Check out today’s prematch blog as well: West Brom-Arsenal: Blockade running and gunning
Arsenal face a very tough challenge today against West Brom. If not because of the opposition’s talent and quality, simply because of the style of play they will deploy, and the man in charge of making it work.
Sam Allardyce is at the helm and his low block is in full effect. The Baggies may have gotten rolled over by Leeds in a 5-0 drubbing, but getting a 1-1 draw at Anfield will still offer real confidence.
West Brom, like many others before, will be very content to offer Arsenal the wide channels, while feeding off low percentage crosses for 90 minutes, so Arsenal must challenge themselves to be better with the ball and create more. To do that, they will have to take risks, unlock the middle, and show an ability to be dangerous down all five of their attacking channels. That takes guts, a high tempo of play, a lot of creativity, and the right personnel.
Before we get to lineups, let’s take a look at the most recent team news.
Currently isolating according to UK Government and Premier League protocols following testing positive for COVID-19. Gabriel is currently feeling well and we are continuing to monitor and support him. Pending the completion of all the necessary protocols and ongoing health checks, we are hoping that he will return to training next week.
Left thigh. Thomas has progressed well since the injury on December 6. He has started to train outside and will continue with his daily assessments and monitoring. We are hoping that Thomas will return to full training with the squad next week.
Sustained heavy impact to his left leg during Tuesday’s match against Brighton, but has been in training since and available for selection.
Now back in full training following illness.
Now back in full training following illness
Additionally, in Arteta’s press conference, he FINALLY shed a little light on what has been happening with Reiss Nelson, who has been completely absent lately despite some really great appearances.
Yeah, he had a little niggle and he’s not been feeling 100 per cent. He had a muscular issue and he’s been in and out of training. He’s not 100 per cent and it’s a shame because I felt like he was getting into his performance levels and he was starting to have some really good games. He was starting to build that momentum and this little injury has set him back a little bit, but I think this week has been much better. It was my mistake to not verify the situation with what’s been happening, but he’s not been 100 per cent fit and that’s the reason why he’s been out.Mikel Arteta on Reiss Nelson, Arsenal.com
Arsenal have had a heavy schedule in the past few weeks, but with four days rest since Brighton and a week until their FA Cup match with Newcastle on the 9th, rotation is not necessarily a must. We can only speculate on the matter from the outside, but Arteta will of course know how his players are feeling.
There are also a few more players available given the return of Willian and Luiz, which could add an extra element to this choice. Personally, I wouldn’t play either until the Newcastle match, but there are aspects of Luiz’s long-range passing game that are intriguing given West Brom’s low block. With that said, here is my lineup:
Leno in net, Tierney at left back, a pairing of Mari and Holding, and Bellerin at right back. I didn’t opt for Luiz, but as I mentioned it is possible. When it comes to Bellerin, many want to see AMN, but I don’t expect him for this one. Arteta almost always opts for Bellerin in a four-back system and Hector has showcased this year that the attacking part of his game is his strongest. Given Arsenal are going to be on the attack for most the match and in need of quality attacking play from their inverted fullbacks, I expect Bellerin to get the nod. He has been quite good in Arsenal’s last two wins.
In the midfield, I chose one change — Ceballos. Without Partey, the the options are still a bit limited in the middle. Xhaka has been the better of the central pairing and was good against Chelsea, while Elneny really struggled for a second match in a row against Brighton. I just think, maybe given the match expectations, you see a more attacking selection with Ceballos. Could be Willock as well, don’t expect AMN, but an argument could be made that he is more like-for-like with Elneny than either of the other options.
Up top, once again, is where things will get interesting. Saka took a knock against Brighton, although Mikel said in his press conference he believes Saka will be good to go come game time. If not, I hope we see Pepe, but you just never know these days when Willian is going to rear his bristled head.
The real intrigue comes between left wing and central striker. Last time out, Arteta selected Aubameyang and while you could argue that the bulk of Arsenal’s chances came with Auba on the field, the goal came with Lacazette. It was also quite clear that Lacazette offers more skills Mikel may be looking for in a striker than Auba. The problem is, I am not sure Arteta is ready to outright drop Aubameyang. Despite his early struggles this season, getting him firing again is likely more beneficial than dropping him all together. Given Martinelli’s recent return, decent amount of minutes, and this situation, I have selected Lacazette and Aubameyang.
If this is the case, I expect Martinelli to be one of the first off the bench, unless Arsenal are winning.
I think this is going to be a tough one for Arsenal. It’s a low block, it’s a team trying to grab onto as many points as possible, and they have the proverbial ‘new manager bounce’ in their favor. I expect every match this season to be tough given Arsenal are a pretty average team, but this has the recipe for a long, tough, slog of a match.
I don’t expect many fans to be enthralled with the play. I think many will be quite frustrated with the little traction. I think it is going to be a challenging watch. However, if Arsenal get the result, on this day, that’s all the matters. I want to see the energy that we saw versus Chelsea right from the whistle and a side that balances their probing efforts with a fair share of daring efforts.
I expect Smith Rowe to have a tough, physical battle in the center as West Brom look to keep him off the ball, so Arsenal need to help him out by having the striker drop deep or one of the wingers come central to help create a numerical balance or superiority in between the lines. If they can do that, I truly believe they just need to put one in to win.
Prediction: 1-0 Arsenal.