Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. West Bromwich Albion / Sunderland v. Arsenal

I've talked at length about how Arsenal's remaining run of fixtures looks, on paper, to be reasonably uncomplicated. Then, the squad went out and snatched a draw from the jaws of victory against Crystal Palace at the Emirates at the weekend. Now, I suddenly don't trust Arsenal to beat anybody anymore.

So, perhaps it's fitting that Arsenal will get a weird little taste of Thursday night football this week as they make up their game in hand against West Bromwich Albion. The quick succession of games also means I've had to throw in a preview of Sunday's trip to Sunderland as well, for your reading pleasure. Otherwise, I have no idea when I would've had the time to write up that preview.

The title challenge is long gone now and Arsenal find themselves in their comfort zone, fourth place. Manchester City have pipped the Gunners for third, but then failed to consolidate that position by drawing 1-1 at Newcastle on Tuesday, meaning Arsenal can take back command of the last Champions League group stage place with a win tonight. An Arsenal win would give them 63 points to City's 61 with four games to play. Arsenal trail City by six in goal difference, as it stands.

Arsenal have to keep their heads above water here and get back to winning ways. The alternative is too frightening to consider.

Emirates Stadium, London
Thursday, April 21
2:45 p.m. EDT, 19:45 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Jonathan Moss
    • Assistants: Andrew Halliday and Simon Bennett
    • 4th Official: Lee Mason
  • Reverse Fixture: West Brom 2 - 1 Arsenal
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 4 - 1 West Brom
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 68 Arsenal wins, 37 West Brom wins, 31 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: L-D-W-W-D-D
  • West Brom's League Form: D-W-L-D-L-L
Arsenal Squad News

Out: Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee,) Cazorla (knee,) Rosicky (match fitness,) Wilshere (match fitness)

No change in the injury list from an Arsenal perspective; Jack Wilshere had another run out with the reserves and scored a goal, but won't be expected back for the West Brom game. There's an outside chance he could make the bench for the trip to Sunderland at the weekend, however.

Elsewhere, Santi Cazorla is back in full training; he's been out since late November with a knee injury that I believe also turned into an Achilles problem? I have a suspicion he won't be back until the last game of the season, however. Just a hunch.

With matches coming Thursday, then Sunday, I would suspect there'll be some squad rotation involved here, with possible starts for Per Mertesacker and Olivier Giroud on the horizon. But please, let's keep Theo Walcott as far away as possible? I say that, but if there's rotation, he'll probably start, so I might as well prepare myself for it...

Predicted XI v. West Brom: Cech, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Elneny, Alexis, Walcott, Ozil, Giroud.

West Brom Squad News

Out: Brunt (knee,) Morrison (ankle,) Pritchard (hip)

It's not expected that Tony Pulis will make any changes to West Brom's XI as they prepare for the trip to London. The Baggies' injury list remains static, as Chris Brunt will miss the remainder of the season after an ACL injury, James Morrison is out until May with ankle problem, and Alex Pritchard, who is on loan from Tottenham, is struggling with a hip problem.

Saido Berahino could be dropped from the XI after he missed two second-half penalties against Watford last weekend, in a match that ended 1-0 to the Hornets. He became only the fourth player in Premier League history to fail to convert two penalties in the same match. If he is dropped, I would expect Salomon Rondon to play up top, with Craig Gardner coming into the midfield off the bench; or Rondon could stay in the same midfield role with Victor Anichebe getting a start.

On the other hand, Berahino's not going to break out of a slump from the bench, so my prediction is that West Brom's XI will remain unchanged.

Predicted XI: Foster, Dawson, McAuley, Evans, Chester, Yacob, Fletcher, McClean, Rondon, Sessegnon, Berahino.

Current Form

Arsenal have extended their unbeaten streak to five! Of course, this is a bad thing, because of the five, they've drawn three and the latter two especially needed to be wins in order to stay in the title race. Now, we're looking at desperately trying to hold onto third place. So, you know, the usual...

