Pre-Match Report

Arsenal v West Bromwich Albion - Preview

Emirates Stadium

By Richard Clarke

“Let's not go overboard. We have 23 games to play, we are in all the competitions, [a situation] many clubs would love, so it is down to us to make the season right. I'm confident we will and I believe we have the quality to do it.

“The league doesn’t stop after 15 games. You count the points at the end of the season.”

That was Arsène Wenger ahead of the game against West Brom at Emirates Stadium on Saturday.

“The situation is not comfortable,” he went on. “But it’s possible to turn things around very quickly. It’s down to the quality of our performances.

“I have very big faith in this group and it’s a good opportunity to show we have the right mental strength and resolute attitude. We are playing a big game on Saturday. We are playing again on Tuesday [for a place in the Capital One Cup semi-finals] and we are through in the Champions League, so we can have a fantastic future.”

You can understand the manager being bullish. He admitted Arsenal were second-best against Swansea on Saturday and that their home form needs improvement but they are still only five points off fourth place (the initial aim of the season) with those 23 games to go. Last season, before the comeback against Spurs on February 26, they were famously 10 points adrift with only 14 matches remaining.

In addition Arsenal are one of two English clubs still in the Champions League and, while Bradford City must be respected, Wenger’s men are odds-on with the bookmakers to reach the Capital One Cup semi-finals.

Does that mean everything is rosy? No.

But the manager’s current concentration is about solving their issues with internal resources - and that includes rallying support from stands at Emirates Stadium. After all, we all want the same thing.

“I understand the fans’ frustration, of course,” said Wenger. “I am here to make them happy.

“When I can achieve that, I am happy. If I don’t do it, I am not happy at all.

“I have that responsibility and stand up for it but I ask them as well to support the team and help us to get through this difficult patch.”

The aim of the much-changed squad at Olympiacos in midweek was to rest up the others for Saturday. Theo Walcott (calf) and Laurent Koscielny (thigh) will not recover in time. On Friday, Lukas Podolski (hamstring) and Bacary Sagna (foot) were classed as major doubts but would face tests.

West Brom have been the surprise package of the season so far but, just as they started to win real acclaim, they have begun to falter.

Despite defeats to Swansea and Stoke, Steve Clarke’s side remain fifth but arguably the visitors need a result as much as the home side.

“It is a very important match,” said Wenger. “But even when the game is very important, it’s still down to the same basics - defend well, attack well and have faith in our game. No matter how big the game is, you want to focus on that.

“At home I feel there is a little bit a lack of freedom to play right now. That was always our strength. We are a creative team who wants to go forward. It is important that we have that.

“West Brom have been very efficient going forward and they have good players in every position. You see that when you see them play.

“Steve Clarke had a good reputation as an assistant coach, and he did that for many years. He made the step up to bigger responsibility. It doesn’t mean it’s a higher job, but it’s a difficult job, one where you have to face more responsibilities publicly. Until now he has done well.”

The past fortnight has been perhaps the first blip for Clarke as the main man in charge. But Wenger has been there many times before.

“It’s difficult to be consistent for everybody,” he said. “You can see that in the results in the Premier League. That’s why I insist on our consistency so much.

“A real consistent level is always what you want to find. And now we can concentrate on being consistent in the Premier League because we are through in the Champions League.

“December is a very important period for us now. We know that. We play as well in the quarter-final of the Capital One Cup on Tuesday night which is an opportunity for some players to show their quality as well. That’s why I say, at the moment, our focus is more on the next few games than anything else like the transfer market.

“There's one thing I don't question and that's the attitude and spirit of this team. I am mad about the fact we have not won against Swansea but I don't question that.

“However I can say that all day - what is important is that we win the games we play, and that's what we want to do.

“We were a bit jaded [against Swansea] because we had two away games after the Champions League,” he concluded. “But I am confident we have been refreshed and can show that on Saturday.”

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