West Brom Preview: Small Steps On The Road To Recovery
West Bromwich Albion arrive at The Emirates for this afternoon’s Premier League encounter, a sore reminder of when things went awry this season. A reminder, as if they needed one, for the team that turning up does not equate to a victory; they have to work hard it. The Arsenal squad are in a bouyant mood, a run of one defeat in ten matches has changed the season around. It begs the question, when does a season turn the corner from the poor start that has been made? Eight wins and a draw for any other team in those ten would be considered such a turnaround.
But this is Arsenal and that is not the case. You would have thought that winning 5-3 at Stamford Bridge might have changed that perception but perhaps a place in the top four is the solution, and sufficient points ahead of anyone who might have a game in hand. A win today is will not see that happen, indeed drawing level with fourth place on points would mean that even by the topsy-turvy standards of this season, today’s results and performances have been astonishing.
Vulnerability and over–confidence were Arsène’s watch words yesterday, keen to dispel the myth of Manchester City’s invincibility whilst not letting Arsenal get too far ahead of themselves. It’s okay, Arsène, nobody is calling Arsenal title contenders yet. Or probably at all this season. It’s one of those campaigns where going about your business quietly is probably the best course of action. Keep on winning, close the gap on those above, pick off rivals one by one and see where you end in May.
To do that, one or two more players need to step forward and shoulder goalscoring responsibilities. Robin van Persie is in a rich vein of form and under those circumstances, it is not surprising when others look to pass to him rather than take on the shooting opportunities. However, his form and fitness cannot be relied upon – no player can be expected to play 50 games in a season and score a goal a game. It is for Theo and Gervinho, amongst others, to step forward.
Walcott has made no secret of his desire to play centrally and has the pace to do so. Often criticised for being athletic but not a talented footballer, his shortcomings of few goals and wayward delivery are gradually being laid to rest. It is one of those issues though, that requires time. Consistency of performance over several seasons will decide whether he can fulfil his ambitions. Like Gervinho, he is capable of scintilating speed and opportunism; both are capable of frustrating with seemingly easy chances going begging. Despite his protestations to the contrary, it would be of little surprise to see him seek a solution to the problem in January’s transfer window.
And goals is the issue with the forwards. No-one can criticise their workrate or the selflessness of their play. For a number of seasons the squad have been generous in their construction of chances for others; perhaps a bit of selfishness might do wonders for the individual’s confidence and as a by-product, that of the team.
Creativeness is something normally associated with midfield and attack. Arsène has a history of converting midfielders into full backs; now he has to convert a full back into well, a defender. Andre Santos’ raids on the left have brought more goals in the first months of his Arsenal career than Gael Clichy managed over his entire career. That is no problem but it is the defensive duties which cause consternaton. Or more accurately, a mass outbreak of hypertension.
There is little to argue with the manager’s contention that an attacking defender can win games; if their colleagues are not on the ball, they can lose them as well. Due to injury, Wenger has found on the right a youngster who can deliver a decent cross. This season has been pressure that Carl Jenkinson might well have wanted to do without but he is adjusting to his circumstances, growing with confidence with every game.
Santos, I believe, is still adapting. His flambouyant style has not been curbed yet but the Premier League is perhaps more clinical in capitalising on human error. Whenever you change jobs, you take time to adapt to the culture of your surroundings and employers. Some do so more quickly than others, compare Santos with Park for example. I suspect the Brazilian will become tighter as the defence becomes more cohesive.
There will be a change in the back four this afternoon; Per Mertesacker seems to be linked with a rest so Laurent Koscielny comes in to partner Thomas Vermaelen. This partnership, whatever it may end, has to be nailed pretty quickly. Vermaelen has done well in his return but Koscielny and Mertesacker have done well in combination whilst the Belgian was out. To leave either out is harsh but necessary.
Other than that, there will be few changes. van Persie will return whilst I suspect Arshavin will drop in for Walcott. Possibly Arteta will be warming the bench, taking a rest although as he has no international fixtures is that necessary. Perhaps not. The line-up I expect this afternoon is:
Szczesny; Jenkinson, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Santos; Rosicky, Song, Ramsey; Arshavin, van Persie, Gervinho
Just in case the Arsenal players were feeling confident, they are playing with the weight of recent history against them. Arsenal have not won any of the last six November encounters against The Baggies, 4 draws and two defeats. Indeed of the twelve meetings in this month, Arsenal have only won 3, the last in 1951 which was the only home victory in the dozen as well. Perhaps we can change that and have a 5th of November to remember for the right reasons.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.