Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.
Arsène Wenger's side take on West Bromwich Albion on Saturday, so to find out more we asked tactical expert Michael Cox and journalist Steve Madeley for their views.
Arsenal’s 2-0 victory over West Brom in December wasn’t anywhere near as comfortable as the scoreline might suggest. Arsene Wenger’s side needed two Mikel Arteta penalties to defeat a well-organised Baggies side at the Emirates.
In that match, Arsenal struggled to break down Steve Clarke’s side in open play, and although West Brom usually sit deep in two banks of four, their strategy was actually more complex.
The centre-back pairing of Jonas Olsson and Gareth McAuley concentrated on pushing Olivier Giroud high up the pitch, away from goal where his aerial prowess wouldn’t be as dangerous. Olsson and Giroud had an ongoing squabble, which eventually resulted in a booking for both.
"Arsenal’s 2-0 victory over West Brom in December wasn’t anywhere near as comfortable as the scoreline might suggest"
With Arsenal lacking Theo Walcott, West Brom felt comfortable enough to keep a reasonably high defensive line, so complimenting Giroud’s height with some raw speed would be useful.
Clarke’s side are significantly more effective with the solid central-midfield partnership of Claudio Yacob and Youssouf Mulumbu ahead of the back four.
However, Mulumbu’s crazy dismissal last weekend, for picking up the ball and booting it at West Ham’s Gary O’Neill, means Clarke will be forced to use captain Chris Brunt in that role. He lacks Mulumbu’s defensive qualities, although his left-footed set-piece deliveries have caused Arsenal problems in the past.
James Morrison has been one of West Brom’s key players this season, roaming between the lines from a central role in Clarke’s 4-2-3-1 formation, but he’s an injury doubt having missed the 3-1 defeat at Upton Park last Saturday.
Clarke has often chosen a strike partnership - with Shane Long alongside Romelu Lukaku - in Morrison’s absence, although this would be risky against an Arsenal side that will seek to command the midfield zone.
Either way, Arsenal’s centre backs must be aware of the positional difference between Morrison and Long, and adapt their approach accordingly.
STEVE MADELEY, EXPRESS AND STAR
In general, West Brom have had a very good season. They started brilliantly in the first two or three months and went up to third in the table. Form took a bit of a mid-season dip which has sent them back to mid-table. But with the exception of the defeat at West Ham in their last game, performances have picked up. They are ninth now and if they stay there, they will record their highest ever Premier League finish.
It was always going to be tough for Steve Clarke to replace Roy Hodgson but he's done very well. I think the secret is that he hasn't ripped everything apart and started again. He's tweaked a few things and has sometimes played an extra man in midfield, which means West Brom are more fluid when going forward. He's done a really good job so far.
"I think this is a difficult game to call. West Brom's home form has been superb and only the two Manchester clubs have won more games on their own patch"
Gareth McAuley has had a great season at centre back. He's a bit of an unsung hero, certainly outside of the West Brom fanbase, where he is very popular. Claudio Yacob had a great start and is playing well again now. He got injured in mid-season, which ended up coinciding with a poor run over that period. Romelu Lukaku took a while to get settled but has really come into his own in the second half of the season.
At the start of the season, we said that this was the strongest squad West Brom had ever had in terms of strength and depth. That theory was tested in mid-season when they had injuries although they were unlucky in that quite a few injuries came in the same area of the field. Up front, Lukaku and Shane Long have both done well when they've played. Long has had some injury problems though and hasn't been available for selection every week.
I think this is a difficult game to call. West Brom's home form has been superb and only the two Manchester clubs have won more games on their own patch. That's a turnaround to last season, when they were stronger away from home. But Arsenal are in form too so I think it will be quite a tight game. I think most West Brom fans would probably take an entertaining point.
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