Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.
Arsene Wenger's side visit West Brom in the Premier League on Sunday, to find out more, we asked tactical expert Michael Cox and journalist Steve Madeley for their views.
It’s less than a fortnight since Arsenal’s last meeting with West Bromwich Albion, but this will be an entirely different contest to the Gunners’ penalty shoot-out victory at The Hawthorns in the Capital One Cup.
Arsene Wenger played a reserve team in that fixture, and only three of that Baggies XI are likely to start this weekend.
It’s a fine demonstration of the strength of Steve Clarke’s squad that he’s able to rotate so freely, although he’s somewhat handicapped this weekend by significant injury problems. James Morrison, Scott Sinclair, Zoltan Gera, Chris Brunt, Nicolas Anelka, George Thorne, Shane Long and Matej Vydra have all been troubled by injury this week, with the attacking section of the side particularly affected.
"Stephane Sessegnon will link midfield and attack, and is particularly dangerous because of his direct dribbling from deep positions"
Still, West Brom’s major strength is defensively, where they’re one of only six sides to have conceded less than a goal per game so far in 2013/14.
The centre-back partnership between Jonas Olsson and Gareth McAuley is one of the Premier League’s best - between them, they’ve won 26 of their 33 aerial duels so far this season. Although they usually defend deep, against Arsenal at the Emirates last year they attempted to play higher up, pushing Olivier Giroud away from goal. Full backs Billy Jones and Liam Ridgewell tuck in and play narrow.
But West Brom’s defensive strength comes from the protection the midfield offers the back four, with the central midfield combination of Claudio Yacob and Youssouf Mulumbu full of tackling.
While the wide players - Morgan Amalfitano on the right, and Brunt, Gera or Morrison on the left, depending on who is fit - are more attack-minded, they also get through their defensive duties efficiently, forming a second bank of four behind the ball.
Stephane Sessegnon will link midfield and attack, and is particularly dangerous because of his direct dribbling from deep positions - he can turn defence into attack smoothly, which is what Clarke’s game plan is all about.
Up front, West Brom’s approach depends on the identity of their striker. Victor Anichebe, Markus Rosenberg, Anelka and Long have all started there this season, with Vydra another option if fit, and Sessegnon capable of playing there in an emergency.
With the Baggies’ injury worries, it’s tough to predict which player will spearhead Clarke’s attack.
I think the the win at Manchester United was just a continuation from West Brom's last few games in the Premier League. The late equaliser they got at Fulham was a really big moment, if they had lost that game their position would not have been good. But they followed that up with a comprehensive performance and result against Sunderland, and while the win at Old Trafford was obviously a fantastic stand-alone performance, in terms of the season so far it was just a continuation of the two previous games.
"In terms of the pattern of Sunday's game I think it will be quite similar to the Capital One Cup game in September"
There were quite a few stand-out displays at Old Trafford. Morgan Amalfitano scored the memorable first goal, had an outstanding game and laid on the second for Saido Berahino as well. I thought Victor Anichebe, who didn't get a lot of plaudits, did really well up front on his own. Stephane Sessegnon has put in three strong performances since missing the Fulham game.
The really big question of Steve Clarke's side at the start of the season was whether they replicate their eighth place finish in the league last season - which you could argue was the highest position they could possibly finish given the money spent by the seven clubs above them. The Baggies will find it tough to replicate that achievement this season but there is no reason, with the large squad they've got, why they shouldn't have a very similar campaign.
Their aim will be to finish in the top half but if they were to finish around mid-table or even just below I think most fans will accept that as a decent season. But there's no reason why they can't finish in the top 10.
In terms of the pattern of Sunday's game I think it will be quite similar to the Capital One Cup game in September. Both teams have a certain philosophy which is maintained no matter what type of team each manager fields. But it will be a different game because the starting line-ups will be vastly different to last week.
Arsenal are obviously big favourites because they are playing brilliantly, but after the way West Brom have played in their last few games there is no reason why they can't get at least a point out of the game.
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