Arsène Wenger has urged his Arsenal team to maintain the level of performance they showed in a 2-0 win over Borussia Dortmund in midweek as they attempt to end a run of back-to-back Premier League defeats at West Bromwich on Saturday. The victory over Dortmund secured Arsenal a place in the last 16 of the Champions League and also eased the pressure on Wenger after a poor start to the season and critical comments from the club’s second-largest shareholder Alisher Usmanov. And Wenger is now eager for his side to build momentum at the Hawthorns and rise up from their lowly eighth position in the Premier League table.
“We have to keep the quality of our performances and keep the urgency of the defending that we showed against Dortmund,” he told Arsenal’s official website. “Most of all, the priority is to keep the dynamic we have in the team. You see this team is alive; it plays with a good dynamic. Let's just focus on that and keep that.”
While the defeat of Dortmund came as a sizable relief, it also came at a considerable cost. Captain Mikel Arteta suffered yet another calf strain, and the scorer of the first goal to finally get off the mark in an Arsenal shirt, Yaya Sanogo, also had to be taken off and is set to miss out on the trip to the Hawthorns. Jack Wilshere remains sidelined, but Laurent Koscielny could be in line to start and Olivier Giroud is expected to be involved, having been ineligible for the Champions League.
Now just three points above the relegation zone, West Brom, like Arsenal, could really do with a positive result at Saturday lunchtime. After getting successive Premier League wins at the end of September to calm criticism over the surprise appointment of Alan Irvine as manager in the summer, West Brom have now taken just five points from their last six matches. And fears have returned that a second-straight season featuring a desperate battle against the drop could be in the cards. Last week the Midlands side were blown away by leaders Chelsea at Stamford Bridge inside an opening 30-minute spell that also saw midfielder Claudio Yacob sent off on his first Premier League start of the season. The Argentine will now be suspended for the visit of Arsenal, only adding to Irvine’s woes.
West Brom’s preparations have been further hampered by the revelation this week that leading goal scorer Saido Berahino had been charged last month on suspicion of drunk driving. The 21-year-old, called up to the England squad for the first time earlier this month, has also been battling a hamstring strain, but Irvine expects the striker to be fine to take on the Gunners.
“We had a little scare over Berahino earlier in the week because he had a tight hamstring,” he said, reports West Brom’s official website. “But he trained on Thursday and trained very well. I had a football chat with him earlier this week -- his head is in the right place. He scored a whole load of goals in training, and if he plays like that on Saturday, I'll be delighted.”
Prediction: Games between these two sides have generally been close-run things in recent times, particularly at the Hawthorns, where the last two have ended all-square. It could be a similar story this time. West Brom are likely to prove hard to break down initially, and the pace of Berahino and the positioning between the lines of rumored one-time Arsenal target Stéphane Sessègnon could give the home backline some concerns. But, while serious long-term problems remain, the victory against Dortmund should provide Arsenal with the short-term fillip required to get past what is an ultimately limited West Brom side.
West Brom 1-2 Arsenal
Kickoff time: 7.45 a.m. EST
TV channel: NBCSN
Live stream: NBC Sports Live Extra