The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
April 06, 2013; 15:00 GMT
The last time West Bromwich Albion defeated Arsenal FC at the Hawthorns was way back in 2005, when Darren Carter scored the winner in the 76th minute of the match, but the equalizer was scored by a former Gunner – Nwankwo Kanu. Since then Arsene Wenger’s men have won three and drawn one at the Hawthorns. Incidentally, the last time West Brom beat Arsenal was at the Emirates in 2010, when another former Gunner, Jerome Thomas, was on the score sheet for the Baggies.
Steve Clarke’s side made a brilliant start to the Premier League campaign, but they went off the boil a bit after December. Since the new year, the Baggies have won only three matches. But their wonderful performances in the first half of the season has ensured that they will finish in the top half of the table at the least – and that in itself is a wonderful achievement for the team considering most of the pundits expected them to be in the relegation battle at the start of the season.
West Brom come into this fixture on the back of a 3-1 defeat to West Ham, but their home form has improved recently and they have won their last two matches at the Hawthorns – against Sunderland and Swansea. Steve Clark’s side is currently 8th in the league and in truth don’t have much to play for in their remaining matches.
For Arsenal though, this is a must win game, as most of their remaining fixtures are. Arsene Wenger needs his team to finish in the top four, not only to salvage what remains of this season, but because it is also crucial for them to rebuild their squad for next season – without Champions League football, they will have difficulties in attracting big names to the Emirates.
The Gunners are currently fifth in the league table and are four points behind Tottenham Hotspur with a game in hand. Since Spurs play on Sunday, Arsenal have the opportunity to close the gap down to just one point. The fact that Tottenham hosts Everton, also means that there is a possibility of Spurs dropping points this weekend, but the most important factor is that Arsenal needs to win this fixture. They are on a good run of form in the league as well, having lost just once in their last eight matches, and perhaps more importantly, Arsenal’s defence has conceded just one goal in their last three matches. So the team would go into this game with a lot of confidence and are definitely the favourites to pick up the three points.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Steve Clarke doesn’t have a lot of injury worries to deal with at the moment. James Morrison, who missed out their last match due to an injury, will undergo a late fitness test and is expected to be in the starting line-up. Midfielder Youssuf Mulumbu will miss this match due to suspension after picking up a red card in the 90th minute of the match against West Ham. Thorne and Gera are the only long-term injury concerns for the Baggies at the moment.
West Brom are unlikely to play in the 4-4-2 formation that they deployed against West Ham. Against an attacking team like Arsenal, they would need more body in the midfield; hence they will play just Lukaku upfront with Shane Long dropping to the bench. Steve Clarke will switch to the 4-2-3-1 formation and Mulumbu’s absence will mean that utility man Chris Brunt will be deployed in the double pivot role alongside Claudio Yacob.
Jerome Thomas will make a return to the starting eleven and will play in the wide left role with Dorrans on the right. Morrison will look to provide the creativity and will link up play between midfield and attack. Lukaku will be the key for West Brom, as his physical presence upfront is sure to cause trouble to the Arsenal back-line. No changes are expected in the West Brom backline despite conceding three goals to West Ham.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Foster; Jones, McAuley, Olsson, Ridgewell; Yacob, Brunt; Dorrans, Morrison, Thomas; Lukaku
Arsenal are sweating over the fitness of Theo Walcott, who picked up an injury while he was on international duty with England, along with Jack Wilshere. Although the former is expected to make it to the bench in this match, Wilshere is still a week away from first team action. Moreover, Arsene Wenger is unlikely to take any risk with Jack and will give him enough time to recover.
Nacho Monreal, who was substituted in the last match with a niggling injury, is fit once again and will start at left-back. Gervinho was in good form against Reading, which means Arsene Wenger won’t have to force a quick return for Walcott and the Ivorian international is expected to start once again. Abou Diaby remains the only long term concern for Arsenal at the moment.
The talking point over the past few weeks has been the exclusion of Thomas Vermaelen and Szczesny from the starting eleven. But it is only fair to say that the duo will have to earn their place back into the side as both Koscielny and Fabianski have been very reliable since featuring in the starting line-up; both are expected to start once again in this match. No other change is expected to be made to the team that started against Reading, which means Podolski will once again start from the bench.
The only cause for worry in this match is how the two centre-backs will handle Lukaku, who is the biggest threat in this West Brom side. The midfield will have to cut down the supply to the front man, while Arteta and Ramsey have to be careful about not giving the ball away in their own half as West Brom can counter-attack very quickly and it will be hard for the Arsenal back-line to stop the on-loan Chelsea forward if he gets in-behind them.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Fabianski; Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal; Arteta, Ramsey; Cazorla, Rosicky, Gervinho; Giroud.
- Arsenal have won each of their last three Barclays Premier League clashes against West Bromwich Albion.
- Steve Clarke’s side have won back-to-back home games for the first time since November 2012 thanks to consecutive 2-1 wins over Sunderland and Swansea.
- No team have scored more goals after the 76th minute of matches this season than Arsenal (15).
- West Brom’s pairing of Jonas Olsson and Gareth McAuley have made 32 blocks each this season. Only Ryan Shawcross (33) and Ashley Williams (42) have made more.
- Mikel Arteta has scored three goals in his last three Premier League games against West Bromwich Albion; including two penalties in the last meeting between the clubs.
Player To Watch Out For
Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal)
It has been an age since the midfielder has made it to this segment of the preview, but his wonderful performance against Reading means he more than deserves to be in the spotlight. But that performance last weekend wasn’t an exception, the Welshman has been improving with every passing game this season and although he isn’t at his best yet, it seems like he will reach there soon.
Ramsey has fought through a career-threatening injury and heavy criticism to come back and make his presence felt. Arsene Wenger has used him nearly all over the pitch but the youngster has answered the call of duty without a flinch. His stats against Reading – 90% Passing accuracy, 100% Long ball accuracy, 4 chances created and 6 Interceptions made! Good enough for us to make his the Player to Watch Out For.
West Brom 1 – 3 Arsenal
As mentioned earlier, mid-table teams like West Brom and Swansea are fighting lack of motivation in matches as much they are fighting the opponents at this late stage of the season. But for Arsenal, the motivation and incentive can’t get any bigger and this will prove to be the biggest difference, apart from the difference in quality. Arsenal should win this comfortably by a two goal margin.