28 November 2014

West Brom-Arsenal preview: Kos and Giroud return to deliver victory over West Brom!

The last time we faced West Brom, we won via an emphatic header from Olivier Giroud, a victory that clinched fourth place and ensured that we would again appear in the Champions League. Fast forward from then ‘til now, and we’ve made good on that promise, advancing to the Champions League knockout-stage thanks to goals from Sanogo and Alexis, but thanks also to stalwart defending and a stand-out performance from Damián Martinez, who looks to again deputize for the injured Wojciech Szczesny (whether the injury is physical or psychological is another question for another day).  More important, perhaps, will be the returns to fitness of a few Frenchmen at opposite ends of the pitch.

At one end, the return to fitness of one Laurent Koscielny might be one of the lynchpins this squad needs. For as vital as we've been on offensive, carving out chance after chance after chance, only to go begging, it's on defense that we've come away empty-handed, palms turned to the sky in supplication, bewildered by yet another goal conceded out of what felt like nowhere. This is not to suggest that Koscielny will magically summon the steel that we need to dispel such accursed goals, only that he could restore some semblance of sanity to a back-line that has struggled to assert itself in his absence. To be clear, Monreal as a centre-back offer as best a stop-gap. He's done well enough in a pinch but not well enough for a push to the top of the Prem.

With Koscielny and Mertesacker, we wouldn't just see the restoration of one of the Prem's stoutest defensive pairings, we might see a bit more flexibility across the back-line. Gibbs testified to his quality as one of the best left-backs in England if not in Europe, but we're still begging on the other side. With Mathieu Debuchy still a few weeks away from recovery, we might look to Saturday's clash as a chance, perhaps even an opportunity, for Héctor Bellerín to prove himself. He's proven himself to be the fastest sprinter in the squad, faster even than Walcott for what that's worth. While we're indulging in the symbolic, Bellerín made his Arsenal debut against West Brom back in September 2013, subbing on for Arteta. We'll look no further for portents, though, as that match ended in a 1-1 draw at the Hawthorns.

At the other end of the pitch, I greet the return of Giroud with unadulterated joy. In his absence, we've turned to and relied excessively on Alexis in a formless, amoeba-like offense that has defied logic or intent. For better or worse, Giroud establishes a template from which the more-creative types can flourish. In his absence, too many players have had free license to folllow whatever whim seized them. There's been no focal point, no direction, no strategy, other than to let Alexis roam and lay waste as he will. Often enough, that's been just enough to get us by, but it's not been enough to see us through. Here and there, the link-up play on offer from Welbeck and Sanogo has shown glimmers of brilliance, but it's through Giroud that we might see even more from Alexis or Oxlade-Chamberlain on the wings, as well as from Cazorla or Ramsey through the middle. For as much as many of us might lament his finishing, the chances he creates for others is not to be underestimated. Should he start, I'd not be surprised to see him play a part in chances, if not goals, for Ramsey or Cazorla or the Ox. As for Alexis? He seems to do well enough on his own.

We know full-well that we need a positive result from Saturday's clash, and the returns of Koscielny and Giroud should impel us towards that goal. At one end, Kos should restore a degree of confidence that will go a long way towards denying the Baggies' attack. At the other end, Giroud's return should establish a more-direct attack, with fleet-of-foot-wingers like Alexis and the Ox.

It's not often that one looks to the French as reinforcements, but, in this case, we might set aside the precedents in order to make the most of the armaments on offer. To that end, I offer the following prediction

West Brom 0-3 Arsenal.

Your thoughts and predictions in the comments-section below...