Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.
Arsène Wenger's side face West Bromwich Albion in the Premier League on Saturday, so to find out more we asked tactical expert Michael Cox and local journalist Steve Madeley for their views.
After stints at Newcastle, Chelsea, West Ham and Liverpool, Steve Clarke acquired a reputation as a talented coach, but his lack of experience as a manager made his appointment at West Brom a brave decision.
The gamble has paid off, as Clarke’s tactical decision-making has been impressive throughout the campaign. West Brom may have lost their last two matches, but remain in joint-third position in the Premier League table.
Key to West Brom’s excellent record is the engine room of the side, where Claudio Yacob was signed to play alongside Youssuf Mulumbu, creating a powerful midfield combination. Yacob sits a little deeper and breaks up play in the mould of a classic aggressive Argentine ‘No 5’, while Mulumbu is given more license to bring the ball forward, connecting the defensive and attacking parts of the side.
The wide players are extremely disciplined. In the 2-1 win over Chelsea last month, Peter Odemwingie and Zoltan Gera provided exceptional defensive support. Along with Yacob, they were West Brom’s most prolific tacklers.
Because the wide midfielders are expected to cover a lot of ground, Clarke rotates in those positions. His alternatives offer different tactical options: Marc-Antoine Fortuné is a direct runner, Graham Dorrans provides more discipline, while Chris Brunt is a good left-footed crosser, allowing Clarke to subtly change the balance of his side without switching formation.
Clarke’s use of his strikers has been fascinating. Although Long is first choice, on-loan Chelsea forward Romelu Lukaku has scored as many goals, five, despite being used primarily as a substitute.
Clarke’s usual strategy is to select Long from the start, asking him to run the channels and tire the defenders, then replace him with Lukaku after an hour, using the Belgian’s pace and power against an exhausted backline.
At the back, West Brom’s defenders aren’t amongst the Premier League’s most celebrated players, but have formed a solid backline and are protected excellently by the midfield. Jonas Olsson is a towering presence but Gareth McAuley wins more aerial duels.
STEVE MADELEY, EXPRESS AND STAR
West Brom have started the season really impressively. We’re 15 games into the season, and I’d say they’ve played well in 12 of those matches, though they have been poor on their last two outings.
Steve Clarke has brought continuity to the club. He hasn’t changed a lot from the days of Roy Hodgson. He’s changed the formation from the 4-4-2 it was under Hodgson, to a 4-2-3-1. I think that change has made West Brom a bit more exciting to watch.
The player that has impressed a lot is Claudio Yacob, the Argentine midfielder. He was linked with Arsenal a couple of years ago and has been extremely consistent since signing. He’s always a contender for man of the match.
West Brom tend to play on the counter attack. They have been exposed in the full-back positions in a couple of games, but other than that, have looked solid.
I think it’s going to be a tight game, and I believe West Brom can get a draw.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 6 Dec 2012