West Brom preview + Saturday round-up

Booo, chilly this morning. This better not be the start of it now. Mother Nature needs a good talking to.

Anyway, today is West Brom at home and last season this was a game which was one which generated much frustration. I’ve looked back over the blog post and I was surprisingly magnanimous about West Brom, giving them lots of credit for their performance, but there was obvious grumpiness at Arsenal’s. Afterwards Arsene Wenger said he didn’t recognise his team that day, many of us, unfortunately, did.

It seemed to be yet another case of Arsenal facing a promoted team, thinking they just had to turn up to win it, and having coasted through the game got what they deserved. There were quite a number of painful defeats last season but that one in particular was one which kind of set the scene for things to come. It took a while to happen to we got there in the end. Sadly.

Today, however, I expect no such performance from Arsenal. I think this is a team which is much more humble, less prone to hubris, and even Arsene spoke yesterday at his press conference about the team’s need to maintain the work they’ve been doing in recent weeks. He said:

The last thing that should creep in now is complacency. We have come so far, through difficult times, I believe that we have an intelligent group. We need to realise that there is a lot more to achieve for us to come back into a stronger position.

Which is exactly what I want to hear from the manager. By all means celebrate that fantastic win against Chelsea, they needed that, but do not lose sight of the fact there’s still a long, long way to go. Approaching any other game in this league without the same focus or determination will, most likely, ensure you get a quick slap in the face, at best.

As for today’s team, it strikes me he’s only got one decision to make and that’s whether or not to bring back Koscielny and who he should replace if he does. Does he rest Mertesacker or Vermaelen, perhaps continuing to ease the Belgian back into things slowly? Of course he could stick with the Vermesacker partnership which brought about a midweek clean sheet. Honestly, I have no idea what he’ll do so I’m not even going to guess.

The team will be: Szczesny – Jenkinson – Vermesackerscielny – Santos – Song – Ramsey – Arteta – Walcott – van Persie – Gervinho

I suspect that Woy Hodgson will set his team up to frustrate us today, not quite parking the bus but ensuring there’s no room for Arsenal to exploit the pace of Walcott or Gervinho. This should no longer be any surprise to us and this is something we’ve got to learn to live with and cope with. All the same, I think there’s enough quality in this team to break them down and to take the three points.

Arsenal v West Brom stat pack.

Arsene’s comments about attacking full backs are very interesting. If Andre Santos is still a little way away from convincing when it comes to his defensive duties (although his stabby tackling technique seems to be curiously effective) the boss is keen to exploit his creativity. He says Santos can improve his defensive work, but:

I believe he is much better defensively than people are giving him credit for. He is still sometimes caught but in a one-on-one he is quite good and in the last 10 minutes at Chelsea he saved three or four goals.

For me, having a full-back who creates is an important part of winning. Take the Brazilian national team, the ones who have won trophies anyway, you will see that there is always two good full-backs. With two average full-backs they would not have won. But they had Carlos Alberto and Roberto Carlos, Jorginho and Cafu.

An interesting point. I don’t know if you can compare Santos to any of those players just yet but is there something to be taken from the stat that in six appearances for us the Brazilian has scored 2 goals, equalling Gael Clichy’s tally from a total of 264 games? There’s an interesting piece here about Santos and the role he’s most accustomed to and he certainly does have a bit to learn when it comes to playing at full back in England. However, if he can add some defensive discipline to his game without stifling too much of what he can offer going forward then he could prove to be a very exciting player indeed.

His fitness seems to be an issue and that should improve in time, and from what I saw of the last 20 minutes of the Marseille game I imagine Thomas Vermaelen might have had some words of ‘advice’ in the dressing room afterwards about his positioning. But if his first half against Chelsea was somewhat fraught the goal he scored obscured the fact he had a very good second half overall. It’s early day still, obviously, but fingers crossed he can continue to develop.

On the other side Carl Jenkinson is less naturally attacking but from the little we’ve seen of him he possesses the best crossing technique at the club. The consistency and quality of the balls he whips in from that right hand side is fantastic – which might explain Arsene’s frustration at the final whistle against Marseille when the youngster had a chance to fire one over but cut back instead.

As a life-long Arsenal fan his enthusiasm for playing for the club is fantastic to read about and like Santos he’s still got a fair bit to learn defensively. One thing is for sure though, you’ll always get 100% from him and his energy, getting up and down the right hand side, is exceptional.

And some bonus reading: a Q&A with Ju Young Park who says he’s still adapting to English football and Arsene Wenger on why he’s not short of strikers. No comment on that!

Right, that’s that, 3pm kick-off today, there’ll be full live blog coverage as normal. Simply check back later for the live blog post or bookmark the default live blog page, updates will appear automatically. And if you fancy a couple of quid on today’s game, register with Paddy Power and get up to £50 in free bets. Our pal Andre Santos is on 18-1 for first goal, might be worth a couple of quid that.

Until later.

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