The Premier League has a full schedule this weekend and the focus will once again be on the race for the Champions League. This season has been competitive with six very good teams and it is shaping up to be the most exciting contest for the top four in a long time. Arsenal may have finished in the top four for the last 20 seasons, but there are no guarantees about them doing so again this campaign. They are currently in 5th position and five points behind Liverpool above them, albeit they have two matches in charge. That said, they can’t afford to lose any more ground, which makes this weekend’s match against West Brom a must win.
The Baggies are enjoying their best season under Tony Pulis, but they have slowed down after reaching 40 points. Although they remain in 8th position, they have lost their last two matches and that will fill Arsenal with confidence. There were doubts about whether Pulis should have been awarded a new contract at the beginning of the season, but it now looking like the correct decision. He has taken the team onto the next level and they should be confident of remaining in the top eight until May.
Despite reaching the FA Cup semi finals, the last few weeks haven’t been great for Arsenal. There have been a growing number of fan protests focusing on Arsene Wenger’s future, while a number of key players have been linked with summer moves away from the club. It is important that the Gunners don’t get distracted from the matter in hand, which is qualifying for next season’s Champions League. They have a run of winnable matches ahead of them and it is crucial that they go into the international break on a relative high. A loss at the Hawthornes would be a disaster and one that the team may not be able to bounce back from.
In the previous meeting between the two clubs this season, Arsenal ran out narrow winners at the Emirates Stadium. Olivier Giroud netted the goal for the hosts on Boxing Day. However, it was the Baggies that came out on top in the corresponding fixture from last season and that should provide them with hope for this weekend. Giroud found the net for Arsenal again on that day, but a strike from James Morrison and an own goal from Mikel Arteta gave the points to Tony Pulis’ men.
- Tony Pulis has now managed 300 matches in the Premier League. He has won 95, drawn 87 and lost 117.
- Alexis Sanchez has had a hand in 35 goals this season, which is more than any other Premier League player in all competitions.
It has been a good first season for Nacer Chadli at West Brom. The former Tottenham man has added much needed creativity and flair to the Baggies’ midfield, which has improved their attack immensely. He has featured in 23 Premier League matches, contributing five goals and four assists. Considering he is playing in a side that relies more on set pieces, this is a good return and underlines the quality that he possesses. On Saturday, Arsenal will dominate possession, but their defence won’t be full of confidence after being put to the sword by Bayern Munich. It is important that West Brom offer a threat from open play and Chadli has the dynamism to cause the Gunners plenty of problems. The home side will rely on counter attacks and Chadli is one of the few players in their team with the pace to carry out such an instruction effectively. If Tony Pulis’ side are going to create chances from open play, the 27-year-old Belgian will be central to their chances.
After being snubbed by Gareth Southgate this week, Theo Walcott will be keen to deliver a good performance to show why he should have been included in the England squad. He has actually been one of Arsenal’s better performers recently and scored a crucial goal against Lincoln City to relieve the pressure before half-time. The forward has scored 17 goals in all competitions and it was a huge surprise that he was left out of the England squad this week. West Brom will look to frustrate Arsenal this weekend and use a deep block to limit the space given to the away side’s attackers. Over the past few weeks, Walcott has been very intelligent when it comes to finding space and he will be key to the visitors’ attack this weekend. Although Arsenal have relied on Alexis Sanchez at times this season, Walcott has the ability to score crucial goals and he will be a huge threat this weekend.
Matt Phillips could return after missing the last few matches with a hamstring injury. Aside from the doubt about the winger, the Baggies have a fully fit squad for the visit of Arsenal.
Kieran Gibbs and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are both doubts for this weekend and face late fitness tests. Mohamed Elneny is back training and could be considered for the trip to the Hawthornes. Santi Cazorla remains on the treatment table.
The visitors need to win this weekend in order to keep in touch with the top four. Liverpool and Manchester City are going up against each other, which means that at least one side above Arsenal will drop points. The atmosphere within the fan-base hasn’t been good since the first leg defeat against Bayern Munich and a positive result is needed to go into the international break with some momentum. West Brom haven’t been as good during their last two matches and for that reason, I expect a narrow away win.