We return to Premier League action on Monday when we take on West Bromwich Albion at Emirates Stadium.
Ahead of the game, tactical expert Michael Cox and former Gunner Adrian Clarke analyse our opponents’ strengths, dangermen and areas we can target.
MC: Five games into the new Premier League campaign and it’s a familiar tale for Tony Pulis: three clean sheets, only four goals, and just about in the top half of the league table. His back-to-basics approach consistently keeps teams away from a relegation battle, and a couple of excellent signings mean West Brom might end up pushing for a European place this season.
MC: Pulis has used two different formats to his midfield so far this season. The two surefire starters are holding midfielder Gareth Barry, who should overtake Ryan Giggs to become the outright record Premier League appearance holder on 633, and tough-tackling Grzegorz Krychowiak, who was superb with Sevilla and unfortunate to find himself down the pecking order at PSG. Alongside them, Pulis can either deploy Jake Livermore, who provides positional discipline and reliable passing in a 4-3-3, or the more attack-minded James Morrison, who would play as the No 10 in a 4-2-3-1. The former is more likely, as Pulis attempts to keep things tight.
MC: West Brom’s four goals this season illustrate precisely what Pulis is all about. Ahmed Hegazy’s winner against Bournemouth on the opening day was a header from a set-piece, Hal Robson-Kanun’s winner at Burnley came following a long ball, while Jay Rodriguez’s opener in a 1-1 draw against Stoke, and James Morrison’s consolation in a 3-1 defeat at Brighton came following crosses. Set-piece, long balls, crosses: that’s West Brom summarised neatly.
AC: They’re not going to score a load of goals, that much is obvious. I like Rodriguez up front. I think he gives them something different that they haven’t had in recent years. Phillips is really good creator down the right-hand side, a very powerful winger. They’ve got good players like Krychowiak as well who’s just come in at central midfield. They’ve got decent talent, but Tony Pulis is not an attacking coach. When he sends his team out, it’s primarily with a clean-sheet mentality. That’s what they’re about.
MC: Unusually, West Brom’s most dangerous man might be a centre-back. Arsenal’s last meeting with West Brom was a 3-1 defeat at The Hawthorns in March, when defender Andy Dawson headed home twice from corners. Pulis always wants inswinging corners, so expect to see left-footed Brunt or Barry taking them from the right, and right-footed Phillips from the left. Dawson may again be the target.
AC: Kieran Gibbs needed the move. He’s been a really good player for Arsenal, very reliable down the years. Hopefully he’ll get plenty of opportunities for West Brom. I imagine he’ll give him a whole new dimension because they’ve not had a left back for a long time. They’ve had piecemeal players plonked in there for a while. He’s a natural and I think he’ll fit in just fine.
AREAS TO TARGET
MC: Pulis’ love of playing four centre-backs across the defence means the Baggies can occasionally be exposed in wide areas, and suffer from a lack of speed in defence. The recent signing of Kieran Gibbs, however, has gone some way to addressing that weakness.
AC: You’ve got to be nimble, you’ve got to be sharp. I was really impressed with the passing, the quick one-twos and the triangles against Chelsea. I thought they were outstanding at times and if Chelsea couldn’t live with it, West Brom won’t be able to either.
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