One thing is for sure, Arsenal will have it all to do against West Brom at the Emirates this evening. Tony Pullis always fields a determined, stubborn and physical team that is capable of nullifying the opposition, whilst making off with all 3 points.
The fixture is dreaded by the majority of Gooners because it is seen as a test of Championship potential and is normally a feisty affair where points are potentially lost.
Being able to break down a functional side that only has the ambitions of a mid-table finish tends to lead to a great deal of anxiety in the stands. If WBA are in form, it will be a bruising encounter where a single goal could settle it.
Arsenal are likely to be without Ozil for this one and Iwobi looks set to retain his spot for now. Much will depend on the North London club’s ability to soak up the knocks and negativity before trying their luck by pushing forward.
Sanchez is likely to start but hopefully just behind the striker. That way Lacazette can try to find space before receiving an inch-perfect pass from either Iwobi or Sanchez to get their nose in front.
Wenger knows only too well that if he or his players underestimate Albion’s resolve and commitment, it will be a case of more points off the pace, with both of the Manchester clubs unlikely to drop points anytime soon.
At the back, Mustafi and Koscielny are likely to be in paired together after finally finding a way to make their partnership work. Ramsey and Xhaka performed so well at Chelsea are the obvious choice in the middle, although Wilshire is in contention to appear at some point.
Ramsey was praised for his efforts and rightly so, but he will need to pick and choose when to sprint forward without leaving his defence exposed. The two combinations I mentioned previously, are crucial if the Gunners are to walk away with a win and they need the same commitment and intensity they showed at Stamford Bridge.
On paper, they should win 2-1 but it’s easy to see how West Brom can turn a match upside down with their ‘never say die’ attitude and robust counter-attacking style. They are just plain awkward, hard to contain and extremely well organized, so Wenger will need to instill genuine purpose before kickoff.
The other dread, even this early in proceedings, is injuries. Albion can battle hard and play a contact sport style game where armour is normally the only defence. They have the skill and passing ability but Pullis will let the dogs off the leash to upset Arsenal’s flowing rhythm and break up play wherever possible.
That sounds like an assault on WBA’s style, it’s not meant to be. They are an old-school team that are combative and solid, one that tests a team mentally and physically. They are opportunists that are likely to smash and grab against the run of the play and getting back on even terms, if things go wrong, will prove a tall order.
Patience is a virtue here but going in at half-time a goal up, is something that will encourage the team in the next 45, whereas a stalemate will heap on the pressure and add to the nerves. With Ramsey fast approaching his best, it would not be a surprise to find him involved in a goal or on the score sheet.
He’s a threat that you can’t mark out of a contest. He flies in from deep, cuts in like a winger and has the ability inside the box to find space when eyes are elsewhere. It’s a pity that he has had niggles which have halted his progress in recent seasons.
If Lacazette finds the net in this one, he will more than prove his worth because he is likely to have a defender on each shoulder and one around his neck to prevent him doing so. I predict an Arsenal win but as always it won’t be easy, without incident or the odd bruise.