We face West Brom today, in what will round off gameweek 6. This fixture marks the beginning of an easier 5-match run for the Gunners: after the Baggies we face Brighton, Watford, Everton and Swansea. There’s potential to rack up some points here and get back on track.
But first we need to overcome Tony Pulis’ side. I can’t imagine them being any less stubborn than they usually are at the Emirates. If anything, they’ll be even bolder following our 3-1 drubbing at the Hawthorns at the tail end of last season. We need to put away their happy memories.
Recent home history is on our side: the Gunners won the last six games at the Emirates in a row, conceding just one goal in the process. I don’t think there’s a better illustration of the attitude West Brom displays when they set foot (feet?) on the N5.
What is more, we seem to be on a roll at home currently, having won all three games this season (Leicester, Bournemouth, Cologne). The former two wins contribute to a 7-game league winning streak at the Emirates – one bested only by a 9-game winning run between December 2014 and April 2015. With West Brom, Brighton and Swansea coming to the Emirates next, we can well surpass that run.
On top of that, West Brom have been dire recently. Their last three league games have seen Pulis’ men garner only one point. Their only away win in 11 attempts in 2017 calendar year, meanwhile, happened this August, at Turf Moor. Finally, to allay any fears you might have about Tony Pulis himself: the man lost on all nine of his previous visits to the Emirates with a combined score of 20-3.
We will obviously be without Danny Welbeck, who’s out until after the international break:
“Danny Welbeck has a groin injury. He will be back, his target is Watford. That means after the international break. He won’t be available for England and not for us before the break.” – Arsene Wenger
That is a blow however you look at Danny’s place in the team. Bottom line is, the Englishman is a versatile, hard-working player, who has also hit form recently. While I remain convinced the trio of Alexis, Ozil and Lacazette leaves no room for anyone else when all three are fit, Welbeck is the go-to man should one of our “tens” require some time off.
Another loss is Calum Chambers, who has picked, or maybe aggravated, a hip injury against Doncaster in midweek:
“Calum Chambers came off [against Doncaster] and will now be out until after the international break. He has a little recurrence of his hip problem.” – Arsene Wenger
Though I’m pretty sure Wenger will disagree with me here. I suspect Chambers is behind Holding and Mertesacker in the pecking order, and that’s saying something, given our skipper doesn’t even always make the bench. I maintain we could have used Chambers as a central midfield option though.
Finally, Walcott and Ozil suffered some small knocks, the former against Doncaster, the latter a while back, probably before Cologne, Both should be fine however, and I expect at least the German to start.
Player in focus: Olivier Giroud
The Frenchman thrives against deep-sitting opposition, and I think he will once again get on the scoresheet vs West Brom, hitting the 100-goal mark. He was the player to give us the win last time around too, with a late but great header.
The question is: will he make the starting XI? I suspect Wenger will stick with Lacazette, especially since Giroud played against Doncaster, but I’ll be mightily surprised if our bearded genius isn’t given a chance to cap his hundred.
I think the big question here is whether Wenger will stick to a back three, or revert to a back four for the time being. Lewis Ambrose of arseblog made a case for flexibility this week, and I think he has a point. We hardly need another body at the back against the likes of West Brom.
Will it be a tried-and-tested 4-2-3-1? If I were a betting man, I’d wager on that. It’s a system we are acquainted and therefore comfortable with. It’s also one which will allow to factor in a decent winger like Walcott (don’t laugh) to a) create some width b) dovetail with Giroud if and when the Frenchman comes on.
Personnel-wise, I’m certain we’ll see Cech, Hector, Mustafi, Kos and Kolasinac at the back; Ramsey and Xhaka at the base; Alexis, Ozil and Walcott under Lacazette. The worry that I have here is little cover for our romping full-backs, something the Baggies can potentially exploit. I’m not sure we have a better option though: in the absence of Welbeck, Ox (God is merciful) and Lucas Perez, we can only count on Walcott and Iwobi to fill the gap on the wing.
I really can’t see Wenger tweaking his personnel much after a solid display at Stamford Bridge. Changes will either be enforced (Welbeck), due to a potential formation change (Monreal) or fitness permitting (Ozil). And that’s probably the way it should be.
Predicted line-up: Cech – Bellerin – Koscielny – Mustafi – Kolasinac – Xhaka – Ramsey – Walcott – Ozil – Alexis – Lacazette
I’m reasonably confident we can do what it takes and get the three points here. We may be in for a stubborn resistance and some nail-biting last minutes, but hopefully not. Despite some absences, we seem to be approaching good form, while also figuring out the best players for our set-up.
It will be interesting to see how Wenger manages Ozil’s and Alexis’ situations, among other things. There is a case to be made that, while both are top footballers, we may play better as a unit without them. Looking at last weekend’s display it’s hard to completely disregard such a possibility.
Besides, with their contract positions still unclear, what frame of mind are they in? That plays a role I think, both can become more selfish to get better deals elsewhere, and that may come at the team’s expense, While less obvious with Ozil, you don’t have to make a gigantic leap of imagination to see how Alexis can do something like this. I hope not, of course.
Anyhow, come on you Gunners.
Back here to review the game.