Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.
Arsène Wenger's host West Brom in the Premier League on Thursday. To find out more, we asked tactical expert Michael Cox.
Opponents often play extremely narrowly at the Emirates in an attempt to nullify Arsenal’s passing quality – but West Bromwich Albion are likely to take that concept to another level. In recent weeks, it hasn’t been uncommon for Tony Pulis to field a side featuring four centre-backs, four central midfielders and two centre forwards, creating an extraordinarily narrow 4-4-2.
The back four should be comprised of Craig Dawson, Gareth McAuley, Jonny Evans and James Chester. Dawson has become accustomed to a right-back role and plays passes down the touchline - although don’t expect many overlapping runs – while right-footed Chester is not a natural left-back, and while capable of pushing forward, generally passes inside more.
"Alternatively, the pacey Berahino could join main striker Salomon Rondon up front to form a classic strike partnership. Rondon is powerful in the air and thrives on crosses, although he’s also happy challenging for long balls played into the channels"
McAuley and Evans, meanwhile, are both composed centre backs capable of reading the game well – and are likely to continue their partnership for Northern Ireland at Euro 2016. Evans is an outstanding passer, capable of hitting long-range balls with both feet. He’s sometimes been deployed in midfield this season, with Jonas Olsson another option at the back, although five centre backs in the starting XI would be extraordinary.
West Brom make little effort to dominate matches. They have the lowest possession share in the league, 41 per cent away from home, and also the joint-lowest pass completion rate, although it’s worth considering that they share this honour with Leicester. Meanwhile, they attempt the fewest shots and have recorded the fewest shots on target. They’ll play on the counter-attack, and depend upon set-pieces for clear goalscoring opportunities.
Nevertheless, they have some talented midfielders. At least two of Sandro, Claudio Yacob and Darren Fletcher will start in the centre of the pitch – all primarily ball-winners, they rarely look to move forward into attack. Sandro’s passing is usually very conservative, although captain Fletcher has shown invention on the ball this season. All three could start if Pulis names a 4-5-1 system.
Pulis named Stephane Sessegnon and Craig Gardner as his two ‘wide’ midfielders for last month’s 2-2 draw with Leicester and could do something similar here. However, if it’s the 4-5-1, it’s likely Pulis use a more attacking player, like James McClean or Saido Berahino on the left flank. McClean is a very dangerous dribbler, while Berahino remains dangerous in front of goal.
Alternatively, the pacey Berahino could join main striker Salomon Rondon up front to form a classic strike partnership. Rondon is powerful in the air and thrives on crosses, although he’s also happy challenging for long balls played into the channels. West Brom will look to attack Arsenal quickly, before the full-backs are in position, and before the midfield can retreat into a position to shield the defence.
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