West Brom preview: same again please

It’s a trip to the midlands today and a game against West Brom.

This fixture last year was one of the most tense, nerve-wracking Arsenal games I can ever remember. We took an early lead, let it slip to go 2-1 behind, got it back 3-2 and then hung on for dear life, quite literally at times, to the lead which would guarantee us Champions League football. We were helped on the day by an astonishingly bad goalkeeping performance by Martin Fulop and a wonderful late block by Kieran Gibbs.

And speaking of Gibbs, I suspect he might start today in place on Monreal. I don’t think the manager will be too eager to chop and change the team that played so well against Reading, but with the Spaniard having picked up a small knock in that game it might open the door for Gibbs. Beyond that it’s hard to see how, and why, he might change anything.

Lukas Podolski is fit and ready again, and bringing him in on the left is about the only realistic change I can see at the top end of the pitch. But that would mean moving Santi back into the midfield trio and dropping one of Ramsey or Rosicky, and if it were me I’d leave well enough alone. I thought our midfield was outstanding against Reading and they deserve another go today.

Rosicky, in particular, is like a pace setter in there. He keeps us moving, with or without the ball, and you also have to look at how effective our subs might be. If it’s not going as planned bringing on Podolski is adding some real firepower to proceedings; throwing on the Czech from the bench wouldn’t have the same impact.

Again we’ll be looking for Cazorla to pull the strings, but with Gervinho in some form and Giroud finding the net again last week, he should have plenty of support. I also think Ramsey is due a goal at some point, today would be a good day for him to get his first since Olympiacos back in October (although he did score recently for Wales). As well as that there’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain chomping at the bit after an upturn in his form, and this is a team that should be ready to go today.

No midweek distraction means heavy legs won’t be an issue. A full week between games allows the aches and strains to ease and similar to the Reading game we should be looking to make a bright start to this one. Steve Bould hinted yesterday that there’s a greater focus on the defensive side of our preparation, and as I mentioned I hope that’s something we carry through to the final day of the season.

We look to have found a decent balance between not conceding and still playing attacking football. We’re not sitting back, parking the bus then hitting on the break. We’re controlling games through discipline and keeping sensible shape, and we have players who can hurt the opposition. It’s a fine line, I know, but today will be another real test for us defensively against a team that are big and powerful at the back and up front.

Although their form in recent weeks hasn’t matched that of the start of the season (just 3 wins from 13 games in 2013), we’d be foolish to underestimate them. It took two Mikel Arteta penalties to beat them back in December, and players like Long, Morrisson and Lukaku can cause us real problems if we let them. Steve Bould says:

West Brom is a really tough game and Steve Clarke has done a magnificent job there. They’ve had a little dip but they’ve been more or less up there for the whole season. They’ve got a good back four, a good goalkeeper and they don’t let in an awful amount of goals. We’re under no illusions. We know it’s going to be tough but we’re more than capable.

However, if we can pick up where we left off against Reading, and play with the same confidence, then I think this one from which we can take three points. With Chelsea and Sp*rs both playing tomorrow, we could leapfrog the former into the top four and close the gap on the latter to just 1 point. It would put some real pressure on them, and who knows what might happen in their games.

Come on you reds.

Not much else going on really. Remember, if you can’t see the game later you can follow it with us here on the live blog. Check back later on for a post with all the info or bookmark the default live blog page (which works on your phone, tablet, in the Arseblog apps, and pretty much anything else you might have – bar a Casio calculator watch).

If you fancy a flutter, Paddy Power will give you a £20 free bet if you sign up and bet £10. Simply click here to register – and given that it’s Grand National day it’s probably a good time to do it!

And that’s yer lot. Time for some breakfast, and here’s to three points later on.

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