By Phil Gregory
A disappointing result against Manchester United in the FA Cup feels a long time ago but the fixture list reveals it was in fact last Saturday. This slower life is something the Arsenal fan will have to get used to: with our involvement in the cups over for this season, we’ll have very few midweek games from here on out. While that’s an undoubted advantage during the Premier League run-in, the concern remains that recent results will have hit the team’s moral heavily, something that could certainly damage our title prospects unless rectified with a good result.
The chance for securing that result is of course, this weekend away at West Brom , a side who haven’t been doing too badly recently. Their last eight games have yielded two wins, two losses and four draws, which is solid mid table form. That said, the results have included some fairly weak teams, the sort of sides West Brom should be beating if they want to climb away from trouble. At home this season West Brom haven’t been a pushover and have only been beaten four times at the Hawthorns this season.
On the injuries front, Fabregas is out of this tie and should be back after the international break while Walcott is still not available. Djourou’s situation was subject to some confusion this season, with the Swiss FA stating they thought he’d only miss four weeks. Wenger cut the hopes of Arsenal fans short in his pre-match conference stating Johan is out for at least six weeks. The season has also been confirmed as over for Vermaelen, news which combined with Djourou’s absence leaves us decidedly light at the back. Undoubtedly some will take this as a reason to lambast the manager but even in January Vermaelen’s continued absence couldn’t be anticipated. Scouring the world for another quality acquisition in the mould of Koscielny and Vermaelen was always going to be a tall order in January and the best we can hope for is our remaining centre backs stay fit for the rest of the season.
The only remaining injury concerns are Diaby and Song, the latter with a knee injury that worryingly doesn’t have a known return date yet.
Taking those into account, I’m expecting a line-up along the lines
Sagna Squillaci Koscielny Clichy
Nasri Van Persie Arshavin
Almunia continues in goals despite the re-signing of Jens Lehmann, with the German likely to appear on the bench. The back four is pretty much as expected, with both fullbacks available and Squillaci replacing the injured Djourou. I’m hoping for a bit of a change in the midfield, with Ramsey coming in for the injured Diaby and Denilson playing a deeper role. Denilson is a certainty to play that deeper role but there is a debate to be had between Rosicky and Ramsey. I would go with the latter given his promising performances before his injury and relatively uninspiring displays from Rosicky thus far.
The attack is likely to be fairly predictable. Van Persie plays centre forward, flanked by Nasri and Arshavin.
This game is really just a matter of getting the three points for Arsenal. It’s interesting to be to be talking in such terms when we are undoubtedly the form side in the league in terms of points taken recently, but the cup exits have raised questions about our title credentials. West Brom shouldn’t cause us difficulties given their penchant for a fairly open game, but they have tightened up since Hodgson took the reins.
Even given the team out (five first teamers unavailable, and many of the stand-ins aren’t even second choice) we should have enough to overcome West Brom, but I expect a few nerves amongst the side with recent results in mind. The loss of Djourou will be the most concerning for Arsenal fans but West Brom’s forward line and play style aren’t particularly aerially threatening so we should get by. I’m expecting a close fought 2-0 win – much will depend on the performance of the central attacking midfielder and whether they can provide us with adequate cutting edge. If Ramsey/Rosicky struggle we might find ourselves struggling to create good chances.
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