Relegation Sunday looms once again but for Arsenal and West Brom, the weekend holds a different importance. For Arsenal, it’s a chance to bring a difficult season to an end by securing third place. For West Brom, it’s Roy Hodgson’s sending off before he takes over as England manager.
The Baggies have been in a decent run of form lately, only losing one of their last six matches. Last week they played for a tough draw against Bolton, putting both their strengths and weaknesses on show.
Hodgson’s men play a simple, flat 4-4-2 which is their first major flaw as it makes them predictable. They attack very methodically and like to slow down the pace of the game. Over the course of this season we’ve been horribly exposed by counter attacking teams like Wigan and Norwich. But West Brom’s slower attacks will allow the Arsenal defence to set up properly and shut down any threats with a lot more ease.
As mentioned, West Brom are terribly predictable both in attack and in defence. Their defence and midfield stay very compact, forcing the strikers to drop into the hole to bridge the large gap between midfield and attack.
This now creates a 4-3-3 situation if the target man, namely Marc-Antoine Fortune, manages to keep possession. The wingers arrive late and with the more advanced of the strikers up front, it gives Fortune plenty of choices to take the attack further. Fortune is the pivot of this West Brom attack and gets upwards of 50 touches per match.
Sometimes they are pushed out to the wings in an attempt to find some open space and all this does is isolate the strikers further. It could possibly create an another threatening situation on the edge of the box however. Chris Brunt usually ghosts in behind the attack but when the ball is out wide he will move up to cover for the striker on the wing. He’s out for this match but the winger coming into the box can still cause problems and you couldn’t write a better script with former Arsenal man, Jerome Thomas likely to fill in for his injured captain.
Defensively, there’s a lot that can give Arsenal fans hope. The West Brom defence was constantly bombarded by crosses from Bolton and really struggled to defend against them. They couldn’t stop the flick ons by Kevin Davies, allowing the other striker to get into great scoring positions. Having a player like Chamakh on the pitch would give us a more potent attack. Given that he has played well in the handful of playing time he’s got in the last few weeks, it’s not an outrageous suggestion. With Van Persie playing off the big man, it will cause havoc for the West Brom defence.
That suggestion being pointlessly offered, it’s not the only way to trouble them. The West Brom defence shows an amazing lack of grace during spells of the match. They don’t track their men, are constantly caught out of position and leave enough space to be exploited by a quick attack.
Fortunately, the two biggest threats in the West Brom squad, Peter Odemwingie and Chris Brunt, are out for this match.
Instead, we’ll have to turn our focus on their target man, Marc-Antoine Fortune, who has the pace, strength, skill and heading ability to be a dangerous player. He plays with his back to goal a lot. This pulls a center back out of position and stretches the opposition defence as the overlapping runners get into the space left by the out of position defender. Alex Song will be vital and will either have to cover well or mark Fortune himself, leaving our center backs to focus on the players running in late.
The Weak Link
Right back, Billy Jones is in his first Premier League season and has shown his inexperience at this level time and time again. Attacks down the left will definitely bring a lot of chances for Arsenal.
Arsenal have been unconvincing in possession since Arteta’s injury. In addition to that the team has really struggled away this season but third place should really be enough motivation to go out and win this match. Although that was said prior to last weekend’s clash with Norwich and it clearly wasn’t enough of an incentive to the players. Maybe the fact that West Brom are missing key players will make it easier.
Having watched the game again on Football First, then again on Match of the Day, it’s clear what the problems are.
Without Alex Song, Cesc Fabregas and Theo Walcott, the 4-2-3-1 formation just doesn’t work. Koscielny and Squillaci can’t really play together that effectively. Manuel Almunia is a rubbish goalkeeper.
To most, these were clear before today, but that performance should put the final nails in the coffin for Arsene. There’s not much he can really do about the centre back pairing at the moment, but I suspect he’ll select Lehmann ahead of Almunia from here on in. As for the formation not working without the three players mentioned earlier, that won’t be too much of an issue as they’ll all be back for Blackburn in two weeks. Hopefully anyway.
The 4-2-3-1 is designed for four players in particular – Song, Fabregas, Walcott and Robin van Persie. Song can protect the back four while occasionally ambling forward in attack. Fabregas can pull the strings, play balls from deep or lead the attack. Walcott will receive some of those balls, and play dangerous balls into the box or get in behind the defence. Van Persie relies on the service from Walcott and Fabregas, but when they aren’t there, the formation doesn’t work as well.
