The FourFourTwo Preview: Arsenal vs West Brom
Arsenal's After the Lord Mayor's Show continues against a West Brom side still fighting for a point or three to secure survival.
It's starting to become a habit. Arsenal's season has become a familiar one in recent years, and it's happening again. Some early promise, a tantalising glimpse of what might be, a post-Christmas season-shattering wobble and then a pressure-free finish with a flourish. History is repeating itself for Arsene Wenger's men, and we are in phase four of the cycle - the prolific post-script.
- Arsenal 3-0 Newcastle (Prem)
- Hull 0-3 Arsenal (Prem)
- Arsenal 3-1 West Ham (Prem)
- Wigan 1-1p Arsenal (FAC)
- Everton 3-0 Arsenal (Prem)
WEST BROM FORM
- WBA 1-0 West Ham (Prem)
- Man City 3-1 WBA (Prem)
- WBA 3-3 Spurs (Prem)
- Norwich 0-1 WBA (Prem)
- WBA 3-3 Cardiff (Prem)
Though an FA Cup final represents important progress after nine years without a trophy, a silver lining in a cloud of recent gloom, Arsenal appear to have developed an unwelcome habit of failing when it matters but thriving when the pressure is off.
Last season's 2-1 defeat at Spurs in March seemed to end the Gunners' hopes of a Champions League place. But with expectations lowered, Arsenal powered to eight wins from their last 10 league games, securing fourth. The season before, Wenger's men went on a run of eight wins from nine games from February-April - but only after disappointing defeats in the Champions League (4-0 in Milan) and FA Cup (2-0 to Sunderland) had shattered dreams of silverware.
Comfortable wins against West Ham, Hull and Newcastle in their last three games have once again seen Arsenal hit the accelerator just as their campaign looked liked stalling to a standstill. The Champions League carrot dangling deliciously above Everton has been snatched away, both by their own poor form and Arsenal's sudden improvement - three wins from three compared to two wins in the previous nine since a 5-1 mashing at Liverpool in February. With three games remaining against West Brom, Norwich and Hull at Wembley, you wouldn't put it past Arsenal winning all their remaining games and ending the season in traditional style.
For West Brom, the hard-fought 1-0 win over West Ham was huge. But they're not out of the woods yet. Though Pepe Mel's men have the advantage of a game in hand over the bottom three, defeat at the Emirates could see their four point safety buffer reduced to one, with Sunderland away and Stoke to come in their last two games.
It's not been a particularly happy hunting ground for the Baggies of late - Arsenal have done the double over them twice in the last two seasons and knocked them out of the League Cup on penalties back in September. Goals from Peter Odemwingie, Gonzalo Jara and Jerome Thomas secured the Baggies' last win in this part of north London, 3-2 back in 2010. A repeat result would all but guarantee survival.
The Arsenal infirmary has cleared somewhat in recent days but Theo Walcott, Abou Diaby (obviously), Ryo Miyaichi, Jack Wilshere, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Kieran Gibbs all remain injured. Thomas Vermaelen and Serge Gnabry are also doubts. West Brom are without Liam Ridgewell and Zoltan Gera, and Steven Reid and Gareth McAuley are also struggling for fitness.
Player to watch: Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal)
After an absence of nearly four months, Ramsey's return has already made a visible difference to Arsenal. Forget all the babble about Luis Suarez's 'redemption', Ramsey's early-season story was a genuine redemption song - a player whose career prospects were nearly shattered by Ryan Shawcross in 2010 but who fought back, rehabilitated and re-emerged as arguably the best player in the Premier League in this season's opening half.
Ramsey adds so much to Arsenal's game, but above all he is a team player. He passes consistently and intelligently, offers an important goal threat from midfield and - quite rare for an Arsenal midfielder - actually defends well. His presence also has a positive impact on the team's balance, the likes of Mesut Özil and Mikel Arteta looking far more comfortable with Ramsey around. In the 3-0 win at Hull he was top for attacking-third passes, grabbing a goal and assist in the process, while in the 3-0 over Newcastle he was joint-top for ball recoveries - a valuable demonstration of the many strings to the 23-year-old's bow.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- WBA 1-1 Arsenal (Prem, Oct 13)
- WBA 1-1p Arsenal (LC, Sep 13)
- WBA 1-2 Arsenal (Prem, Apr 13)
- Arsenal 2-0 WBA (Prem, Dec 12)
- WBA 2-3 Arsenal (Prem, May 12)
This will be the first time that Mel and Wenger have squared off in managerial competition. And possibly the last for a while, if recent reports that Mel is to lose his job regardless of the season's denouement are to be believed. The money men at The Hawthorns are thought to be looking at yet another managerial change in the summer, even if the approachable Spaniard keeps West Brom in the Premier League. The Daily Star report Mel will be sacked regardless of results in the final three games, with Tim Sherwood, Derek McInnes and Malky Mackay already being considered as replacements.
Facts and figures
- 6 of Arsenal’s last 7 matches have had at least 3 goals.
- West Brom’s last 14 matches have all had a goal before half-time.
- Arsenal’s last 11 home wins have been by at least 2 goals.
- West Brom have lost 9 of their last 10 trips to top-six teams with 8 loss/loss doubles.
Best Bet: Over 3.5 Goals @ 2.30
More FFT Stats Zone facts • Find the best odds with Bet Butler
The pressure's off and that's when Arsenal are at their best. Free-flowing football results in a 3-1 win.