After a weekend in which every other Premier League team got their chance to showcase what they’ve got in their side, its us and West Brom tonight who face off against each other, in a fixture in which few will surely want in terms of timings.
Let’s face it – Monday night football is fun to watch when it isn’t your team. It means you go the whole weekend and you’ve already started your working week (for most) so it kind of feels like you’ve had to go through a mini interlull to get to your game.
But at least it’s here and it’s a visit of Tony Pulis’ West Brom who we will be hoping to build on our confidence following the Chelski game to pick up three points. We know what we need to do and we know exactly how the opposition will play, so it is a case of working out how to break down a stubborn opponent, who has a few pointy spines it can use offensively to hurt us.
West Brom will be compact. They will look to have little space in between their back four and in behind it. The return of Kieran Gibbs will provide an initial moment of cheer and appreciation from the home fans when we kick off, but thereafter he’ll be the enemy and given that he’s absolutely nailed on to have the game of his life tonight, I’m wondering how he’ll get on defensively. For us he wasn’t too bad, his end product had some frustrations, but I always thought he was a good player. It’ll be interesting to see if he improves defensively under Pulis.
Because he will get drilled under that tracksuit wearing, chewing gum gnarling, ASBO looking baseball cap loving manager. Pulis organises his teams to be difficult to break down and with Krychowiak sitting just in front and Barry and Morrison with him, this game is going to feel very congested at times, especially when we have the ball and we’re building from the back.
Which is why I’m wondering whether patience will need to be the virtue we all need tonight. I certainly think it needs to come from the home fans because I don’t see us getting an early goal like our last two home league games. What we do need to see quickly though is purpose. The ball needs to be moved around the pitch with intention and drive. Too often in recent years in this sort of game we’ve seen an Arsenal team who have retained possession without doing anything. It’s one thing to move the ball from side to side in front of your opponents goal looking for an opening, but if you’re then not trying to penetrate then you are playing in to your opponents hands. The crowd start to get jittery and we have one of those nights.
Which is why I want to see a more offensive-looking Rambo tonight. He’s a body in the box and an extra one at that. If it means he’s having an impact in overloading then fine. I know we’ve all seen just how exposed we can get – like the goal we conceded against Stoke – but if the pattern of the game is eight or nine of West Brom’s players camped on the 18 yard box, then one up top against our back three should be enough. You’d hope, anyway.
Of course the other option is to opt for a back four and move the extra defender in to midfield to cover space Ramsey doesn’t take up, but that feels very much like Wenger’s ‘Plan B’ when things aren’t working, rather than something that we’d see from the start. If he did go down that route it could mean Elneny covering all of the ground and Xhaka spraying those balls around, with Ramsey further forward whilst Özil and Alexis float with Lacazette at the apex, but I don’t think we’ll see that from the start.
Which means we’ll probably see the same formation as Chelski away, but I’d imagine with Welbeck and Iwobi swapped with Özil and Alexis. That front three have never played together yet, so if it does happen it will be interesting to see how they operate together. Effectively, one must hope.
The danger in the West Brom side is the pace of Phillips and McClean and it’ll be interesting to see if Rodriguez or Rondon start tonight. I know Rodriguez has been starting of late, but unless Rondon is injured you’d think that a physical unit like that could have enough about him to cause us some issues, so if I was Pulis that’s what I’d be going with.
Tonight’s game might not be won in the first 30 minutes, but I have a feeling the attitude and purpose of this Arsenal team during that time will set the tone, so I’m just hoping to see enough to suggest that this won’t be a tippy-tappy night.
Three points please, Arsenal.