With hopes of a first Premier League title in 12 years now extinguished, Arsenal face a fight just to hang onto a Champions League place. Arsene Wenger’s side go into their game in hand against West Brom on Thursday just a point ahead of fifth-placed Manchester United and under pressure to correct their stuttering form.
Arsenal have won just two of their last seven Premier League matches, a run that has seen them drop right out of contention for a championship that appeared theirs for the taking after the struggles endured by all of their traditional major rivals. A 1-1 home draw with Crystal Palace on Sunday, courtesy of a late equalizer from Yannick Bolasie, brought further frustration and audible discontent from the Emirates crowd.
“I want our fans to be happy and when they are not it affects me,” Wenger said in his press conference ahead of the visit of West Brom. “We do not want to play in a negative environment, but if we do we can still perform. We are responsible for the performance of our team. It is true that at the moment [the atmosphere] it is not a highlight.
“We have to take that with a distance as well and focus on our job. The emotional part in our game is always very high, but it changes very quickly as well. Judgement from people, we have to live with that. It’s down to us to change that belief and that judgement.”
Wenger was also keen to point out that Arsenal will go above Manchester City and into third place with a victory. However, his squad is unlikely to be boosted by the return of Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla just yet. The midfield duo are back in training after long injury layoffs, but Wenger suggested both still lack the required sharpness for first-team action.
Arsenal should, though, be encouraged by the form of their next opponents. West Brom have taken just a single point from their last four games, after effectively securing their safety from relegation. Their 1-0 defeat at home to Watford on Saturday was particularly painful, with striker Saido Berahino seeing two penalties saved. Still, manager Tony Pulis has confirmed that the former England Under-21 international will remain on penalty duty.
“He will pick the next one up and take that as well and hopefully he will smash it into the back of the net,” he said.
Pulis had plenty of battles with Wenger while he was in charge of Stoke City, however, the West Brom boss believes only bad luck with injuries have prevented Arsenal from being right in the thick of the title race.
“Arsenal can beat any team in Europe on their day,” he said. "And I think Arsene has been incredibly unlucky with injuries this season. He has missed big players at important times. Once all those players are fit, he has got a strong enough squad to win this league. He will be disappointed with the inconsistency but all the other clubs will be saying the same thing, apart from Leicester and Tottenham.”
Prediction: It cannot be much fun being an Arsenal fan right now. While their team is set for yet another season of Champions League qualification but nothing more, they are having to witness their local rivals Tottenham, and Leicester City making the most of the most unpredictable of seasons. Capable of supreme quality at times, there is little sign that Wenger will ever again be capable of instigating the consistency necessary to land another Premier League title.
Still, while morale must be low among the Arsenal team, they should benefit from taking on a West Brom with little to play for in order to claim an important three points.
Predicted score: Arsenal 1-0 West Brom
Kickoff time: 2:45 p.m. EDT
TV channel: NBCSN
Live stream: NBC Sports Live Extra