As for West Brom, they've been comfortably mid-table all season, though they have gone winless in their last four, including losses to Norwich, Manchester City, and Watford, as well as a draw with relegation-threatened Sunderland. Their last win came on March 6 against Manchester United. The Baggies currently sit 14th in the table, but they are ten points clear of relegation, sitting on the usual mark of safety, 40 points.

Match Facts

Arsenal had a streak of 10 matches unbeaten against West Brom snapped when the Baggies beat them 2-1 at the Hawthorns in November. Mikel Arteta came on for the injured Francis Coquelin on 14 minutes and Arsenal struck first through Olivier Giroud after 28 minutes. West Brom equalized from a set piece just seven minutes later, then led through an Arteta own goal five minutes after that. To add injury to insult, Arteta was removed on 49 minutes, and then to add insult to injury to insult, Santi Cazorla skied a late penalty that would've stolen Arsenal a point. Arsenal had 73% of the possession, which I hope you now realize is a useless statistic.

The Gunners won this fixture 4-1 last year, on the final day of the regular season. Theo Walcott nabbed a first half hat trick and Jack Wilshere scored a wondergoal as Arsenal jumped out to a 4-0 halftime lead. Gareth McAuley scored a consolation goal for the visitors on 57 minutes just to make everyone think "they couldn't possibly blow this, right?"

I mentioned earlier that the November loss snapped Arsenal's 10-match unbeaten run against West Brom; that previous loss came on September 25, 2010. Manuel Almunia injured himself saving a first half penalty, which led to three West Brom goals in a 23-minute span, the first two coming two minutes apart. Samir Nasri grabbed two back, but Arsenal could not complete a three-goal comeback in a quarter of an hour. Only Laurent Koscielny remains with the Arsenal team from the XI that started that day, an XI which included Sebastien Squillaci, Emmanuel Eboue, Abou Diaby, Andrei Arshavin, and Marouane Chamakh.

The Referee

The referee is West Yorkshire-based Jonathan Moss. Arsenal entered this season having never dropped a point with Moss as the referee, including last season's 4-0 FA Cup Final win over Aston Villa. That streak increased to 11 wins from 11 matches with the 2-0 win over Stoke in September. However, Arsenal have not won with Moss since, drawing 1-1 at Carrow Road in November and losing 4-0 at Southampton on Boxing Day.

West Brom have a mixed string of results with Moss in the middle as well. Moss worked both of West Brom's matches with Crystal Palace this season, with the Baggies losing 2-0 in October and winning 3-2 in February. He was also in the middle for their 1-1 draw with Tottenham in December and their 1-0 win over Bristol City in the FA Cup fourth round.

There are plenty of clubs out there who have not been thrilled with Moss this season; you may recall Jose Mourinho tried to chase him down at halftime at Upton Park in the fall. Of course, most recently, Moss was at the center of attention last weekend when he sent off Jamie Vardy for a second yellow after his attempt to dive for a penalty. I agreed with the call as it happened; it's almost identical to what Vardy did to Nacho Monreal at the Emirates in February, when it was hailed as "clever." On the other hand, Moss's decisions throughout the rest of the match were wildly inconsistent, leaving everyone furious with him.

Around the League
  • Tuesday: Newcastle United 1 - 1 Manchester City
  • Wednesday: West Ham United 3 - 1 Watford
  • Wednesday: Liverpool 4 - 0 Everton
  • Wednesday: Manchester United 2 - 0 Crystal Palace

Stadium of Light, Sunderland
Sunday, April 24
9:05 a.m. EDT, 14:05 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Mike Dean
    • Assistants: Simon Long and Michael Salisbury
    • 4th Official: Mike Jones
  • Reverse Fixture: Arsenal 3 - 1 Sunderland
  • This Match, Last Year: Sunderland 0 - 2 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 60 Arsenal wins, 50 Sunderland wins, 40 draws
  • Sunderland's League Form: D-D-D-D-L-W
Sunderland Squad News

Out: None
Doubts: Rodwell (knock,) Lens (knock,) Borini (calf)

Sunderland have no injury absences as it stands right now, though a few players are less than 100%. Jack Rodwell has a knock, Jermaine Lens has a knock, and Fabio Borini is listed as having a calf problem despite playing all 90 minutes last weekend.

