A lunchtime kick off today means there’s no hanging around before we get in to the football action this weekend. I kind of like that. It feels like we’ve had to wait for Arsenal to play of late, so to get a game in nice and early on a Saturday is pretty good for me, especially as I’m not going to the game. If I was travelling up to West Bromwich i’d probably be a right grumpy ol’ git, because i’d have had to get up at some ungodly hour on a Saturday, but I’m not so i’m kind of ok with the 12.30pm kick off.
But this’ll be tough. Make no mistake. West Brom and Tony Pulis will have seen that this Arsenal teams has been fragile of late and he’ll know the damage the first goal could do to us. Against Lincoln in the first half we were poor. Against Liverpool we were poor. Against Sutton we didn’t exactly set the world alight first half and the same can be said about Bournemouth, Chelski, Hull, Watford and Burnley we’ve looked sluggish every time. So for me a first half with a bit of zip and bite about us will make the world of difference. Sadly that recent history suggests that we won’t get it, so I’m expecting an Arsenal team with fragile confidence to start today’s game with a cautious approach and slower build up as the players suss out the threats in this Baggies team.
They should already know the threats though. Rondon is their strong, powerful centre forward who can hold off defenders and so they will naturally look to him to run channels and outmuscle Koscielny or Mustafi. They’ll look to get Chadli and McClean to support him through wide forward play and so getting in behind and putting balls in will probably be where they’ll look to hit us. They’ll also likely make use of their aerial threat in set pieces. I think I heard Arsene say in his presser that they are the top team in the league when it comes to set piece efficiency, so that tells you what you need to know about how they will approach today’s game, and where they will look to take advantage.
That’s why, oddly, I wouldn’t be too upset to see Giroud. I expect Arsenal to have plenty of the ball today and for West Brom to try to remain strong in defence. I would be surprised if it’s a game in which they play a higher line – which is when Giroud is weaker – so if they sit deeper it kind of plays to his strengths. But not only that, he’s also a very handy person when defending set pieces. He wins a lot of headers in our own box, so having somebody like that on the field has merit at both ends of the pitch.
Behind him I’d expect to see Ozil in the number 10 position and most likely Alexis and Theo out wide. We’ve all talked about how the 4-3-3 formation (or variant of) has been working, but I don’t see Arsene playing the Ox, Ramsey and Xhaka when Ozil is now fully available. If that is the case, then I hope the Ox is fit enough to start, because him and Xhaka works better than Ramsey in the middle. If the Ox still isn’t 100%, then i’m really at a loss as to what the best option is. Coquelin perhaps, but he can be so frustrating in his general cranes sometimes, where as Ramsey/Xhaka was supposed to be the answer but has never really given anyone any belief that it could be. So I really don’t know what the best move is if the Ox isn’t available. But I guess I’m not paid £8million a year to work that out.
The back for will most likely be the same as last weekend against Lincoln – minus Gibbs – and despite how poor they’ve been this season, right now it’s hardly like there are any other options that Arsene could shuffle around. Big Per hasn’t played at all and bringing him in for a physical game like this doesn’t seem likely, and Gibbs is injured so naturally it has to be Nacho.
A defeat will be another nail in the Wenger coffin I’m afraid. Even a draw will see us lose further ground, so the manager and his players really have no wiggle room, they simply must win to start to get some kind of semblance of form together. But more than anything else, we want to start seeing those players actually look like they want it. There’s been too much self-doubt and feeling sorry for themselves in the Arsenal camp this side of Christmas. Somebody has to say to them that the only way to get out of that funk is to put the effort and desire in themselves, trust in their own ability, and win frigging football matches.
All seems so simple when you say it like that, eh?
Come on you reds, let’s have something to cheer about come 3pm.