our opponents West Brom have had a relatively decent campaign so far. They’ve collected just four points less than we have and they’ve managed to keep themselves above the relegation zone. However, they’ve had the same bad period in the league like we have – they’ve lost two in a row as well (Newcastle at home and Chelsea away respectively).
Our visits to the Hawthorns have been rather entertaining lately. In 2010-11 we managed to claw back after being two goals down. In 2011-12 we secured the last Champions’ League place but not before we turned the game around thanks to goals from Andre Santos and Laurent Koscielny while Kieran Gibbs made a heroic tackle to prevent the equalizer that would have launched Spuds into the Champions’ League instead of us. In 2012-13, during our unforgettable run-in, Tomas Rosicky’s brace gave us a solid two-goal-lead before Per Mertesacker’s red card gave us a nervy finish. Despite Romelu Lukaku’s and Shane Long’s efforts, we held onto our lead and won the game. Finally, we paid two visits to West Brom last term. We won the tie in the Capital One Cup on penalties while our league match wasn’t that successful – West Brom went into the break with a lead, Nicolas Anelka had a sitter to double it but it was Jack Wilshere who scored the only goal in the second half to prolong our undefeated streak on the road.
Today we’ll have to face The Baggies without Wilshere who has been injured again in this season from a horror-movie. Wilshere wasn’t the latest casualty as Mikel Arteta and Yaya Sanogo both suffered injuries against Borussia Dortmund. Danny Welbeck is a doubt for the match and it’s still unknown whether he is going to feature today.
The biggest plus for this game should be the return of Laurent Koscielny to the team. The Frenchman has been missed a lot – not just because Nacho Monreal is a make-shift central defender but also because Per Mertesacker’s form has deteriorated since his dearest partner has been on the sidelines. Koscielny’s pace and aggression are qualities that Mertesacker doesn’t have – the German is a master of organization though. Without Koscielny, Mertesacker’s weaknesses are more visible and – unfortunately – more exploitable. Furthermore, Koscielny’s return should give us another attacking option at set-pieces.
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Olivier Giroud might be given his very first league start this term. The striker showed a glimpse of what we had missed while he was on the sidelines with his beautiful goal against Manchester United in injury time. Now, here comes the tricky part – the Frenchman probably lacks match fitness so we should take that into consideration when deciding whether he can play for the full ninety minutes.
The absence of Jack Wilshere raises questions about who is to replace him. At first glance, it would be logical to see Tomas Rosicky in the starting line-up. However, given that there is obviously something happening around Rosicky that only Arsene Wenger and Tomas Rosicky know, I wouldn’t expect the Czech to get more than a cameo in the last twenty minutes.
Emiliano Martinez did a great job against Borussia Dortmund and was one of the best Arsenal players in that game. He might seize the opportunity and keep the spot between the sticks while both of our international goalkeepers are out.
Calum Chambers is probably going to start at the right full-back position as Wenger has been reluctant to give more playing time to our other youngster Hector Bellerin.
Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny will start in the heart of our defence, with special attention being paid to Saido Berahino, the most dangerous player of West Brom.
Kieran Gibbs will start on the left, as usual. In case we start with Cazorla on the left flank and Alexis in the attack, he might have to work over-time as the Spaniard doesn’t have the same defensive awareness as Alexis does.
Mathieu Flamini will probably return to the team due to Arteta’s injury.
Aaron Ramsey will probably start next to Flamini. Both of them have to improve their form as their performances will be the key to our success.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has looked lively lately and all he needs is the final product. His pace should torment the hosts today.
Santi Cazorla gave a promising performance against Borussia Dortmund and he should pick up where he left off on Wednesday.
Alexis Sánchez is going to be our biggest hope again. The Chilean has been brilliant this term and we need his goals to win the game today as well. There is a possibility that Wenger might use him as our lone striker, at least in the first half, due to Welbeck’s injury problems and Giroud’s match fitness.
Olivier Giroud has had good numbers this term (aside from the number of matches he had to miss due to injury, that is). He has scored three goals in five appearances and he needed just 85 minutes in the league to score twice. In our last match against West Brom – our penultimate league match last season – Giroud scored the only goal with a powerful header after Cazorla’s corner.
It’s not going to be an easy game. We have been defensively vulnerable and our attack has spurned too many chances for our own good. We played a match against Borussia on Wednesday night and we have to play a league match two-and-half days later. Unbelievable. On the other hand, we should beat teams like West Brom in nine out of ten occasions as quality is totally on our side, even when we have so many injured players.
I would say we’ll win 2:1, with Alexis and Giroud as our scorers and Berahino scoring a goal for the hosts.
Head to Head
Premier League (EPL) 4 May 2014 Arsenal FC 1 – WBA 0
Premier League (EPL) 6 Oct 2013 WBA 1 – Arsenal FC 1
Capital One Cup (CCUP) 25 Sep 2013 WBA 1 – Arsenal FC 1
Premier League (EPL) 6 Apr 2013 WBA 1 – Arsenal FC 2
Premier League (EPL) 8 Dec 2012 Arsenal FC 2 – WBA 0
Chambers Mertesacker (c) Koscielny Gibbs
Chamberlain Cazorla Alexis