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Welbeck returns for Baggies trip

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Match Preview: West Brom vs. Arsenal - Premier League - 18.03.2017

A win against the Baggies won't be enough to see Arsenal into the top four but the Gunners have two games in hand on Liverpool who face Manchester City this Sunday and one game in hand on the rest of the top four. It is vital for Arsenal's confidence that they get a convincing win at the Hawthorns. The way the fixtures has fallen this weekend offers a glimmer of hope to a Gunners side that has lost three of their last four Premier League games.

Any result in the Manchester City vs. Liverpool game will give Arsenal a chance to leap frog their rivals with wins over Southampton, Leicester and Sunderland - matches rearranged due to cup commitments. A Liverpool win and an Arsenal win would put Wenger's side three points behind Manchester City - whom they are still to play - with a superior goal difference meaning any win in their rearranged fixtures would put them ahead of the Citizens on goal difference.

Victory for Manchester City would put Arsenal within two points of Liverpool with two games in hand -  a draw within three points of Liverpool. Arsenal's season is still very much in their own hands. Winning the league - whilst not impossible - would require a monumental capitulation from Chelsea but finishing in the top four is entirely down to the Gunners picking up points.

West Brom, managed by Tony Pulis, away, is not the sort of game you relish when in desperate need of points but the Baggies were humbled by Everton last weekend and on their day Arsenal are a significantly more accomplished team. Albion have not beaten a top seven opponent this season and Arsenal have a history of being the side to break such cycles. The Gunners also have a poor record at the Hawthorns in recent years with just one win in their last three visits.

The FA Cup looks to be Arsenal's best chance of a trophy but the prospect of another trip to Wembley has done little to quell the fan animosity towards Wenger as some fans have reportedly crowdfunded a plane to fly above the Hawthorns with a banner calling for Wenger to quit. This follows on from two recent matchday protests and a controversial comparison of Wenger to Robert Mugabe. The threat of the flying banner making an appearance to steal the headlines should be more than enough to motivate the Arsenal players into a newsworthy win.

Wenger's selection options have been bolstered by the return of Mohamed Elneny although the probing presence of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could be missed with the England midfielder facing a late fitness test. However, Mesut Özil is back to fitness and aside from Oxlade-Chamberlain and long-term absentee Santi Cazorla, the Gunners boast a full midfield.

It is possible the Arsenal manager will look to play a more combative midfield with Xhaka, Elneny and Ramsey taking the three starting spots. However, the key to winning this game is in the mobility and pace of Arsenal's forward line. Arsène Wenger will once more be able to call on Danny Welbeck after the striker missed the last two fixtures with illness. Should he pair him with Alexis and Walcott, with the latter eager to prove a point to England manager Gareth Southgate who left him out of the England squad despite outscoring the majority of the players selected, then Albion could be in for a torrid game in the early kick-off.

Pulis' side is better suited to dealing with a physical, aerial threat like Olivier Giroud so the pace and direct running of that front three will cause more problems to Jonny Evans and Gareth McAuley.

As ever, it is important for the Gunners to start well and get a goal under their belts early.

alexis arsenal west brom

LAST 3 Meetings

  • Arsenal 1-0 West Brom (26.12.2016)
  • Arsenal 2-0 West Brom (21.04.2016)
  • West Brom 2-1 Arsenal (21.11.2015)

FACTFILE

  • Arsène Wenger's side have won only one of their last six away matches in the league and kept one clean sheet in the last nine.
  • West Brom's only win in the last 13 competitive meetings came at The Hawthorns last season. 
  • Arsenal have scored in 22 consecutive league matches against West Brom, winning 15 of them, since a 0-0 away draw in November 1985.
  • Albion could earn consecutive top-flight home victories against Arsenal for the first time in 60 years.
  • Aaron Ramsey could make his 200th Premier League appearance.
  • The Baggies could lose three Premier League games in a row for the first time this season. They have never suffered three straight league defeats without scoring since Tony Pulis took charge in January 2015.
  • The Gunners have lost three of their last four league fixtures, as well as suffering two 5-1 defeats against Bayern Munich during that period.
  • West Brom have won seven of their last nine league matches at The Hawthorns. However, they are vying to avoid consecutive home defeats for the first time since last April.
  • Arsenal have been beaten in five of their last 11 league matches. Their previous five losses were spread over 40 games.
  • Albion have only earned one point from their nine games against the seven sides above them in the league table - losing seven in a row since a home draw with Spurs in October.
  • The Arsenal are in danger of losing three successive Premier League away games for the first time since October 2011.
  • Salomon Rondon has failed to score in all 13 league and cup appearances since his hat-trick against Swansea City on 14 December.
  • Alexis Sanchez has been directly involved in a league-high 26 goals in as many appearances this season, scoring 17 and providing nine assists.

INJURIES

Cazorla is still out. Gibbs and Oxlade-Chamberlain face late fitness tests.

POSSIBLE STARTING XI

Čech; Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal; Xhaka, Elneny, Özil; Alexis, Walcott, Welbeck

GOONERSPHERE'S PREDICTION

Arsenal need another big win here. If they hit all the right notes they could easily emulate Everton's result from last week. 3-0 to Arsenal.

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