Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. West Bromwich Albion

Emirates Stadium, London
Monday, December 26
10:00 a.m. EST, 15:00 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Neil Swarbrick
    • Assistants: Stephen Child and Constantine Hatzidakis
    • 4th Official: Keith Stroud
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 2 - 0 West Brom
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 69 Arsenal wins, 37 West Brom wins, 31 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form:  D-W-W-W-L-L
  • West Brom's League Form: W-D-W-L-W-L
This was either the best or the worst week for Arsenal to have seven days off between matches. On the one hand, after losing two straight, Arsenal definitely need some time to refocus their minds on the task at hand. On the other hand, sitting and stewing on that second half from last weekend for seven days isn't the best situation either; sometimes you need to get straight back on the horse again.

The lingering delay between matches means that the hellscape known as Arsenal Twitter has had all week to debate whether or not it's okay to simultaneously believe both that Mesut Özil is a world-class midfielder AND he had a bad set of games over the past week. Seriously, it seems some people think you can't criticize individual performances without criticizing the player in general.

So, here we are, the holiday period is upon us. Arsenal play Monday, then Sunday, then Tuesday (!?) with three very winnable league fixtures against West Bromwich Albion, Crystal Palace, and Bournemouth. In order to satiate the aforementioned hellscape, Arsenal are probably going to need to pick up all nine points. Otherwise, a season full of so much promise will already start to look pretty bleak as we head into 2017.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Mustafi (hamstring,) Debuchy (hamstring,) Cazorla (Achilles,) Mertesacker (knee,) Welbeck (knee)
Doubts: Oxlade-Chamberlain (hamstring,) Ramsey (hamstring)

To be honest, I have totally zoned out on Arsenal news this week. Do we still have players? Is that a thing?

As far as I know, the only change to the list of available players from last weekend is the loss of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who came on as a substitute and lasted only 12 minutes before injuring his hamstring, because that it one of the Arsenalist things that could have happened. I haven't heard any news on him, so I'll put him in the "doubts" category, although, really, I wouldn't expect an appearance.

Borussia Mönchengladbach posted a video on Twitter of Granit Xhaka returning to Borussia Park to a warm welcome. My response was "he should be at practice." As such, I have a gut feeling Xhaka won't start.

With dwindling options on the wings and Arsène Wenger's apparent lack of desire to start Olivier Giroud up top, I'll predict Alexis to start up front and Alex Iwobi to start on the left.

Predicted XI: Čech, Bellerín, Gabriel, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Elneny, Iwobi, Walcott, Özil, Alexis.

West Brom Squad News

Out: Myhill (ankle)
Doubts: Evans (calf,) Berahino (match fitness)

Goalkeeper Boaz Myhill is struggling to return from an ankle injury he suffered in training back in November. Myhill wasn't really starting for the club anyway, as Ben Foster is the number one; Myhill has only played in the League Cup and an Under-23's match this season.

Jonny Evans has missed two straight West Brom matches with a calf injury and is a 50/50 doubt for this one. Tony Pulis might drop Nacer Chadli, who was poor against Manchester United last weekend, for James Morrison in midfield. Elsewhere, Saido Berahino is a doubt due to a lack of match fitness.

Meanwhile, Salomón Rondón escaped a ban from the FA after an altercation with Marcos Rojo last week, so he will be available to start up top for the Baggies.

Predicted XI: Foster, Dawson, McAuley, Olsson, Nyom, Fletcher, Yacob, Brunt, Morrison, Phillips, Rondón.

Current Form

I'm going to take a moment to remember the halcyon days of Arsenal's 19-match unbeaten run from earlier this year. God, it feels like forever ago, doesn't it?

Arsenal come into this match having lost two of their last two fixtures for the first time since last year, when in March, they were eliminated from the Champions League and the FA Cup in consecutive matches. The last time they lost consecutive league fixtures came two weeks before that, as part of a three-match winless run across all competitions. Losing three straight is rare. Prior to Arsenal pulling that off last season, the last time they dropped three in a row was April of 2010.

West Bromwich Albion have been one of the under-the-radar surprises of the 2016/17 season thus far, as they are in eighth place in the table. They are, however, seven points behind Manchester United for sixth place after losing to the Red Devils at the Hawthorns last weekend. Their record, however, is striking: the Baggies are unbeaten against teams currently in the bottom half of the table and are winless against teams currently in the top half.

Their only point against a team in the top half was a 1-1 draw against Spurs in October; they lost the other six matches and still have to play Arsenal and Southampton this week. Against the bottom half, the Baggies have six wins and four draws.

Match Facts

Arsenal and West Brom split the points in two meetings last season, with each side winning at home.

Arsenal's loss at the Hawthorns last November snapped a 10-match unbeaten run against the Baggies. 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 sides met at the Emirates on a Thursday night in April, as the match had to be rearranged due to Arsenal's progress in the FA Cup. The atmosphere at the Emirates tense, in part because Arsenal had drawn two straight and in part because it was a Thursday. Alexis Sánchez scored twice for the Gunners as Arsenal ran out comfortable 2-0 winners. On that night, they had 71% of the possession. Just saying.

Arsenal have won six straight at home against West Brom, dating back to September of 2010, when Manuel Almunia injured himself saving a penalty, stayed in the game anyway, then conceded three goals.

The Referee

The referee is Lancashire-based Neil Swarbrick. This is the first time Arsenal have seen Swarbrick this season. But, to make this even more interesting, Arsenal didn't have Swarbrick at all last season either. In fact, this match will come nearly two years to the day of the last time Arsenal had Swarbrick, for their 2-1 win at West Ham on December 28, 2014.

Going back to my preview for that match, I found that Arsenal have never lost a match with Swarbrick in charge; they've now won five and lost one. But it all seems so long ago that that's barely relevant.

West Brom have seen Swarbrick twice so far this season; both were one goal losses to clubs from Liverpool, which is something they have in common with Arsenal. They lost 2-1 at home to Everton in August and 2-1 at Anfield in October.

Around the League
  • Monday (early): Watford v. Crystal Palace; Vicarage Road, Watford
  • Monday: Burnley v. Middlesbrough; Turf Moor, Burnley
  • Monday: Chelsea v. Bournemouth; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Monday: Leicester City v. Everton; King Power Stadium, Leicester
  • Monday: Manchester United v. Sunderland; Old Trafford, Manchester
  • Monday: Swansea City v. West Ham United; Liberty Stadium, Swansea
  • Monday (late): Hull City v. Manchester City; KCOM Stadium, Kingston upon Hull
  • Tuesday: Liverpool v. Stoke City; Anfield, Liverpool
  • Wednesday: Southampton v. Tottenham Hotspur; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and is only a handful of fake chatbots away from a milestone number of followers on Twitter. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat if you're one of those chatbots. Also, if you're a regular person, that would be fine, too.