Team News And Some Thoughts Ahead Of Season Finale
Another Premier League season draws to a close, the West Brom game tomorrow the final one of an entirely unpredictable season. Arsenal can still restore some predictability to the campaign though, by forcing a positive result and ensuring a 15th consecutive season of Champions League qualification.
There have been comparisons made between tomorrow’s match and our last game at Highbury in May 2006. There are many similarities of course. Champions League qualification hung in the balance then, as it does now. Top European football was as important then with Arsenal being on the cusp of a move to the Emirates, as it vital now to build for the future. There was the added motivation of finishing above the enemy then, as is very much the case now.
On the other hand, unlike the 7th of May 2006 when our best efforts would have been futile in case of a Spurs victory, a win this time around would leave the cockerels helpless – and not just because of what they might eat.
In teams news, Arsene Wenger has revealed that Wojciech Szczesny is fit to play. There was some concern on the Pole’s fitness and despite his quite poor performance against Norwich, the continuity in goal should be reassuring for the Gunners. Theo Walcott faces a late test and if he were to be included, it would be a big boost for Arsenal’s attacking threat down the right side, especially as he would team up with Francis Coquelin who impressed while coming on for Bacary Sagna last Saturday.
For West Brom, Chris Brunt is definitely out and ex-Gunner Jerome Thomas is very doubtful with an illness, but the Baggies will be buoyed by the return of Peter Odemwingie who resumed training on Friday. The Nigerian is Brom’s highest goal scorer this season and has netted in both appearances against us, so his absence would have been welcome.
There are suggestions that West Brom will be up for it in Roy Hodgson’s last game in charge. I personally think this will not be a factor. What West Brom will do is to play the game without any pressure, something which can lead to an assured performance from the home team – especially if the opponents are battling nerves themselves.
Arsenal’s biggest challenge will be to keep those nerves under control and maintain discipline all over the pitch. We’ve been in situations in the recent past where young teams have been unable to display composure at crucial moments. The resilience that this particular group has shown this season will certainly be required tomorrow, but equally, a well organized discplined performance is mandatory. We will always create chances going forward against teams that do not employ defensive tactics, so it’s a matter of every player understanding and abiding by their role.
Aside from the three teams in the relegation zone, West Brom have lost the most number of home games (9) this season. But the Baggies do have a good record of winning games in which they score first, losing just one of eight matches in which they’ve taken the lead.
This emphasises the need for patience on Arsenal’s part, as conceding first in search of an opener may leave us chasing the game against a team that defends leads well. Although the Gunners themselves have recovered the most points from losing or drawing positions, so we must feel confident to claw back any deficit, if a lead was conceded.
I’ll be back tomorrow with the preview which will cover probable XIs, formations and tactics. Until tomorrow.