Monday, 7 October 2013

West Brom vs Arsenal: Match Preview

A tricky away tie awaits in the form of West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns today, though no one would be asking too much to expect Arsenal to take all 3 points today. With Arsenal in scintillating form, in control of the Premier League and the Champions League group F, not to mention defeating much tougher opponents like Napoli and the Spuds along the way, a matchup against the Baggies shouldn't be much of a problem for a team challenging for the title.

That's not to say that they're a team to be underestimated. We of all teams should know better, having faced them in a Capital One Cup tie and just scrapping through on penalties. True, we had unknown players like Olsson and Hayden playing on the pitch, but few Arsenal fans would argue that they had expected their team to comfortably win that tie. Even without Romelu Lukaku, they managed to beat Manchester United at Old Trafford, which is another reason why Arsene Wenger should take this match seriously. The win against United was far from luck, and even though the Red Devils were below par, West Brom's win was well deserved, and the addition of Stephane Sessegnon makes them a side not to be taken lightly.

The boss said that he would not underestimate the tie and used their famous win over United as an example:

"They scored two great goals. The one from Amalfitano was not only about skill, it was about confidence as well. The way he chipped the goalkeeper when he got in front shows that there is something special there for Amalfitano so we will have to keep them quiet.”

With Liverpool winning and going top of the pile (for now), the onus is on us to win our game in hand. With the International fixtures approaching, many Arsenal fans would love for the club to finish off a very progressive month with a win and in control of the Barclays Premier League. Which puts the players under more pressure than before to perform than thought earlier. But hey, at a club like Arsenal, there is always pressure to perform.

In team news, Bacary Sagna will be out for a reported three weeks, which will mean that Carl Jenkinson is set to start the game at right back. The injury is actually not much of a blow, because after the game, the two week break will give him time to work on his fitness.

I for one have been baffled as to why Sagna hasn't been offered a new contract. While he is approaching 31 in February, he has gone to his reliable self this season after a disaster of a last season, which was highlighted when he gifted Manchester United a penalty last season after tackling van Persie. True, with the 10 match winning streak and the brilliance of Ramsey, Giroud and Ozil grabbing the headlines, it is understandable that Sagna's consistency is going under the radar. But isn't it ridiculous that Wenger is offering no extension for the player who had been in 3 PFA Team's of the Year in a row and has displayed such remarkable loyalty by staying at the club through good times and bad, especially when PSG came calling?

Anyway, I expect the back line of Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny and Gibbs to be the same as usual, only with Jenkinson slotting in at right back instead of the injured Bac. I wouldn't be surprised if Wenger uses the same 5 man midfield of Flamini, Arteta, Ozil, Rosicky and Ramsey - especially because they were so destructive against Napoli - with Giroud as tailsman. However, it would be better if the manager gives Ozil a breather and plays Gnabry instead, with Rosicky assuming Ozil's playmaking position. This game, although important, is not important enough to be remembered at the end of the season, and I wouldn't risk having our best player to be injured in a relatively meaningless match. Isn't that how Cazorla, Wilshere and Walcott are getting injured, because of being overplayed again and again? Plus, even if we're losing with 15 minutes to go, we'll have fresh legs on the bench, raring to come on and make a difference.

Anyway, it seems that Ozil is set to start, but not Cazorla, who was thought to be fit by the Napoli game along with Lukas Podolski. I wanted Cazorla to play today as I can't wait to see how he and Ozil perform together, but I think that it's a clever decision by Wenger to deem him unfit. There's a guarantee that if he won't play today, he won't play for Spain and will therefore get a whole two weeks to get a lot fitter.

Winning against West Brom today would provide a very good platform to maintain our lead at the summit, as well as extend our away record to 13 wins in a row. With the possibility of Cazorla, Podolski and Sagna returning at the other end of the International fixtures, the club would be in a very good position to fire on all cylinders.

Come on Arsenal. Top of the table awaits.

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )