Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.
Arsène Wenger's side host West Bromwich Albion at Emirates Stadium on Sunday. To find out more, we asked tactical expert Michael Cox.
For the second consecutive season, Tony Pulis has taken charge of a relegation-threatened side and guided them to safety. His Crystal Palace team proved difficult to break down last season at the Emirates, and West Bromwich Albion will be similarly resilient.
Pulis’ approach is summarised by his defensive selections: he’s used four centre backs across the backline recently. The result is obvious - West Brom defend narrow, and their defenders are happy to sit deep on the edge of their own box and head crosses away. There’s also, inevitably, a huge threat from set-pieces.
The downside is that they rarely push their full-backs forward on the overlap - Craig Dawson will stay at home against Alexis Sanchez, although Joleon Lescott is more technically gifted and has experience of playing in that role at Everton. He teed up Saido Berahino for the opener in Monday’s surprise 3-0 victory over Chelsea.
Having previously used a 4-4-2 formation, Pulis has switched to a 4-1-4-1 formation in recent weeks, and is unlikely to deviate significantly from the XI which started against Chelsea. The defence will be shielded by Claudio Yacob, a solid old-school defensive midfielder, whose tackling statistics are comparable with the best in the Premier League.
With Yacob remaining in position, his midfield partners are given freedom to close down their direct opponents higher up the pitch. Darren Fletcher has frustrated Arsenal many times with his energetic ball-winning role, while fellow Scot James Morrison offers more guile and can spread the play nicely when West Brom win possession.
Pulis has generally used Berahino up front on his own in recent weeks: as a slight but extremely quick striker, he demands balls into feet, or in behind the opposition, rather than crosses. Victor Anichebe can offer an alternative, but even he prefers balls into feet where he can back into defenders and then quickly turn. Fellow Nigerian Ideye Brown is a similarly muscular number nine, and more of a target for crosses.
Out wide, Pulis has generally used Chris Brunt on the left. Callum McManaman, an unpredictable old-fashioned winger, started against Chelsea but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Craig Gardner here - he’s another disciplined player who can shoot dangerously from long-range, including from free-kicks. With West Brom offering great quality from set-pieces, Arsenal must ensure they don’t concede cheap free kicks.
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