Arsenal vs. West Bromwich Albion: match preview

How could I not?

Arsenal vs. WBA
The Premier League of England Match Day, oh, 11 or so
Kickoff: 11 AM ET, Emirates Stadium, London, Alpha Quadrant
Television: foxsoccer.tv for subscribers
Form: Arsenal WWWWD, 7th place | WBA DDWWL, 13th place

Arsenal welcome the Baggies to the Emirates tomorrow for another round in the English Premier League. The Baggies visit after a 2-0 loss to Liverpool last weekend in which there was a faint whiff of a Luis Suarez dive to win the penalty for Liverpool's opener. Arsenal are coming off their 0-0 draw with Marseille on Tuesday after the 5-3 win against Chelsea last weekend.

Last season's corresponding fixture saw Albion win 3-2 at the Emirates, and Arsenal will hope to avoid such an outcome tomorrow. Manuel Almunia had a particularly poopy day that day, but tomorrow, Wojciech Szczesny will be the man in the net for the Gunners trying to keep Peter Odemwingie, Jerome Thomas, and Somen Tchoyi off of the scoresheet. Shane Long, the club's leading scorer (with three goals--Albion are just a tad offensively challenged at the moment), is set to miss the next few weeks after picking up an injury against Aston Villa.

In addition to Long, WBA will also be missing veteran midfielder Paul Scharner after he had to leave midway through the Liverpool match last weekend. Although James Morrison filled in last week, manager Roy Hodgson says he has other options available:

Hodgson insists Graham Dorrans, Zoltan Gera and George Thorne are also in the frame to step into Scharner's boots. "It could be a choice between Morrison and Dorrans, it could be both Morrison and Dorrans playing, it could be Gera, it could be George Thorne," said the Baggies boss.

Zoltan Gera has played pretty well against Arsenal in the past for both WBA and Fulham, Dorrans has 14 goals in 74 appearances for the Baggies in three years, and Thorne is 18. As Morrison is more of a winger, Gera or Dorrans might be more logical choices in the middle for Hodgson to slot in alongside Youssuf Mulumbu. Thomas and Chris Brunt will probably feature on the left and right flanks; Brunt is a good crosser of the ball, and if he can find space behind Andre Santos (this is likely), he may prove dangerous providing service for WBA's forwards. Losing Long is a blow for them, though, as he is one of their main counterattacking outlets. (Or ounterattacking cutlets).

(mmmm...cutlets)

For Arsenal, the only long-term injuries at this point are Abou Diaby, Bacary Sagna, and Jack Wilshere. Marouane Chamakh is not available, but only in the short-term. Although the Baggies gave a Cesc Fabregas-and-Samir Nasri-containing team problems last year, this really is a fixture that even the current Arsenal lineup should put to bed. After resting a couple of key players on Tuesday, Wenger will probably put out his strongest lineup, although it's not clear if that lineup includes a Koscielny-Vermaelen partnership or not. Per Mertesacker isn't everybody's cup of tea, but there is some merit to the idea that either Kos or TV work better in tandem with him than they do with each other, since they both are aggressive center halves, while he is more positional. Since Koscielny has a little tiny injury problem from playing a lot recently, Vermaelen seems a more likely choice at the moment. Other than that, the lineup more or less writes itself these days:

Arsenal (4-2-1-3): Szczesny; Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Santos; Song, Arteta; Ramsey; Gervinho, van Persie, Walcott.

Sprinkle in a little Arshavin off the bench, with maybe a little Rosicky or Djourou as well, maybe a potato, some bacon, and a cup of soup, and you got yourself a stew goin'.

Prediction: Robin van Persie opens and closes the scoring in the 23rd minute, turning home a Walcott low cross. The rest of the match is spent in silent prayer, trying to ward off the upcoming interlull (so help me, Bert van Marwijk, if you hurt RvP, it's over for you. Don't even try it.)

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