Pre-Match Report

Arsenal v West Brom: Inside Track

We return to Premier League action against West Bromwich Albion on Boxing Day, and ahead of the game Chris Harris sat down with Arsène Wenger to discuss the match.

THE QUOTE

"The disappointments are part of a successful season - that’s part of our environment." - Arsène Wenger

PREVIEW

The trees are up, the stockings are out and Mariah Carey is warbling away on the radio, but it hasn’t felt especially festive if you’re an Arsenal fan.

Back-to-back defeats will do that to you, and the best we can hope for is a belated gift on Boxing Day after leads slipped away at Everton and Manchester City.

All Mariah wants for Christmas is you, but all Arsène Wenger wants for Christmas is three points. His efforts to get them began by lifting the players’ pre-Christmas spirits.

Approved kits

 

OP = Outfield PlayersGK = Goal Keepers

“It is part of our job to do that and you know that when you go into a season it will not only be satisfaction,” he told Arsenal Player. “The disappointments are part of a successful season - that’s part of our environment.

“It’s how you respond to it that of course makes your destiny and that’s what we want to do well. I believe that of course in 20 games we lost two, and it is very difficult because we are not used to that, but as well we have to put it into perspective and fight for the next one.”

Perhaps the week’s least appetising stat is that we’re the only team this season to lose three Premier League games in which we’ve led.

Those last two defeats were exacerbated by wins for our title rivals during a nine-day sequence that took us from top on goal difference to fourth place and nine points behind. Chelsea’s relentless run has left no margin for error and we can ill-afford to surrender any more winning positions.

“In both games we were 1-0 up and we lost 2-1, and there are two aspects to it,” said Wenger. “One is the aspect we cannot influence, it’s the refereeing decisions. I must say as well that the two goals [from City] were 100 per cent offside.

“The other factor is our performances - which we can influence. Could we have done better? Certainly, yes. Especially when you lead, I would say it looks like we became a bit restricted, and don’t play with the same intensity and urgency and relentless attitude we have had until now.

“We lost that and I think there was room to win the game at City. There was big room as well to win the game at Everton and we have to look at the fact that maybe we have not had that relentless attitude that we have based our success on.

“But I have a group that is ready for the fight,” he added. “I am personally really ready for the fight and it’s now for to come back because things can change quickly, especially over Christmas.”

ONE TO WATCH

Gabriel’s ready for the fight, for sure.

It’s not easy being thrown into the fray at the top level - you need a run of games to get your bearings, build those on-pitch partnerships and find your rhythm. But Gabriel is increasingly at home after seven straight appearances, stepping in for Hector Bellerin at right back and now Shkodran Mustafi in the centre.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain jokes that Gabriel is a “stone-cold killer” - a player you don’t even want to face in training - and Wenger believes that the Brazilian’s determination comes in part from a tough upbringing in Sao Paulo.

“He is a guy who has learnt to fight at a very young age because he grew up in a very difficult environment,” said Wenger. “He had to show that he could fight in life first before he got the education. That kind of inner strength stays with you for life and he certainly has that.

“He plays 100 per cent every day and you’re always surprised that it is a surprise - I think it is normal, absolutely normal. It’s the minimum a player can do but he is fully committed, that’s true, in every single session.

“He is physically sharper and fitter now. I think where he was really interesting as well was as a right back. It was a surprise and I think he has done really well since he has come into the team. He has played a positive part in every single game that he played.”

THE OPPOSITION

We’ve lost just one of our last 11 league games against West Brom, and beat them on Boxing Day back in 2002.

But the Baggies are in form. They’ve won four of their last seven games - including a victory at champions Leicester - and meticulous planner Tony Pulis has frustrated us in the past.

Team news

Arsenal: Mustafi, Debuchy (both hamstring), Oxlade-Chamberlain (muscular), Mertesacker (knee), Cazorla (ankle), Akpom (back) West Brom: Morrison (illness), Evans (calf), Berahino (fitness)

“They are a typical Tony Pulis side,” said Wenger. “They are well organised, physically strong, they play good football and over the years he has improved their technical level.

“They’re a dangerous side because they’ve mastered the technical aspect of the game much better, and they have not lost their threat from set-pieces and crosses. He has found a good combination.

“West Brom are established in the Premier League because of good technical decisions - it’s as simple as that. The style of play that you master remains the same, you buy the right players for the style of play you want to have, and that’s the key to it. The quality of the work and the competence of people in the club is important too.

“We are not in danger of underestimating them.”

FROM THE ARCHIVES