05 April 2013

Arsenal Vs. West Brom Preview

After yesterday's drama in the Europa, we sit and wait to hear the results of the scan on Gareth Bale's ankle injury. He'll probably miss at least two weeks, according to Andre Villas-Boas. The match report at the Tottenham site is upbeat, mentioning only that Bale "joined Lennon in limping out of the action." We'll have to keep an eye on that and wish him well. Closer to home, we look ahead to our own tricky match with West Brom. They started the season on a fine run, climbing as high as 3rd in the table at one point, but have since settled into 8th place. When we hosted back in December, we needed two Arteta penalty kicks, the first after a bit of a dive from Cazorla to ensure victory. At the time, we sat in 6th place behind West Brom, who were in 5th. Since then, however, we've been on a fine run of form, with five wins and one loss in our last six matches while West Brom have labored a bit more, with three wins, one draw, and two losses. That first match gave us the epic photo of Jack Wilshere going forehead-to-chin with Jack Olsson. Sadly, with Wilshere out, we won't get a replay of that little scene. Instead, I'll settle for a replay of the score.

As for them, they come in a bit short-handed after Mulumbu earned a three-game rest after seeing read against West Ham for drop-kicking a ball into Gary O'Neill. Silly stuff, even if he was fouled. They've been without Gary Zoltan and George Thorne for a while as well. Other than that, no other significant injuries have been reported.  The Baggies are among the ruder hosts around, having conceded 14 goals in 15 home games and sporting a record of nine wins, two losses, and four draws. This will be a tricky one, no doubt about that. I admire the form they've been in for most of the season, and they look set for one of their highest finishes in the Prem. I'll stop short of saying we should give them any help in that department. If there's good news for us in their position, they are perched in the Goldilocks zone, so to speak: too far from relegation to worry, too far from qualifying for European competition to strive. I don't think this will affect their mindset all that much, but it does remove those motivating elements from the equation.

As for us, I'd like to see Gervinho up top again. He's been in fine form in his last few appearances, resurrecting memories of the form he showed early in the season when he was actually our leading scorer for a while. Joining him, I would like to see more pace and energy than Giroud brings and hope that Podolski or Oxlade-Chamberlain join Gervinho up top. Giroud was ineffective against West Brom last time out, even if his size matches him up well with Olsson. As I've said before, I'm not thrilled with how Giroud sometimes stretches us out of shape, tempting us into sending more long balls and crosses at him to see what happens. That's not purely his fault, but we're much better when we're picking a defense a part through movement and intelligent passing. With that in mind, the midfield would look good with Arteta, Cazorla, Rosický, and Ramsey in it. We all know how well Cazorla has been lately, and Ramsey has rightly earned plaudits for his work-rate, effort, and performance. What's more, he can offer more of the defensive mindset to balance Cazorla and Rosický's upfield forays.

On the backline, the only real question in my mind is whether we can bring Vermaelen back in. Monreal's out, so the left-back position is apparently available, offering Arsène a convenient excuse to insert Vermaelen there without unduly disrupting the Koscielny-Mertesacker partnership. Alternately, as I suggested a few posts back, Vermaelen could rotate in to rest Kos or Mertesacker, and then do the same next week to rest the other defender, giving Vermaelen his preferred role two weeks running and allowing Arsène a chance to evaluate the form of all three (especially Vermaelen) as we go into the cluttered part of our schedule and prepare for Everton, which could shape up to be a bigger match after they play a depleted Spurs on Sunday. Right back goes to Sagna, who looked fit and strong against Reading

Last but not least, is it time to bring back Szczęsny? He's sat for a spell now, and Fabianski should have done better on the goal against Reading. Fabianski's done well, but I still see Szczęsny as our #1 keeper. His drop from the starting line-up has lasted enough to send its message, so I say put him back in and let him regain his match-readiness. I worry that if he sits much longer, the benching will have the effect of undermining his confidence too much and leaving him rusty to boot.

If we can continue our recent form, scoring an early goal to set the tone, I'll be happy with whoever our starting XI includes. One game at time. Let's put this one to bed early.