Arsenal would have expected to be looking down the table at West Bromwich Albion at this point in the season, but instead welcome a team five places ahead of them to the Emirates on Saturday (3pm GMT).
The Gunners are 10th in the Premier League table with 21 points from five wins, six draws and four defeats. It has been their worst start to a season in the 16 years of Arsene Wenger’s reign and supporter discontent is growing over the club’s inability to challenge for honours.
Arsenal were booed off the pitch following their 2-0 defeat at home to Swansea last weekend, a result that extended their poor run of form to just one win in their last six Premier League matches.
Wenger’s men have the highest average share of possession in the league (59.9%), but are struggling to create and convert scoring chances, suggesting they lack cutting edge in the final third.
Arsenal have the ninth-worst efficiency rating in relation to goals per percentage of possession, averaging a goal for every 37.44% of possession in a given match. This is down on 30.91% last season, one of many indicators of offensive output that have worsened since the departure of Robin Van Persie to Manchester United in the summer.
Van Persie scored 30 goals last season and neither of Arsenal’s new forwards have looked capable of getting near that total. Olivier Giroud’s all round play has been solid, but he has only found the back of the net four times so far, as has Lukas Podolski, whose performances have been far from impressive.
Both players are still adapting to the Premier League, but unless Theo Walcott or Gervinho step up to the plate and start scoring on a regular basis, their lack of goals is likely to be Arsenal’s downfall. They also have a defence that has been far from watertight this season.
Arsenal have actually only conceded slightly over one goal per match on average, but have looked very vulnerable to runners in behind. That weakness was again exposed by Swansea last week, who twice took advantage of a flat-footed Gunners defence to score. With Laurent Koscielny out injured, a central defensive pairing of Per Mertesacker and Thomas Vermaelen lacks pace and could struggle to deal with a rapid West Brom attack.
The Baggies have defied all pre-season predictions with their superb start to the Premier League season and are fifth, level on points with third place Chelsea, having won eight, drawn two and lost five of their 15 matches.
Steve Clarke has seamlessly stepped into the head coach position vacated by Roy Hodgson, making no more than subtle changes, but impressing with his game-changing substitutions. He has continued to employ a 4-4-1-1 formation, two banks of four providing a solid base from which swift counter attacks can be launched.
West Brom are one of the most efficient teams in the league when it comes to transferring possession into goals, only averaging a 43.5% share of the ball, but scoring 24 goals – an average of one for every 27.19% of possession in a given match.
The hard-working Shane Long works the whole width of the pitch in his lone striker role, consistently on the last shoulder of defenders making a nuisance of himself. There is sufficient pace and invention among his supporting cast, usually made up of James Morrison, Zlotan Gera and Peter Odemwingie, to offer a significant goal threat when West Brom move forwards.
Morrison, Gera and Odemwingie have scored 10 goals between them, in addition to Long’s five. The towering Chelsea loanee Romelo Lukaku has offered athleticism off the bench against tiring defences and has also found the back of the net five times himself. All in all, West Brom have proved to be one of the best counter attacking teams in the division.
They have, however, stuttered a little in the last couple of weeks, losing away to Swansea and then at home to Stoke in the space of three days. The Arsenal match will therefore be a test of character for Clarke and his men, who will be keen to avoid their recent hiccup turning into a bad run of form.
Arsenal v West Bromwich Albion Betting Tips
West Brom will look to keep things tight in the early exchanges in an attempt to frustrate an increasingly restless Emirates crowd and heap additional pressure on their hosts. They have the necessary ability in attack to suggest they will create chances against a sluggish Arsenal defence and we fancy the Baggies to come away from London with at least a point.
- Back West Bromwich Albion +0.5 on the Asian Handicap @ best odds of 28/15 (almost 15/8) with Pinnacle.
- On average, West Brom concede the first goal of away matches in the 50th minute and are certain to again look for solidity early on at the Emirates. Therefore, back Arsenal’s first goal to come after the 35th minute in the ‘time of 1st home goal market’ @ 5/6 with Bet365.