It’s the West Bromwich Albion enigma the Gunners have to crack today and, taking into account our poor recent form and the fact Pulis is in charge of the Baggies, this is not going to be a walk in the park.
Team news update
Arsene Wenger faces an unenviable task of shaking the current crop out of their limbo, though I hope the thrashing of Lincoln has gone some way to helping the Frenchman do that. What also helps is a near full squad:
“Overall it’s the squad that was available for Lincoln. Elneny has joined in again. Apart from Cazorla, we should have everybody available.”
The Frenchman did say Gibbs is an ‘uncertainty’ and that Ox will have a late test, but Monreal is keen and able, while Ramsey’s return alleviates the midfield depth worries. Needless to say I would like to see Ox start in that central spot, however Aaron is the next best thing given Cazorla’s absence.
Barring Monreal for Gibbs most likely, I expect no changes to the back five that faced Lincoln a week ago. It’s the midfield and front line where things can get interesting giving our numerous options and their relative usefulness.
Coquelin and Iwobi appear to have cemented their place on the bench for the time being, and I have few complaints here. The Nigerian was badly out of form for some time prior to being dropped, while Coquelin had a couple of dreadful performances that probably changed Wenger’s mind on his compatriot, at least to some extent.
It will be intriguing to see whether Arsene reintroduces Mesut Ozil and in what role if so. Given we’ll likely have to deal with an organised defence, I’d say the German is vital for picking the lock of this door. However, a wide area might suit him better than his favoured central position, as his preferred type of pass usually happens from the wing. The battle for the front three places is pretty hot to introduce Ozil to the mix, so I’d assume Wenger will continue his experiment with Ozil as part of the flat midfield trio. Xhaka and Ox should complete it.
Up front we have Danny Welbeck available again, and I do wonder whether Arsene will be tempted to revisit his Bayern experiment (not losing 5-1, starting a pacy front three). I guess at this point we can safely assume Lucas won’t start, so we might just see Theo and Welbz on the flanks with Alexis up top.
However, bearing in mind our December struggles, which were down to West Brom limiting space in their final third, Giroud might be at the forefront of Arsene’s thinking. It was the Frenchman who delivered the killer blow (incidentally, it was Mesut Ozil who assisted him – from a wide area!), so I won’t be surprised to see him start.
Predicted line-up: Cech – Bellerin – Mustafi – Koscielny – Monreal – Ozil – Xhaka – Oxlade – Walcott – Giroud – Alexis
Like I said, I don’t imagine this will be in any way easy. Despite Arsenal having a good overall record against the Baggies (losing just three games and winning 15 of the last 22), one of these losses actually happened last season and Pulis will definitely set out to frustrate us. Something he very nearly did this season too.
However the simple and inescapable truth is such that we can afford no further slip-ups. We are already in fifth place, and, despite having two games in hand (Leicester and Southampton, it has to be said), we will need two wins from these to crawl back into the top four. And until the time we actually can try and take advantage of these matches, we have to keep up pace.
So come on you Gunners. It’s high time we went on that annual heroic streak.
Back with a review