After consecutive 2-1 defeats against Everton and Manchester City in the space of a week, Arsenal’s collective spirits have lessened significantly.
Add to that, Chelsea’s impressive winning run and there are already worrying signs which suggest the Premier League title is ultimately out of reach for another year in north London.
Luckily for Arsène Wenger’s players, the visit of Tony Pulis’ side represents the start of winnable fixtures – up until they make the short trip to Stamford Bridge on February 4 with league leaders Chelsea eager to exact revenge from the memorable 3-0 win in late September.
Wenger had some positive injury news to report, with both Aaron Ramsey (hamstring) and Danny Welbeck (knee) returning to first-team training. It’s still unclear as to whether the former will feature in the matchday squad, but it’s definitely a welcome boost during the Christmas period with matches coming thick and fast.
Mesut Özil was on the receiving end of some heavy criticism from supporters for his perceived lack of effort when pressing out of possession against Manchester City last weekend. “The big players always respond to criticism on the pitch. He suffered more than the others because we didn’t have the ball enough,” Wenger said about the talented German.
“They master the technical side of the game much better and can be effective anywhere,” Wenger explained when questioned about West Brom’s abilities.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (hamstring) is the only fresh injury issue to deal with, which suggests that Alex Iwobi will start on the flank once more as he did against Manchester City.
Gabriel should start alongside Laurent Koscielny as part of a centre-back pairing once more: his sixth consecutive Premier League start would provide more confidence for the Brazilian, who has shown his defensive capability despite a few shaky moments at the back.
Petr Cech is under increasing scrutiny, having not kept a clean sheet for eight successive league matches. The 34-year-old goalkeeper hasn’t enjoyed a good run of form recently and Jordan Pickford has been recently linked with a possible move to the Emirates, amid long-term planning for the future in goal.
Possible XI (4-2-3-1): Cech; Bellerín, Koscielny, Gabriel, Monreal; Coquelin, Xhaka; Walcott, Iwobi, Özil; Alexis.
West Brom have endured a bumpy start to the 2016/17 season but despite this remain in high spirits as they continue to stake their claim for one of the league’s UEFA Europa League qualification places this term. They’ve won six, drawn five and lost six too – yet find themselves in eighth place, which just shows how important consistent results can be with rivals around them dropping points with regularity.
Their summer acquisitions have proved effective in helping to get more out of Salomon Rondon in attack: Nacer Chadli and Matt Phillips have created 35 chances between them, with seven assists and also seven goals in the league this campaign reiterating their importance to WBA in-and-around the final third.
In terms of team news, midfielder James Morrison is a doubt having missed training with illness. Talented striker Saido Berahino (fitness) is unlikely to be involved, but defender Jonny Evans (calf) could make his return if he passes a late fitness test to start amongst the Baggies backline.
With that in mind, here’s West Brom’s possible XI (4-2-3-1): Foster; Nyom, Olsson, McAuley, Dawson; Fletcher, Yacob; McClean, Phillips, Chadli; Rondon.