WBA Preview: Shift over, Santi

You hear the phrase ‘must-win’ brandished as an epithet to every other Premier League game.  Today, for Arsenal, it feels appropriate.  Should we fail to beat West Brom, the consequences will be catastrophic.  Not as far as the Premier League table goes: there’s plenty of time for us to catch the Baggies, as well as the other teams chasing Champions League Qualification.  The damage to the trust between fans and manager, however, could be hugely significant.  Last week, the atmosphere shifted from tense to toxic.  I dread to think where it goes from here.

West Brom come with a strong squad.  Their only key player missing is Scott Carson BEN FOSTER (thanks for the copious corrections in the comments), and unfortunately for Gooners everywhere, his place won’t be taken by Martin Fulop.  The man who made the last day of 2011/12 hilarious for all the right reasons now plays for Asteras Tripoli in the Greek Super League, but we’ll never forget him, and shall raise a glass in his honour on every St. Totteringham’s Day.

Arsenal are without both Lukas Podolski and Theo Walcott, as well as the expected absentees Bacary Sagna and Laurent Koscielny.  Carl Jenkinson will continue at right back, with Mertesacker and Vermaelen in the middle, but it’s ahead of that where things become more interesting.  We can be fairly certain that Mikel Arteta and Jack Wilshere will anchor the midfield.  Santi Cazorla has started every Premier League game this season, and on each occasion it has been in the central playmaking role.  I wonder, however, whether the absence of our first-choice wingers and the renewed availability of Tomas Rosicky will see Arsene bring the Czech in to the centre and shift Santi wide.  We shall see, but I don’t think a change in role would do the Spaniard any harm – he may even find himself a bit liberated.  Olivier Giroud is guaranteed to play at centre-forward, and I’d then go for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain over Gervinho on the flank, for the simple reason that The Ox is a better crosser of the ball, and that suits Giroud down to the ground.

Arsenal will take comfort from the fact that West Brom have lost their last two matches, but know that the Baggies have beaten Chelsea, Liverpool and Everton already this season.  Swansea showed that sides no longer come to the Emirates playing with fear; they come to score goals and win.  Arsenal will need to be vastly improved to win this one.  And marks my words, Arenal need to.  It’s a must-win.

Gunnerblog is the brainchild of childbrained football writer James McNicholas. Aside from Gunnerblog, James currently contributes to Bleacher Report, The Mirror and ESPN.