Conceding a last-gasp equaliser in an eventful game at Sunderland ruined Arsenal’s last weekend and cost them temporary occupancy of top spot in the Premier League, but a handsome 4-1 away victory over arch-rivals Tottenham in the League Cup on Tuesday will have done much to banish the gloom that followed the Gunners south from the Stadium of Light.
Darren Bent’s 95th minute strike made a 1-1 draw feel like a defeat, and so infuriated Arsene Wenger that the Arsenal manager was fined and banned from the dugout for one match.
The Frenchman served his suspension at White Hart Lane (as did midfielder Alex Song, sent off for a second bookable offence at Sunderland), and admitted that his unaccustomed elevated vantage point gave him a novel and instructive perspective as his side impressed in overcoming Spurs. Particularly encouraging for Wenger was the performance of 18-year-old Jack Wilshere, who contributed significantly as Arsenal stretched their unbeaten start to seven matches in all competitions.
Ominous for Saturday’s opponents West Brom is the Gunners' home record this season: they’ve played three games at the Emirates, winning them all and scoring 16 goals while conceding just one.
Something else that may concern Albion is the fact that although Wenger surprised many – especially Spurs – by fielding a stronger team than expected for a League Cup tie, he was still rewarded with a stylish victory despite the absence of Manuel Almunia, Bacary Sagna, Thomas Vermaelen, Sebastien Squillaci, Song, Cesc Fabregas, Abou Diaby, Aaron Ramsey, Theo Walcott, Robin van Persie and Nicklas Bendtner.
Moreover, Andrey Arshavin, Marouane Chamakh and Gael Clichy only started on the bench. So much for the Gunners lacking strength in depth.
However, the Sunderland game last Saturday had one or two uncomfortable echoes of last season in terms of not closing out a game from a winning position; Tomas Rosicky’s missed penalty proved especially costly, as did one very late, split-second lapse in concentration by an otherwise solid defence after the 10 men had held out for 40 minutes.
Eradicating such errors is the best way to achieve the consistency on which title-winning campaigns are based, and Wenger has acknowledged as much. He recently admitted: “My players don't have the excuse of inexperience any more. They are eager for titles. I believe they are capable, but they have to show it.”
Baggies pulling their socks up
After acquiring a reputation for being the ultimate yo-yo club (four promotions to and three relegations from the Premier League since 2001-02), West Brom have made a highly encouraging start to their latest top-flight season. They recovered from an opening day 6-0 mauling by champions Chelsea and have only lost one other match (at Anfield). They arrive at the Emirates off the back three unbeaten games – a draw at home to Spurs and victories over neighbours Birmingham City and ambitious Manchester City, the latter in a midweek League Cup tie.
Roberto Di Matteo’s side look a better bet for survival than some of their predecessors, and travel to north London in ninth place, brimming with confidence.
Their 2-1 win against high-spending Manchester City was achieved despite Di Matteo having made no fewer than 10 changes from the side that beat Birmingham last weekend. It will have helped convince the players that they are good enough to retain their top-flight status this season.
However, less encouraging for Albion is that they last won at Arsenal some 27 years ago, that the Gunners have won their last five league and cup games against West Brom (including a 2-0 League Cup win at the Emirates last season), and that the Baggies' only Premier League point away to the Gunners was a 1-1 draw at Highbury in November 2004.
Moreover, Arsenal have kept seven clean sheets and conceded only two goals in their last nine home league games, whereas West Brom have failed to win any of their last 18 away Premier League games, taking four points from a possible 54, and their most recent top-flight away win was 1-0 at Middlesbrough almost exactly two years ago (September 27, 2008).
Arsenal will give fitness tests to Abou Diaby, Emmanuel Eboue and Tomas Rosicky, all of whose chances of making the starting XI are thought to be doubtful. Eboue and Rosicky picked up knocks in midweek against Spurs, while impressive young left-back Kieran Gibbs injured his foot and will definitely miss out, although the damage was bruising rather than another broken metatarsal, as had originally been feared.
Alex Song is back in contention after serving his one-match ban, but the game comes too soon for Thomas Vermaelen (Achilles) and Cesc Fabregas (hamstring), both of whom hope to return from injury against Chelsea next weekend.
Also sidelined are Nicklas Bendtner (groin), Robin van Persie and Theo Walcott (both ankle), Emmanuel Frimpong (knee) and Aaron Ramsey (broken leg).
Possible Starting XI: Almunia, Sagna, Koscielny, Squillaci, Clichy; Denilson, Song, Wilshere; Nasri, Chamakh, Arshavin.
West Bromwich Albion
Roberto Di Matteo is expected to bring back most of the players he rested for Albion’s League Cup victory against Manchester City. That means the likes of Scott Carson, Jonas Olsson, Gonzalo Jara, Gabriel Tamas, Jerome Thomas, Paul Scharner, Youssouf Mulumbu, Chris Brunt (left), Peter Odemwingie and Marc-Antoine Fortune will probably be back in the starting XI, along with Graham Dorrans and Nicky Shorey.
Midweek goalscorers Gianni Zuiverloon and Simon Cox may drop back to the bench, and a similar fate may await Boaz Myhill, Abdoulaye Meite, Ibanez Pablo, Somen Tchoyi, Steven Reid, Giles Barnes and Roman Bednar.
Midfielder James Morrison completes a three-game suspension, while Marek Cech (foot), Joe Mattock (ankle) and Ishmael Miller (thigh) are all sidelined through injury.
Possible Starting XI: Carson; Jara, Olsson, Tamas, Shorey; Thomas, Scharner, Dorrans, Bruynt; Odemwingie, Fortune.
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