Our footy scribe previews the EPL matchup contested between Arsenal and West Brom.
Fourth-placed Arsenal host top-half contenders West Bromwich Albion on Boxing Day, hoping to make some ground on the teams above them. Arsene Wenger and Tony Pulis have never seen eye-to-eye in the Premier League, making this tie even more enticing than it already is.
After a blistering start to their 2016/17 campaign, the Gunners find themselves slowly stepping out of the title race and fighting for their usual top four spot. West Brom will look to do what they do best and frustrate Arsenal in their own backyard. The gloves are off on Boxing Day!
English Premier League | Monday 26 December | Emirates Stadium | 17:00
To Win (90 Mins)
Arsenal 3/10 | Draw 17/4 | West Brom 15/2
The Gunners suffered arguably their worst week of 2016. On Monday, they drew Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League. Tuesday, they endured their first defeat of the season away from home, and on Sunday, it became back-to-back losses for Arsene Wenger’s men as his side went down 2-1 to Manchester City. To make matters worse, all of Arsenal’s rivals picked up maximum points.
Now nine points behind log-leaders, Chelsea, the Gunners will be looking for a positive response as they look to attack West Brom with all they’ve got. Wenger will be hoping for no Christmas hangovers from his players as the Gunners are in desperate need of maximum points.
Arsenal will still be without Shkodran Mustafi – who hasn’t played a part in any of the Gunners’ four defeats across all competitions this season. Gabriel Paulista has partnered Laurent Koscielny at centre-back, and despite no individual errors from both defenders, they just don’t look the same without Mustafi.
Still, without their ever-reliable centre back, Arsenal should have no excuses against West Brom. Contract rebels, Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil, both went missing against Man City and will need to turn that performance around big time.
Sanchez has been superb this season and has been involved in 18 goals this campaign, more than any other player across Europe’s top five league’s – level with Chelsea’s Diego Costa. The Chilean forward has been much better this season in the striker’s role, scoring 12 league goals.
With Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain out due to injury, Alex Iwobi will occupy the left wing position, unless Wenger decides to give Lucas Perez a go, or even out-of-favour striker, Olivier Giroud up front and move Sanchez back to his preferred spot on the wing. Any of the three should be good enough to link up with those around them and get past West Brom’s resolute defence.
West Brom come into this game in some fairly decent form. The Baggies have lost just two of their last seven games, going down to Chelsea and Manchester United. One downfall for Tony Pulis and his side is that they haven’t beaten any of the top seven sides that they have faced, with Tottenham being the only team that they have taken points from.
Now in eighth spot, Pulis’ Baggies will be looking to cause more misery to the Arsenal faithful. West Brom did manage to beat the Gunners last season, but that came at the Hawthorns, where a Mikel Arteta own goal gave Albion a 2-1 lead that they held onto.
The Baggies look a different force now, with Venezuelan striker, Salomon Rondon, finding his best form this season. The big centre-forward has seven goals to his name this campaign and will look to build on that impressive headed hat-trick that he scored against Swansea a fortnight ago.
Pulis has changed his style up a bit this season and West Brom have played with a certain swagger at times. Matt Phillips has also been a key factor for Albion, providing three goals and five assists since his move from Queens Park Rangers.
Club record signing, Nacer Chadli, has been blowing hot and cold at times this season. The Belgian international started the campaign off brightly, claiming four goals and two assists, but has slowly dipped in form.
Despite the Baggies’ forwards grabbing all the attention, the centre-back pairing of Jonny Evans and Gareth McAuley has been formidable at times. Evans, who was linked with a move to the Emirates in the beginning of the season, continues to prove his doubters wrong with a string of fine performance of late and should recover in time from a calf injury. McAuley has been just as brilliant and has notched up three goals to his name, despite his old age of 38.
West Brom have goals all over the pitch and will be looking to cause Wenger’s side another hiccup in their title race. If any team can do it, it’s certainly a Tony Pulis side.
Verdict: Arsenal Win & Both Teams to Score (12/10)
Arsenal have won their last five meetings at home to West Brom, most recently last season where Sanchez netted a brace in the Gunners’ 2-0 win. However, without Mustafi at the back for the London club, there is a little more nervousness in defence.
Rondon could cause a threat and that’s why I’m backing Albion to get a goal. Still, I don’t see Arsenal losing this one. The home Win & Both Teams to Score is tipped at 12/10.
Written by Jesse Nagel @Hollywoodbets