Van Persie ends up isolated and only getting the odd chance from a cross. He has improved his heading this season, but it’s not enough to hope he’ll score from there. When we don’t have Cesc and/or Theo, we should play Chamakh alongside van Persie. Then we can play balls aerially and along the floor to Chamakh, he can lay it off to van Persie, and we get chances.
Another problem which has been explored over and over again is how clinical we are – so many game-changing, and indeed season-changing, chances go begging. If Aaron had put that rebound past Carson it would have been 1-1 and we would have been on the front foot. Instead it was saved. I could list so many examples of where we didn’t take our chances and it came back to haunt us – I won’t; instead I’ll point out where taking our chances helped us.
Against Chelsea in late 2010, we were underdogs despite their poor form. We didn’t get many chances, but we took the important ones at the important times. We scored right on the stroke of half time having dominated – if we hadn’t, our heads may have gone down and who knows how the game would have gone. Then after half time, straight out of the blocks again, 3-0, quick as a flash.
Sadly I think injuries have once again been our downfall this season – it’s not our first choice team that is letting us down, it’s those that back them up – Diaby, Denilson, Almunia. I’ll leave Squillaci out because I feel that he’s a decent player, but his partnership with Koscielny just doesn’t work. We need a clear-out in the summer, of the deadwood, and then to bring in new, fresh talent who want to win. I think we should get Gokhan Inler from Udinese to back Song up and push him for a place even. That would mean we wouldn’t also have to rely on Jack as much – he’s played an unbelievable amount of games and it must be only a matter of time before he’s burnt out.
I think we also need a right winger, someone like Theo with pace to burn. Maybe Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, or if we’re being extremely optimistic, the excellent Eden Hazard, who’s been in top form for title favourites Lille. Then perhaps a Squillaci-esque centre back, only one who can play with Koscielny. However, Kyle Bartley could be the answer. We’ll have to wait and see though.
How we are still in the title race is a mystery.
At one point we seemed dead and buried; 2-0 down thanks to terrible defensive play. By the end of the game it looked like we were going to snatch it – alas, it wasn’t to be.
All of the pre-match talk focused on Aaron Ramsey, and how great it was to see him back. Fans were praising Wenger for his inclusion in the starting eleven, although some preferred to criticise Le Boss for starting Denilson once more. With Ramsey starting, it was a choice between two unfavoured players for Wenger – instead of Tomas Rosicky, he picked Denilson.
Of course, another option was to go for a 4-4-2, with Robin van Persie and Bendtner or Chamakh in attack. Then we could have had Arshavin and Nasri on the wings, with Wilshere and Ramsey in the centre. In hindsight it would have been better; we finished playing our best football in a 4-4-2, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. Perhaps we ought to play 4-4-2 whenever we’re without Song and/or Cesc.
We went 1-0 down early on, just three minutes in in fact, thanks to yet another goal conceded from a set piece. Koscielny knocked it out, and it was whipped in well by Brunt. Steven Reid lost Aaron Ramsey, and powered in a header. The general consensus was that Almunia could have done better – indeed, he only went for the ball with one hand. Try using both next time, Manuel. If there is a next time.
We struggled during the first twenty minutes, but got going after that. Clichy swung in a cross for RVP, whose looping header hit the bar. It fell to Ramsey on his weaker left, and he couldn’t beat Carson who blocked. It was a great chance, and one we should have taken. Our endeavours were helped by James Morrison being forced to leave the field of play to get stitches after a collision with Koscielny, but we couldn’t make the extra man count. We went in at half time at 1-0 down.
Denilson had come in for huge criticism amongst the fans for his inability to… well, play football, and Arsene seemed to agree with the majority, bringing on Chamakh at half time as we averted to a 4-4-2. It’s rare for Arsene to make a change at half time – perhaps that is a significant pointer as to how much we were struggling.
Just before the hour mark though, it got much worse. Almunia decided to race out of his box to challenge for the ball – in some situations this is acceptable, but not when you’re challenging your own player. He confused Squillaci, before shoving him to make matters worse. Odemwingie stole in to take advantage of the mix-up and gleefully slotted home. We needed serious readjustments.
Moments before the second, Bendtner had replaced Ramsey. He perhaps lacked a little sharpness, but still looked decent. We threw everyone forward to try and score, but it didn’t seem to working. West Brom even had more chances to score thanks to woeful play at the back, but luckily for us they didn’t.
Then on 70 minutes, we were back in it. Andrey Arshavin linked up with Chamakh before rifling in a shot, and made it 2-1. Hope.
This gave us the boost we so badly needed, and Arshavin was the one to instigate the second goal. He curled in a cross which struck the bar, and van Persie forced the ball over the line. Improbably, it was 2-2.
