Arsenal seek salvation and title boost at rejuvenated West Bromwich Albion
WBA v Arsenal, Premier League, The Hawthorns, Saturday March 19, 3pm
Following the defeat at Old Trafford, Arsene Wenger’s team must now focus on the Premier League, but a return to winning ways against relegation battlers West Brom is far from guaranteed.
Since Roy Hodgson’s arrival at The Hawthorns, the Baggies are unbeaten in four games, drawing three and winning one, and they will be hoping to continue this run in front of their home fans.
The 3-1 victory over local rivals Birmingham at St Andrew’s has lifted the Baggies out of the relegation zone, but they still sit precariously poised just a point above 18th-placed West Ham.
Appointed after the close of the January transfer deadline, Hodgson has been unable to bring in any new faces to the team, but his side’s unbeaten run will have fostered a belief that saw his Fulham side miraculously avoid relegation in 2008.
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This team spirit will be further enhanced by the announcement that Hodgson has decided to retain coaches Michael Appleton and Keith Downing in the wake of Roberto Di Matteo’s departure, which should spread a sense of unity within the squad.
The addition of Arsenal’s own Carlos Vela on loan in January has added firepower to West Brom’s front line with the Mexican international scoring twice in his four appearances for the club, but Gunners fans will be pleased to hear that he is ineligible to play against his parent club.
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Further attacking threat will come from Peter Odemwingie, who has netted nine time this season, while James Morrison and Chris Brunt are both capable in front of goal.
It will be Paul Scharner who could be West Brom’s key figure, as the experienced and combative midfielder has been a crucial part of West Brom’s revival, and he displayed his versatility and value with the deciding goal against Birmingham, which capped an impressive performance for the Austrian international.
The team’s defence will be of greatest concern to Hodgson though, as West Brom have one of the worst goal differences in the league, with only bottom-placed Wigan having an inferior record.
Steven Reid and Youssouf Mulumbu are likely to be deployed as a defensive shield to combat Arsenal’s attacking runs from midfield and protect a defence that has already conceded 31 goals on their travels this season, more than double that of Arsenal.
A win will be crucial for the success of both teams’ seasons at opposing ends of the table.
Arsenal will be seeking revenge for the defeat in the reverse fixture earlier in the campaign, and their attacking power should be too much for their hosts’ leaky defence.
Prediction: WBA 1 Arsenal 2