By Declan Taylor
West Brom’s buccaneering blitz of the Coca-Cola Championship last season ensured that Tony Mowbray’s men started this latest Premier League campaign brimming with confidence. Indeed, their manager suggested that only just avoiding the drop this term would be considered a minor failure.
However, with only 11 games left to play, the Baggies are rock-bottom of the Premier League and have not left the confines of the relegation zone since the start of November.
Arsenal know all too well about the pragmatic and direct style of play employed by Albion’s fellow promotees, Stoke City and Hull, but Mowbray has stuck by the fluid football that bought the Baggies success last season.
But it has not gone quite to plan; West Brom’s expansive, open philosophy has left them with a brittle backbone and a soft centre – two main ingredients for Premier League relegation.
Ahead of the Gunners’ trip to the Hawthorns on Tuesday night, we caught up with Chris Lepkowski of the Birmingham Mail about the Baggies’ disappointing season, avoiding the drop and Arsenal’s lack of goals.
THE STORY SO FAR
“I think it has been a bit of false optimism in many ways and they haven’t done as well as many thought they would. A lot of it was down to the manager who stated that near survival would not be success. He was looking closer to mid-table but here we are in March, OK maybe only four points from 17th, but they are bottom and have been for a while now. While you could argue they are only six or seven points from mid table, that is still six or seven points they haven’t got.
“They’re not whipping boys, they have had a few results where they have been convincingly beaten but they have generally stayed in touch with the other stragglers at the bottom. They haven’t really cut themselves adrift so they’ve done OK.”
CAUSE FOR CONCERN
“Not so much the Everton game but the two before that (2-0 defeat at Fulham, 3-2 defeat at home against Newcastle) have really dented fans’ expectations if not the team. They were behind after a minute against a Newcastle team really struggling at the time. At Fulham they were lucky to get a 2-0 defeat, it really could have been five, six or seven easily.
“There has been a slight change towards that more direct game. certainly around Christmas time they started to get the ball down the pitch quicker. That is not to say they abandoned their footballing principles – they didn’t – they just played a bit more in front of the opposition goal. In all honesty, Mowbray hasn’t got the kind of players who can do that physical football. At the moment they can only do as they are doing at the moment, their expansive, open football. Whether it keeps them up is unlikely.”
THE MAN IN CHARGE
“At the start of the season Tony Mowbray had a lot of supporters as you might imagine. That is starting to erode a little bit and a few results have seen a slight change. A lot of fans have brought into his philosophy and his plans for the future. Arsène Wenger has a plan for the future and he sees the young players being ready in two or three years – Mowbray is a subscriber to that outlet. A lot of fans expect results at all times and don’t care how it’s achieved; that is where he is losing support. At the moment there is a 50:50 split that will ebb one way or another depending on how the next few weeks go.
“Tony’s argument would be that he hasn’t got the players to be more physical or brutal, which is a fair point. Although all but two first teamers were his signings so the problem is by design rather than by accident.”
THE ONES TO WATCH
“Marc-Antoine Fortune who came from Nancy on loan looks very useful in his first few games. Also Luke Moore who has been an enigmatic kind of signing has only scored once in a year. But he came on against Everton on Saturday and was outstanding really. He might well start against Arsenal in the absence of Jay Simpson* because there’s nobody else fit for that role.
“One player who might emerge in the next few weeks is Felipe Teixeira, a midfielder who has been injured for a long time. he is carrying a broken toe at the moment but he’s getting through it and he’s starting to get better and better following his long-term knee injury.”
“A lot of people will think Arsenal will end their scoreless run tomorrow. I’m sure we’ll see an open game and Albion will play in a way that suits Arsenal in many ways. There’s a lot of pessimism ahead of this game, although the manager and players won’t admit that, if Arsenal score in the first five or 10 minutes we’ll see a fairly flat atmosphere. If they can get an early goal or keep it at 0-0 for a while we’ll see a more buoyant optimism.
“Once Albion lose the ball they struggle to win it back and Arsenal are a team who keep the ball. I personally think that if Wenger could have picked one away game at the moment he would be happy that it’s West Brom. It’s not a Stoke or a Hull, who are grinders, this West Brom team don’t know how to do that which will suit Arsenal.”
IMPRESSIONS OF ARSENAL
“My feeling about Arsenal is of slight underachievement. In fairness, Aston Villa have overachieved and I get the feeling there is a lot more to come from Arsenal. I think they are a couple of signings away from being a really, really strong force again. The spine of the team is a bit crumbly compared to recent years and there doesn’t seem to be that resilience there. However, I still expect Arsenal to finish in the top four come May.”
*Under Premier League rules, a loaned player is not allowed to play against his parent club.Copyright 2013 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 2 Mar 2009