We pushed and pushed, as did West Brom, and it looked like we might find an unbelievable winner to send the away fans into delirium. However, as hard as we tried, we couldn’t. Clichy had a shot saved well, and Sagna had a shout for a penalty turned down. The referee blew for full time, and it finished 2-2.
Afterwards, Wenger blamed the pitch, and called it a point gained. Seeing as Man United scored a late winner against Bolton, it’s more like we’ve dropped points. However, I feel both points can be justified – it’s Wenger trying to avert the blame and encouraging the players. On the other hand, it may make players think “Oh it wasn’t my fault, it was the pitch’s fault. I’ll just play the same way next time.” If that’s the case, all Wenger will be encouraging is complacency. Ah well, whatever you think’s best, Arsene.
Further analysis should follow tomorrow. Until then, Gooners. Keep your heads high. There’s a long way to go until the end of the season.
Aaron Ramsey is back.
For the first time since breaking his leg against Stoke last year, Aaron Ramsey starts a game for Arsenal. Here is the team in full.
Almunia; Sagna, Squillaci, Koscielny, Clichy; Ramsey, Denilson; Nasri, Wilshere, Arshavin; van Persie
Bench: Lehmann, Rosicky, Eboué, Chamakh, Gibbs, Miquel, Bendtner.
Team courtesy of Arseblog.
Last time we played there, we won 3-1, courtesy of two from Nicklas Bendtner and a header from Kolo Toure. The previous game, however, we went down 2-1. If my memory serves me correctly, Philippe Senderos scored for us, but Darren Carter came off the bench to score a wondergoal to win it for the Baggies. I’m sure we all know and still shake our heads at what happened last time we played them though – it was a shocking collapse, and 3-2 genuinely flattered us. We could have even snatched a draw; Nasri hit the bar, and Rosicky flicked a late chance well wide.
It was Almunia’s last performance in the league for us, and he’s expected to return between the sticks tomorrow. He saved a penalty having conceded it, and to be fair had been having a decent season; and then it happened. Three goals in the space of 15 or so minutes flew in, at least two of them could be blamed on Almunia too. I’m not sure what he could have done about the first one, but the second was straight at him and he helped it into the net – the third was just idiocy. He raced off his line to try and tackle a player who wasn’t going anywhere, and made it easy for him to square for Thomas, who couldn’t believe his luck.
We really do not want anymore of that from Almunia tomorrow, it’s a huge game in our season and we need good performances from everyone. In his previous two games against United and Barca, he did play very well to be fair to the guy, so more of that from him please. Lehmann should be on the bench for his return to the side after his move was finally confirmed by arsenal.com. These days it seems like the last place to have the news though, and often gets things wrong, even passing off fake Twitter accounts as real.
Diaby has been ruled out as I said yesterday, which for me is good news – not that a human being is physically damaged obviously, but that he can’t negatively affect our chances of victory, which let’s face it, he does often. Most if not all of us are probably hoping to see Ramsey back starting in the league, but realistically I can’t see Wenger throwing him in the deep end in such an important game. We’ll probably have to settle for Diaby’s partner in crime; the other Chuckle brother, Denilson. I expect he’ll line up alongside Wilshere in the deep-lying midfield positions. The defence will surely be Sagna, Koscielny, Squillaci and Clichy – I’m a little worried about the centre backs, as I said yesterday they’re a troublesome pairing, and Odemwingie can be a handful on his day. Hopefully he’ll be off his game again tomorrow.
I’d expect Arshavin to play on the left, with van Persie in the lone role, and Nasri and Rosicky to take the remaining central and wide right roles – who in which, I’m not quite sure. The bench will then probably be made up of Lehmann, Eboue, Miquel (not Miguel!), Gibbs, Ramsey, Chamakh and Bendtner. With the injuries we have, that’s still a good team. Definitely capable of turning West Brom over, but they’re in a decent run of form.
They’re unbeaten in four since they were beaten 3-0 by City, but even then they put a good show on. Under Hodgson they’ve been improving, and our loanee Carlos Vela has been in excellent form. The good news is, he won’t be playing, so that’s one player we won’t have to worry about. They still have other dangerous players – Brunt, Morrison, the afore-mentioned Odemwingie too. Then there’s Fortune… every time I’ve seen him he’s been useless, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he ended up scoring against us! Hopefully I’ve not jinxed it. They have the likes of Scharner at the back, and he’s great at getting on the end of set pieces; attacking and defending, while Brunt has a wicked delivery, so we’ll have to be watchful.
Well, that’s about it for today. Enjoy, follow me on Twitter @15yearoldgooner and hopefully we’ll get the three points! Cheers.