This weekend will see a game between two teams with contrasting fortunes. Arsenal sit in 10th place, losing form and patience, whilst West Brom are in 5th boasting their best ever start to a Premier League season.
The away side have slipped up of late, with two defeats on the bounce, however they were unfortunate against Stoke, their perennial bogey team and only woke up against Swansea 3 goals down. The Baggies have failed to keep a clean sheet in 95% of their last 20 away games, although have scored in 8 out of 10 on the road. Against an Arsenal defence who have leaked goals in all but 4 games all season, Steve Clarke will be confident his team can snatch a point or more from this game.
The Gunners meanwhile, are in serious danger of dropping off the European places before the turn of the year. Fans are showing signs of discontent towards their team and even unthinkably towards Arsene Wenger. A convincing defeat to Swansea at home last week did not help their cause and this is a game every player will have to stand up and be counted.
Arsenal have only ever lost twice to the Baggies during the Premier League Era although they will take comfort from the fact that one of those victories was at The Emirates.
The last time these two met at The Emirates, it ended in a 3-0 home win; however West Brom had 29% shooting accuracy on the day, compared to the 46% in the league this season.
Arsenal will be without Lukas Podolski and Theo Walcott who are unavailable due to illness and a calf problem respectively. As well as being joint top scorers for the club with 4-a-piece, they have more goal assists than anyone else in the side. With both players being vital components to the attacking make-up for Wenger, he will have all his trust put into Spanish starlet Santi Cazorla.
Bacary Sagna and Laurent Koscielny have not recovered from their injuries and will also miss out.
West Brom have no new injury problems, as Billy Jones faces a lengthy spell on the side-line’s and Ben Foster is close to full fitness, but will not be available on Saturday.
Ones to Watch
With Podolski side-lined, Olivier Giroud will most likely be the man to take the lone role upfront. Even though the Frenchman had a slow start, he has started to prove why he was worth the £13 million outlay from Montpellier. Over the course of the season his shooting accuracy is a poor 45%, however since his first goal for the club against West Ham in October, there has been a noticeable difference in his consistency in front of goal. He has improved his accuracy to 55%, which could have been higher had he not missed 43% of his chances against Fulham in November – ironically a game in which he scored 2 goals. The supply to the striker has been limited at times, a constant reminder of the lack of creative influences behind him.
However, Santi Cazorla will be crucial, as the former Malaga winger has shown how important he is in all the aspects of creativity compared to his team-mates.
The men who will be employed to stop the Spaniard and any forward momentum, will be Claudio Yacob and Youssuf Mulumbu. Both players have been rocks in the centre of West Broms midfield, breaking down many opposition attacks, allowing counter-attacks to ensue, which have been a feature of Clarke’s style.
Due to the arrival of Yacob, Mulumbu ha s been given extra license to move forward and as well as breaking up play, he has made the most accurate forward passes in the squad all season. With 341 out of the 411 forward passes finding a team-mate, his ability as a ball player has started to come to the fore. This a major reason for Shane Long and Romelu Lukaku showing their attacking prowess.
Even though West Brom do not have a great record at The Emirates and have lost the last 2 games, I do think they will give Arsenal a very good game. Their midfield have the potential to stifle Arsenals attack and they certainly have the players to cause Thomas Vermaelen and co major problems.
Prediction – Arsenal 1-2 West Brom