This is where it all began–the banners amongst the traveling “support” telling Arsene Wenger that his services as manager at Arsenal Football Club were no longer desired. What year was it? 2014 maybe, but who can remember? For what feels like an eternity, Arsenal fans have seen title challenges fall away and watched what feels like an annual right of passage–each February from the first elimination round of the Champions League. What’s the point of trying for another top 4 finish in the league if that’s all that can be expected? Sports should be a respite from our boring lives. Consistency? No thank you…
Even if the results haven’t actually gotten worse (in fact, we finished 2nd in the league last season and won a pair of FA cups in the proceeding campaigns), the sense of futility (sameness?) and the toxicity of the Arsenal environment only grows. A fund had been raised to hire a plane and fly another message to the board: “Wenger Out. No New Contract.” Due to bad weather, it will have to wait. Instead, only the hand-held ones will be on display.
But that’s the “game within the game” or maybe the battle amongst brothers. Arsenal supporters all yearn for success–or at least easy answers and change for the sake of change–but there’s an actual match that must be played and it will be against an always resolute opponent: Tony Pulis’ West Bromwich Albion. If Arsenal can win it–and make no mistake, with Wenger still at the helm, ALL matches are ones he must win–the protests will be held over until the International break is done and we host Manchester City. If we cannot… Well, let’s not go there unless we must. As the song goes: “Oh to be a Gooner..”
Pulis’ team is having a fine season and have already reached the 40 point mark finding itself in 8th place in the league table. Their last two outings have been poor, however. They failed to score and were beaten 3-nil at Everton last weekend, and, even worse, allowed two Crystal Palace goals while scoring none themselves in a home match the weekend before. Pulis, always a strong motivator, will want to right the ship and will surely have his players well focused for the task at hand. And, although his teams have a reputation for defending first and foremost–and that such a tactic might also be aided by the rough weather–he’ll also know that an early goal will only fuel the rancor amongst the traveling support and put extra pressure on Arsenal to come at his Baggies and perhaps leave themselves exposed for counterattacks.
And, we must remember, WBA are no Lincoln City, the non-league team we were able to beat in the FA Cup last weekend. Instead of part-time players and former tradesmen, West Brom have several players who have played at much more renowned clubs. Ben Foster, the former Manchester United keeper, anchors it all, while other former Red-Devils, notably Jonny Evans and Darren Fletcher, will likely play ahead of him. Nacer Chadli and Jake Livermore did time at Tottenham and now take up midfield roles with the Baggies. Solomon Rondon (the answer to the question “Who ate all the empanadas (Spanish for pies)?” is a big force up front and he could be paired with Hal Robson-Kanu who impressed in the 2016 European Championships with Wales.
How does Wenger, under so much pressure that he cannot afford a mistake, set up his team against the Baggies?
He certainly played a strong squad against Lincoln City and I suspect he’ll go with that same group again, with the exception of starting Mesut Ozil (who came on for the injured Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the middle of the first half) and replacing Kieran Gibbs (who seems to have caught the illness which had gotten Ozil before him) at left back. That would make for a starting 11 as follows:
Substitutes: Ospina, Mertesacker, Gabriel, Coquelin, Iwobi, Welbeck, Lucas
Of course, he could also choose to mix things up a bit by going more defensive in midfield with Coquelin or choosing to use Alexis up front and keeping Giroud in reserve if goals are needed late. The manager was far from definitive in his pre-match comments about the health of other flu stricken players (Iwobi and Welbeck) and on the recovery of injured guys like the Ox and Mohamed Elneny. Still, with the pressure he’s under and the fact that the Lincoln match was one of his only successful recent outings, I think he’ll only tinker as he must. As I said before, it’s a must win match and only such a result see the banner carriers leave the Hawthorns somewhat sheepishly. They’ll be back, of course, after the international break, but most Gooners could probably use a respite from the angst surrounding the club.
But what do I know? How do my fellow BK-esquers (the few, the proud..) feel about the match and what are your predictions (or desires) for the game?
Go on then…