Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.
Arsene Wenger's side take on West Bromwich Albion in their penultimate Premier League game of the season on Sunday. To find out more, we asked tactical expert Michael Cox and journalist Steve Madeley.
West Brom are a difficult side to get to grips with. They have used no fewer than 28 players in the Premier League this season, of which 16 have scored – the second-most in the division behind Tottenham. It feels like both Steve Clarke and Pepe Mel took too long to determine their first-choice XI but in the last few games, there’s been more familiarity to the teamsheet. Arsenal should know what to expect from the Baggies' 4-2-3-1.
The back four is the one area of the side that has remained consistent throughout the season, with a first-choice quartet of Billy Jones, Gareth McAuley, Jonas Olsson and Liam Ridgewell. Injuries have affected this unit over the past fortnight, however, with Jones deputising in an unfamiliar left-back position, Steven Reid coming into the side on the right, and back-up centre-back Craig Dawson playing too. Therefore, there might be uncertainty in defensive positions.
"Stephane Sessegnon is a powerful, direct dribbler that can turn defence into attack quickly and smoothly"
In midfield, Mel previously used Clarke’s favoured defensive-minded combination of Youssouf Mulumbu and Claudio Yacob, but the latter's injury saw Graham Dorrans come into the side and impress. He, rather than Mulumbu, is the deep midfielder Arsenal should look to pressure.
The attacking trio is extremely direct. Morgan Amalfitano has proved one of the Premier League’s best buys this season, and is an old-fashioned winger, staying high on the right – although he’s capable of scoring goals too. On the opposite flank, captain Chris Brunt has a lethal left foot and can deliver great crosses, and he specialises in set-pieces too. In the centre, Stephane Sessegnon is a powerful, direct dribbler that can turn defence into attack quickly and smoothly - therefore West Brom will be most dangerous on the counter-attack.
The problem, however, is up front. While a host of Baggies players have found the net this season, none have done so more than five times. Two youngsters, Saido Berahino and Metaj Vydra, have shared striking responsibilities in recent weeks, and both will offer speed in behind the Arsenal defence.
STEVE MADELEY, EXPRESS AND STAR
West Brom finished eighth last season and the league table tells you that they've regressed in this campaign. The season has brought with it a catalogue of problems, on the field and off it, and that has contributed to a poor season. Luckily it looks as though the team will end up just avoiding relegation.
"With the results over the last month or six weeks, they have got big wins when they have needed them"
It's hard to say how Pepe Mel has done so far. There were reportedly some issues behind the scenes early on but I've sensed in the last couple of months that things have improved a lot. With the results over the last month or six weeks, they have got big wins when they have needed them.
In terms of players that have impressed, Gareth McAuley, who was player of the season last year, should be right up there again. Billy Jones has carried on his form from the back end of last season and has been solid, as have Jonas Olsson and Chris Brunt. West Brom have had some steady performers without anyone really being outstanding.
West Brom have actually done well against the top six sides this season - without beating any of them. They did well against Arsenal earlier in the season and have drawn a lot of games against teams at the top end of the table. The only game in which they were really taken apart by a top side was when they were really outplayed at Anfield. I would expect a tough game but they should equip themselves well and at least compete on Sunday.
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