Premier League | The Hawthorns | Sat 29 Nov | 12:45pm
Battle of the grey tops. All eyes on the managers in this one.
WEST BROM FORM
- Chelsea 2-0 WBA (Prem)
- WBA 0-2 Newcastle (Prem)
- Leicester 0-1 WBA (Prem)
- Bournemouth 2-1 WBA (LC)
- WBA 2-2 Palace (Prem)
- Arsenal 2-0 Dortmund (CL)
- Arsenal 1-2 Man Utd (Prem)
- Swansea 2-1 Arsenal (Prem)
- Arsenal 3-3 Anderlecht (CL)
- Arsenal 3-0 Burnley (Prem)
Two teams facing a bleak midwinter. West Brom entertain the Gunners looking to avoid a third successive defeat, which could feasibly drop them into the relegation places. Just as damaging, it would throw them into the type of slump that can easily snowball into a full-blown existential crisis, from which there is no return.
A win here could take them up to 11th, illustrating the schizophrenic nature of the Premier League right now, but the back-to-back wins at Tottenham and home to Burnley that pushed the Baggies up to 10th now seem a long time gone. So too does the impressive form of Saido Berahino. The two things are likely connected.
Scoring six in five games in September and October, Berahino has now gone four without any. His cause hasn’t been helped by Alan Irvine’s grim negativity. Away at Chelsea is entirely understandable, and their ambition wasn’t helped by Claudio Yacob’s red card, but even in victory at Leicester, the Baggies displayed a sit-and-soak-it-up caution that will win them as few friends as it does points.
As a result, with Berahino’s influence and goals drying up, he’s turned to drink. More specifically, to drink-driving. The silly boy was pinched this week for reportedly driving at 110mph while over the limit. In Cheshire. A drunken footballer in a fast car in Cheshire. Pray the adulation hasn’t gone to his head.
One man who may well have turned to stiff drink is Arsene Wenger, for whom the sands of time seem to be finally running out. With a little more composure in front of goal, Arsenal would have beaten Manchester United last Saturday and would now be sat in fourth place and we probably wouldn’t be suggesting that the sands of time are finally running out for Arsene Wenger.
But they didn’t beat United, and the general ineptitude of their performance and the fact they sit not fourth but eighth in the table, 15 points behind this season’s champions Chelsea, has set the big alarm off.
Some will argue the unexpected Champions League victory over Dortmund has changed everything. We’d suggest that the usual progress in Europe ranks lower down the list than making forward progress in the Premier League, and that’s where the real concerns lay.
Not since the 1982/83 season have Arsenal endured a less fruitful start to a season. Back then, in the golden days of Brian Sparrow, John Hollins and Lee Chapman, the Gunners collected just 15 points from their first 12 games. Today, they have 17. A win changes everything, of course, as it will for West Brom, but a win would only paper over Arsenal’s cracks until their next inevitable implosion.
Yacob’s red card at Chelsea rules him out for three games, this being the first of the three. He joins Sebastien Pocognoli (thigh) on the sidelines, while the influential Jonas Olsson (Achilles) is out until the new year.
Arsenal are harder hit and their injury woes worsened on Saturday and against Dortmund – Wojciech Szczesny (hip), Jack Wilshere (ankle), Mikel Arteta (calf) and Yaya Sanogo (hamstring) have joined A-listers Mesut Ozil and Mathieu Debuchy on the injured list. Theo Walcott is not sufficiently match fit to feature.
Player to watch: Olivier Giroud (Arsenal)
The handsome Frenchman was on the pitch all of 14 minutes against United, yet still ended the game with Arsenal’s best shots statistics – two shots, one on target, one magnificent goal.
A damning state of affairs that reflects Arsenal’s desperate need for a striker who can give their pretty-pretty passing (408 to United’s 226) an end result – and take the burden from Alexis Sanchez. His goals alone won’t solve Arsenal’s deeper problems, but they’ll lift the mood significantly.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Arsenal 1-0 WBA (PL, May 14)
- WBA 1-1 Arsenal (PL, Oct 13)
- WBA 1-1p Arsenal (LC, Sep 13)
- WBA 1-2 Arsenal (PL, Apr 13)
- Arsenal 2-0 WBA (PL, Dec 12)
Despite taking only five points from a possible 18, and despite the supposedly dead men at the bottom now showing signs of life, Irvine is largely unconcerned. “What we have to do is... take the positives,” was how he summed up the defeat at Stamford Bridge.
The fact they limited Chelsea to just two goals, despite playing with 10 men for much of the game, was one positive, as was the form of Ben Foster. On this point, Irvine took such positivity that the colour almost returned to his deathly grey façade.
“It’s important we have lots of good players and if teams can get through us it is nice to know that we have a top goalkeeper.” That’s the game plan, it seems, and one Irvine seems keen to test out.
Meanwhile, with every passing week, Wenger finds new ways to chip away at the legacy he will leave to English football. A stubbornness to address the issue of a hopeless imbalance and a penchant for playing talented players out of position now seems to have reached a tipping point.
Arsenal’s billionaire shareholder Alisher Usmanov addressed the issue this week, declaring himself unhappy with Arsenal’s acceptance of a fourth-place finish as some kind of success. “We have a Russian proverb which goes: ‘Even an old lady can have a roof falling on her’,” said Usmanov. From which we deduce that the roof is about to fall in on dear old Mrs Wenger. Not this week, and probably not next, but at some point very soon.
Facts and figures
- West Brom have won 0 of the last 7 Premier League meetings with Arsenal (W0 D2 L5).
- Both of Olivier Giroud’s Premier League goals this season have come in the 90th minute.
- All of Arsenal’s Premier League wins this season have come against teams currently 14th or lower in the table. West Brom are 13th.
More FFT Stats Zone facts
West Brom 1-2 Arsenal.
Back 1-2 at 8/1 with Bet365. Odds right at time of publication