West Bromwich Albion Preview: Sign Off With A Win
Arsenal travel to The Hawthorns knowing that a win is essential in the pursuit of the Premier League, to capitalise on any possible slip today by leaders Manchester United, no matter how unlikely that seems this morning. The international break is upon us and a win would do wonders for everyone leading into this spell.
Captaincy continues to be a thorny issue with the footballing culture in England demanding that the leader of the team be extremely vocal, with a forceful character. Wenger has on several occasions noted that the role is overplayed, that the issue is not as important as is made out.
Yesterday he was pushed further on the matter, reminded of 2004 when the team had exited cup competitions in quick succession, needing a Thierry Henry hat-trick to overcome Liverpool at Highbury to set the season back on track. He conceded that the dressing room was quieter, this instantly seized upon as some cultural deformity, with the follow-up that he did not believe the dressing room needed it entirely forgotten. Or perhaps that should be wilfully forgotten.
Either way, his club captain is missing. Cesc’s passing will be missed, the side that took on Manchester United is likely to be close to the line-up that takes the field this afternoon. The players will need to be diligent in their duties. Albion have improved in recent weeks, suggesting that the failings of Roy Hodgson’s reign at Anfield were not entirely managerial shortcomings.
Manuel Almunia will no doubt be looking to improve upon the last meeting between the two sides. It was his final appearance in an Arsenal shirt as far as the Premier League, or any competition for that matter, until the fates conspired to give him redemption despite the Hell of recent team performances. Two defeats and no criticism of the goalkeeper for either. A strong performance this afternoon is not going to quell his critics but it might quieten them down a while.
There are other defensive targets for blame. Sebastien Squillaci will never be everyone’s cup of tea. His form dipped before Christmas – acknowledged by the manager – and he is not part of the usual first team partnership, Djourou’s impressive season cruelly curtailed by injury has given the Frenchman his chance at redemption.
It is time for him to stand tall and prove his critics wrong. He has enough experience to be able to do this, time with Lyon, Sevilla and Les Bleus is not idly spent. He cannot handle the physical aspects of the English game, so the theory goes, yet coped with Stoke’s agricultural approach to the game, helping to subdue in the first half before battening down the hatches in the second.
The line-up I would expect this afternoon is:
Almunia; Sagna, Squillaci, Koscielny, Clichy; Nasri, Denilson, Rosicky, Wilshere, Arshavin; van Persie
Possibly Arsène might go with Bendtner instead of Rosicky but I am not convinced this will be the case.
Arsenal’s recent record on this ground is encouraging. One defeat in the last sixteen visits, a run that stretches to two in the last twenty, suggests that there is nothing to be fearful of. Yet as the home game last year proved, arrogance leads to defeat. Now is not the time to believe that the game is won by simply stepping onto the pitch. A time to prove that this past month has been a mini-wobble and that is it.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.