West Brom go into the game on Sunday knowing that a loss against Arsenal will finally succumb them to relegation and end their most recent stint in the Premier League.
After emphatic wins against Chelsea and Southampton, Albion looked like they would be going down with at least a fight. Realistically, their fate had been sealed in the first half of the season, but after solid recruitment under Allardyce the squad looked somewhat rejuvenated and ready for a scrap.
The euphoria of the result away at Chelsea was somewhat short lived as they were humbled by Leicester, and results against Midland rivals left rain on Albion’s parade- quite literally. It has been a matter of when, and not if, for a while now and it seems this it has dawned on everyone around the club in recent days.
Arsenal themselves have had an extremely poor season, all but out of the chase for European football, and their exit from the Europa League on Thursday has left Arteta’s position vulnerable. Feeling around the club’s supporters regarding their season and the supposed ESL very much compares to the gloomy sentiment at the Albion. This fixture certainly has the potential to reflect the late season blues.
Albion are with no new injury concerns and have had a healthy break since last time out. Although, it has now been confirmed that Snodgrass will miss the remaining games of the season due to an operation he has had.
Maitland-Niles, who featured for Arsenal in the dismal reverse fixture before he joined on loan, will be unable to play against his parent club which might alter the opted starting formation.
Quick to switch to a back four against Wolves after pressure was applied they managed to find their way back into the game. Maitland-Niles absence will probably see Albion start with a flat back four with Phillips or Robinson coming in to replace him.
Having utilised Livermore and Sawyers very little, it is unlikely they will be thrown back in as cover, I suspect Yokuslu and Gallagher will offer the first line of defensive cover.
That being said, three at the back might also have some merits with Furlong and Townsend offering support from wide which will allow Pereira a more central role in behind Diagne. Although, at this stage in the season, with little to lose, I would like to see some attacking intent.
After what has been a torrid week for Arsenal which just about sums up their season, they will be looking to bounce back and reclaim some dignity.
It remains to be see how they will start. Throughout the season Arteta has been unable, due to injuries and suspensions, to keep a consistent starting eleven.
Xhaka, their most recent casualty, picked up a knock during the warm up in midweek and was replaced last minute by Tierney, who himself was probably not fully fit.
However, Odegaard, Saka and Smith-Rowe, Arsenal’s only bright sparks this season should all be fit for the game and certainly pose a threat.
Elneny, who scored his first Premier League goal last week against Newcastle might be called upon with Xhaka looking like he will be absent.
As the season dwindles to a close it would be nice to get another memorable result before we find ourselves back in the Championship. Whilst scenes like those after the winner against Spurs under Darren Moore might not be possible until some fans return to the Hawthorns against West Ham, Albion will look to close the season with some highs.
It benefits the players to put in some good performances on their part as well. With contracts to be decided many need to prove their worth to the club. On the flip side, these closing fixtures might prove crucial in determining the price of any potential outgoings. Johnstone and Pereira, off the back of this season, deserve a place in the Premier League and with many clubs speculating what their price might be, a good end to the season can only help Albion’s bargaining power.
As ever, Yokuslu will need a solid game. In recent weeks he has not been as commanding as we have become accustomed to- which no doubt contributed to the disappointing results. He will have to be on top form against the likes of Odegaard and Saka. Likewise, Gallagher, who will be familiar with his England youth teammates’ capabilities, will have his work cut out in an energetic midfield.
Arsenal will be there for the taking however, early intent could force them into mistakes and what could be a nervy match for a squad under increasing pressure. If Pereira can find space in the pocket behind Diagne then chances will come our way. A relatively inexperienced and often, haphazard Arsenal defence should leave Diagne with plenty of opportunities which he must take.
Dependent on which full backs they opt for, Albion might find joy down either wing. Whist Tierney was man of the match in the reverse fixture, his lack of game time might be a worry for Arsenal should they be forced into starting him. There is joy to be had on the other side too, Bellerin who offers more of an attacking threat, can often be found lacking defensively so don’t be surprised if Townsend has a big impact again.
I feel the game will be won by the first goal. Should Albion concede first then it will be curtains on their season and there is the potential for a result similar to the reverse fixture. However, if they can hold out for as long as possible then it will be all to play for. One thing is for sure, with both Arsenal and West Brom this season, it has been impossible to predict which team is going to turn up. They have both had exceptional highs and exceptional lows which have ultimately defined two inconsistent seasons.
Score Prediction: Arsenal 2-1 West Brom