West Bromwich Albion vs Arsenal, The Hawthorns, Premier League
Kickoff – 15:00 GMT (19:30 IST), 13th May 2012
As we move into the final day of Premier League action for this season, my emotions remain mixed. This has been one of the most topsy turvy season I have been witness to, and I have watched just 8, including this.
Being an Arsenal fan is not easy. It is an extremely hard choice to make, and certainly not one for the faint hearted. While we had to endure millions of jokes butted at our 8-2 mauling, at the hands of Manchester United, earlier in the season, I have also had the pride of rival fans coming up to me and telling “Arsenal were awesome yesterday!”, after we beat AC Milan 3-0. While all Arsenal fans may sum this to be a largely disappointing campaign, the word ‘disappointing’, being used only in the context of lack of silverware, I don’t see this as a disappointment or a success. Rather, I see it as another season gone by. I always have seen it that way. Of course, I would be elated, more than anyone else, if we had a cup to go with it, but then, football is football. It goes on. There’s always next season. Players may go, players may come. But, Arsenal will always be close to my heart.
So, moving on, in our quest for Champions League football next season, is our extremely massive league encounter with Roy Hodgson’s West Bromwich Albion. After 37 games of league football, it all comes down to this, and it is still in our hands. If we win tomorrow, irrespective of what Sp*rs do against Fulham, we will be competing in Europe’s premier football tournament. Else, we will be competing in the rather harsh environs of the Europa League.
No disrespect to the Europa League there, but a lot hinges on our Champions League qualification. So much has been talked about this, and all of you know why qualifying for it is of paramount importance to the club’s fortunes at this crucial juncture. A 4th place finish means, we will have to hope Bayern Munich beat Chelsea in the Champions League final next weekend, and while I will be cheering on Bayern, irrespective of our league standing, just because I want the Gunners to be the first club, to bring the European Cup to London, there is no two ways about the fact that we have to win tomorrow.
Much has been said about West Brom players looking to give old man Hodgson a good farewell. On the flip side, we will have the same agenda on our minds, Pat Rice the man in question here. What a fine servant he has been to the club, and a win tomorrow, will be a nice gesture of saying ‘Thank You’.
All games will kick off at exactly the same time tomorrow, and while all of us will be scrambling for live scores, around the grounds, we all know that a 1-0 style win will do the trick. Robin van Persie has had a magnificent season for us, and at times I wonder, where we would be, at the end of the season, without him. Talk surrounding his possible exit from the club has disgusted me enough, and I hope he gets to the 32 mark, to be the Premier League record goal scorer, in a single season, and proceeds to sign a contract.
I don’t believe much in transfers, cos’ they are all a load of bullsh*t. 99% of them never really happen, and with us, it has never happened. This time, though, it seems a bit different, with Lukas Podolski signed even before the present season ends, and the next one starts. This statement of intent has led newspapers to link us with every other professional footballer on the planet. But, for now let’s not talk about it.
Team news, then. Theo Walcott will face a late fitness test, though I doubt he will start tomorrow. Attack wise, we weren’t too bad last week against Norwich, and I think we will stick to that midfield. Bacary Sagna injured himself last week, and is certain to miss the Euro’s, which is quite sad, for him, personally. I would expect natural right-back Carl Jenkinson to start, rather than Francis Coquelin. Another Frenchman, who could miss the Euro’s, not with injury though, is Laurent Koscielny. He has been bloody brilliant this season, and Arsene Wenger wants him to be in the France squad. Also, recent news that Wojciech Szczesny could be out for the final game, because of a knee/back problem, no one knows for sure. Meanwhile, Nigerian striker Peter Odemwingie and Jerome Thomas will face late tests. Captain Chris Brunt is out for the Baggies.
West Brom play with a pretty straight-foward 4-4-2 formation, and the injuries to Brunt, Thomas and Odemwingie means starts for Andrews, Scharner and Marc Antoine-Fortune respectively. Without Thomas, I can see them playing a very narrow games, with minimal wing-play. This will also be Paul Scharner’s last game, and incidentally, for him, being an Arsenal fan, it is against the Gunners themselves. Shane Long can be a pretty useful forward, but he also has the tendency to be lacklustre. Fortune is a skilfull player, and Arsenal will have to be at their very best defensively, or we could be slaughtered, like last week against Norwich.
I was impressed by Gervinho last week. He played very well. His dribbling seemed much better, and there was also more pace, and more penetration, and we will require all of that. Benayoun, too, could turn out one last time in Arsenal colors, and, I hope, it’s not the same case for a certain Dutchman. In midfield, there will be an attacking battle between Aaron Ramsey, Tomas Rosicky and Youseff Mulumbu, Keith Andrews. Though the criticism of Ramsey has been a bit harsh, he will look to sign off the season on a positive note.
Last time these two sides met at the Hawthorns, Arsenal fought back from 2-0 down to 2-2, to keep their faint title chances alive. Some calamitous defending was on display last time, and surely, there won’t be any of that tomorrow. There ain’t any room for errors, this time round.
Meanwhile, Keep the Faith.
Enjoy the game wherever you are.
Jai Arsenal 🙂