As a result, and just like West Brom, I predict no changes to the starting XI. The only question, therefore, is whether Borini starts.

Predicted XI: Mannone, van Aanholt, Kaboul, Kone, Yedlin, Kirchhoff, M'Vila, Cattermole, Khazri, Borini, Defoe.

Current Form

It took Sunderland ten matches to finally grab a win this season, which they did in the derby against Newcastle back in October; as such, Sunderland have been relegation-threatened all season. In fact, they have only found themselves as high as 17th following a match three times this year: November 28, March 1, and March 5.

They have only lost one of their last six, however, and picked up a tremendous 3-0 win at Carrow Road last week against 17th place Norwich City. That scoreline was immense, too, as it improved Sunderland's goal difference as compared to Norwich's from +1 to +7. Sunderland are now just one point from safety and have a game in hand against their relegation rivals, which will be played during the final midweek of the season.

The 3-0 win last weekend might just have saved Sunderland's season; their odds of relegation dropped from 79.2% to 47.3%.

Match Facts

Arsenal have faced Sunderland twice at the Emirates this season, in the league in December and in the FA Cup in January; both matches ended 3-1 to Arsenal. Arsenal's goalscorers were the same on both occasions as well, with Joel Campbell, Olivier Giroud, and Aaron Ramsey all scoring for Arsenal on both days, in that order both times. The only difference was the timing of Sunderland's goal. In December, Sunderland equalized before halftime with an Olivier Giroud own goal from a set piece. In January, Sunderland scored first, through Jermaine Lens, before Arsenal came back to win comfortably.

Arsenal have won four straight visits to the Stadium of Light in Premier League play, though they did lose an FA Cup tie there in 2012. In this match last year, Alexis Sanchez scored twice from Vito Mannone errors as an Arsenal side that was desperate for a win escaped with a 2-0 victory. The last time Arsenal failed to win a league game at the Stadium of Light, Darren Bent nabbed a 95th minute equalizer for a 1-1 draw on September 18, 2010. One week later, Arsenal lost at home to West Brom, which you read about earlier in this double-preview.

The Referee

The referee is Wirral-based Mike Dean. Arsenal have only seen Dean twice this season, for obvious reasons after how the first match went. You might recall Dean was the man in the middle for Arsenal's 2-0 loss at Chelsea in September, in which both Gabriel and Santi Cazorla were sent off. Incidentally, Arsenal's record with Mike Dean as referee had considerably improved over the last few years, before Diego Costa got involved. Going into that match against Chelsea, Arsenal had lost only one of their last nine with Dean in the middle.

Arsenal also had Dean for their fifth round FA Cup tie against Hull City, which ended scoreless. Dean denied Arsenal two penalty shouts on the day.

Sunderland have a win (2-0 over Stoke in November) and two losses (4-1 to Tottenham in January and 1-0 to West Ham in February) with Mike Dean this season. Sunderland were aided in their win over Stoke by a 67th minute red card to Ryan Shawcross; the Black Cats scored their goals on 82 and 84 minutes.

Around the League

  • Saturday (early): Manchester City v. Stoke City; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
  • Saturday: Aston Villa v. Southampton; Villa Park, Birmingham
  • Saturday: Bournemouth v. Chelsea; Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth
  • Saturday: Liverpool v. Newcastle United; Anfield, Liverpool
  • Saturday (FA Cup Semi): Everton v. Manchester United; Wembley Stadium, London
  • Sunday (late): Leicester City v. Swansea City; King Power Stadium, Leicester
  • Sunday (FA Cup Semi): Crystal Palace v. Watford; Wembley Stadium, London
  • Monday (night): Tottenham Hotspur v. West Bromwich Albion; White Hart Lane, London
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and is made of thunder. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat to ask how one can be composed entirely of sound.