THe Baggies face a tough task to improve their appalling Boxing Day record in the Premier League as they visit the Emirates Stadium to take on fourth-placed Arsenal.
Albion won only one of their fixtures on this date in the Premier League, although that was in the capital as they beat QPR at Loftus Road four years ago, but they have only two further points to add to their total achieved in the first game after Christmas in their ten Premier League seasons. The Baggies’ first ever Premier League Boxing Day fixture was at home to the Gunners in 2002 when Danny Dichio gave the hosts a third minute lead before goals from Francis Jeffers and Thierry Henry sent the visitors home with the points.
Their record at Arsenal is hardly better, with just one Premier League victory and one draw since the advent of the Premier League, and going further back it amounts to one win in 13 matches at either Highbury or the Emirates since the 1-0 Division One victory in 1983. Since that remarkable and unexpected win at the Emirates in 2010, thanks to goals from Peter Odemwingie, Gonzalo Jara and Jerome Thomas, Albion have lost all five games at Arsenal scoring just once.
While Albion have stuttered a little following their improvement in results, losing two of their last three, Arsenal have lost their last two after having gone unbeaten in the Premier League since their opening day defeat at home to Liverpool. One of the most telling statistics about Albion’s season is that they are unbeaten in their ten games against the current bottom half of the table, winning six and drawing four, but they have the worst record in the league against the current top half – in their seven games against clubs in the top ten, they have picked up just one point, the draw with Tottenham. That doesn’t bode well for the last two fixtures of 2016 with a trip to Southampton up next.
If you want positive omens, however, you can look to the last time that Albion played away at Arsenal on Boxing Day. That was in 1978 when goals from Ally Brown and Bryan Robson helped Albion to a 2-1 win, just a few days before that match at Old Trafford. Given the relative status of the team today, back-to-back wins in the next two games would be every bit as memorable as that remarkable week in 1978.
Unlike the defeat at Chelsea when Albion were in the game throughout, the performance against Man Utd was disappointing. Obviously, conceding the early goal was a blow, and you could point to a moment’s lack of concentration from Allan Nyom, and maybe poor positioning from Gareth McAuley if you want to be super-critical, but the Baggies never really looked like getting back in the game. Rondón had a great chance with a header in the first half, but that was pretty much it and, while Mourinho’s men had precious few clear cut chances, the Rooney volley that was superbly saved by Foster standing out, they controlled the game and never looked in any real danger. It was a very Mourinho-like performance and a sign, perhaps, that he is finally getting them to play the way we wants.
It was interesting that Nacer Chadli retained his position in the starting line up against United with Morrison having been in such good form, and he failed to really grab that opportunity. The Belgian has not regained his early season form since returning from injury and, while he is certain to feature over the festive period as Albion face three games in seven days, I expect to see Mozza back in the first eleven at the Emirates providing he recovers from the flu that has been bothering him this week.
Jonny Evans has been a massive miss in the last couple of games and, if he returns on Monday as expected, it will be a huge boost to the back line. While Olsson is a decent defender, Evans’s ability to organise and pick a pass is far better than the Swede’s and the former Man Utd man has arguably been Albion’s player of the season so far. McAuley continues to be Peter Pan-like having just entered his 38th year and his partnership with his Northern Ireland teammate is arguably one of the best in the Premier League.
With two games in three days next weekend, it’s likely that there may be one or two changes to the starting line up over the next three games which will be a real test for an Albion squad that is still short in several areas.
It will be a shock for Albion to get a win at the Emirates, and while a draw should not be discounted, I’m expecting Arsenal to take all three points.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
21 Apr 2016 – Premier League
Arsenal 2 (Sánchez (2))
West Brom 0
21 Nov 2015 – Premier League
West Brom 2 (Morrison, Arteta (o.g.))
Arsenal 1 (Giroud)
Last win at Arsenal
25 Sep 2010 – Premier League
Arsenal 2 (Nasri (2))
West Brom 3 (Odemwingie, Jara, Thomas)
Albion’s Record against Arsenal
|Premier League Record|