Morning Gooners and welcome to the first Saturday of 2021 and blow me down if it isn’t a Saturday match day for us. We’ve had so many Sunday’s as a result of cup competitions and the Europa League, that playing on a Saturday feels like a novelty. Alright, it may be an 8pm kick off and therefore take out any chances of having any kind of an evening as well as be one of the lasting memories of the day, but at least it isn’t a Sunday 7.15pm kick off. Those are the pits.
Of course if Arsenal can do something ground-breaking and win their third match in a row, then it makes falling asleep to the memories of victory much more enjoyable and if we can beat West Brom tonight at the Hawthorns then may – just maybe – we can start thinking about whether this Arsenal team have turned a corner under Arteta.
The man himself has been explaining that life has been a little better at the training ground and how confidence-wise the place has been a little different to the run up to Christmas that we had to endure. Arteta said that there is more freedom and belief and my hope for today’s game is that it is manifested in tonight’s performance. What we want to see is more risk-taking from the players that are selected. Let’s see them attempt those more difficult forward passes into channels, rather than to check back with the ball and play the safe and sideways options. Let’s see players making those committed runs in the final third and by gosh, let’s see us attempt more chances against a team who lost their last home games 5-o. 3-0 and 5-1. That is the kind of run that will either knock a team low on confidence lower, or it could even be this game as their turnaround match. Heck, we know how Arsenal are the team that likes to give. Before we beat Brighton they hadn’t lost in five and their only home win in 2020 was against…surprise surprise…The Arsenal.
So for tonight’s match up I’m not expecting the poor sides that have been so heavily beaten in their three most recent home matches. I’m expecting a battling performance like the one that earned them a point at Anfield – something we haven’t done for years – and I think that is what Sam Allardyce is going to hope for tonight too. He even suggested it in his pre match press conference, talking about how he hoped the West Brom team saw Arsenal as a big side, because they will possibly repeat their efforts compared to playing a team like Leeds or Aston Villa. That worries me I have to say. It worries me because despite being the home team, with no home fans in the ground there won’t be the pressure of driving the team forward and creating urgency to attack more. West Brom just got hammered at home to Leeds, there is no way they are going to have a go at us tonight.
What I am expecting, therefore, is a very frustrating evening football. West Brom will let us have it, they will be compact and set up in a low block, with the intention of frustrating us and hitting on the counter. Sam Allardyce may be a bit of a football dinosaur, but he knows how to set up a low block and his aim will be for maximum frustration of the Arsenal. We’ve only seen two games under his stewardship but in the game against Liverpool Klopp bemoaned the fact that West Brom played a ‘6-4’ formation. I’d be surprised if we didn’t see that today. That would be a back three, with wing backs who will probably sit deep and in line with the other back three, as well as one of their defensive midfielders – Sawyers and Gallagher (in the absence of Livermore) probably dropping in to that line. The other will also drop deep and make it compact and tough to find space in what I expect to be a crowded final third of the pitch.
That’s where we will have to have more urgency and that’s where we will need to be infinitely quicker in our movement of the football. No players with four or five touches before they need to make a pass; we need to see quick interchanging of possession to move West Brom players out of position to create space.
In terms of who plays for Arsenal, I suspect we might see one or two changes from the Brighton game. I think one of Smith-Rowe and Martinelli probably makes way, although I am hoping not both. If both make way I fear a return of the painfully out of form Willian and the last thing any of us need is him wandering about the place, not glosing down space, not creating chances and generally lingering like a bad smell. But I do fear it today. Both Martinelli and Smith-Rowe have both brought energy and drive to the team, but both have been injured for long periods, which means they may well be pulled out from the start tonight.
But if that happens, I just hope that Arteta has a plan to use both of them in the second half, because they will bring an energy and desire and I suspect it will need to be injected in to the team, especially if we are being frustrated by an organised West Brom side.
A win tonight puts us definitely back on track in my opinion. It means more confidence, takes us in to an FA Cup game with Newcastle next weekend, before a home match against Crystal Palace on 14th January. We don’t want to literally take two steps forward in Chelski and Brighton, to only take one step back, so I hope the importance of that is drilled into the players tonight.
I’ll be doing a post-match pub with the lads from GunnersTown this evening straight after the game, so if you want some initial reaction then feel free to tune in. You can listen live here later.
Anyhoo, I’m off to take down some Christmas decorations. Catch y’all in the morrow. Or later if you fancy listening in/watching.