Boxing Day Is Arsenal’s Most Important Fixture Thus Far

Fresh off two defeats, Arsenal will welcome Tony Pulis & West Brom to North London. When you think about the match in your head, seems like a routine three points. But, is it really?

Seeing the way they played against Everton and specifically that second half against City, it’s tough to know what to expect on Monday.

Will we see a frustrated Arsenal struggling to break down the Baggies? I hope that’s not the case, considering West Brom have only kept three cleansheets in the Premier League this season. Two of which were in August.

Now, add in the fact that Arsenal only have one more cleansheet than West Brom. Sounds like a recipe for plenty of goals.

Putting the ball past Ben Foster is highly important, but three points will start with keeping the damn ball out of Petr Cech’s goal. His last cleansheet was a scoreless draw at home against Middlesbrough in October. Seems like forever ago!

Defense Wins Titles

Is it a coincidence that Arsenal have lost all four matches Mustafi didn’t start? I think not.

While Gabriel offers decent coverage, what Mustafi offers is some leadership. He’s not afraid to raise his voice. I think that’s what makes him and Koscielny work so well together.

Although Koscielny is the captain, one thing he lacks is vocal leadership. You never see him express himself on the pitch. He doesn’t let his teammates know they need to be better. It’s all very quiet. They have to be one of the most silent teams on the pitch in the world.

That’s where Mustafi comes in. He’s not immune to mistakes, but he’ll make sure to voice his thoughts.

In his absence, things have looked a bit suspect at the back.

Gabriel is certain to start alongside the Frenchman, but would people be opposed to Holding getting the start? I don’t think they would, but what a psychological blow that would be for the Brazilian. I think he’s done more than enough to warrant a starting role at the heart of the defense.

The only other questionmark at the back would be Monreal.In all fairness, he has been left out to dry on the left side. If he had someone in front of him like Theo or Alexis, I think things would be different. Instead, he’s stuck with Iwobi, who defensively is a big liability. If not the Nigerian, he gets Ox, who has been hit or miss the last few years.

He’s basically stuck defending the opposing winger and right back most of the time. Not sure there’s much else he can do.

Some are calling for Kieran Gibbs to start. I wouldn’t be opposed to that, as he’s looked good when called on this season. But, I think we can all agree that the results will be the same, unless the player ahead of him helps defensively.

Whether it’s Gibbs or Monreal, Arsenal need to get a cleansheet. It’s been so long since they’ve managed one, and after two successive defeats, three points without conceding would be a big mental boost.

Movement, Pace & Goals

West Brom will smell the blood as they get off the team coach and make their way into the Emirates Stadium. Arsenal supporters aren’t always the most encouraging at home, therefore if they can frustrate them early on, things could get ugly.

Tony Pulis will set his side up to defend, absorb pressure, and play direct. Whenever and wherever they can get a set piece, you know they are launching that ball into the box. Get up, battle for it, be physical, and get into the head of the Arsenal players. Unfortunately, I feel like that’s very easy to do.

In order to beat them, Arsenal can’t fall into their trap.

Working the ball side to side at a slow pace is exactly what West Brom is looking for. That way, they keep everything in front of them, and defensively, they don’t have to move much.

If they want to avoid a very tense second half, with the home supporters getting restless, they need movement on and off the ball, and some pace. None of this walking the ball up the damn pitch.

There needs to be movement off the ball. Keep the West Brom defenders on their toes. Force them to move around. You know that double decker bus is going to be parked right in front of Ben Foster. So in order to get to him, they’ll need to go around the bus. How do they do that? Pace and movement. It’s simple.

Most of the matches Arsenal has won this season has been due to their ability to move the ball quickly. When things aren’t as fluid going forward, that’s when things get real difficult.

In all honesty, I’m tempted to say that starting Giroud would be a good idea.

Move Alexis out wide with Theo on the right. Giroud offers a physical presence to attract the attention of their central defenders, opening up space for Theo, Alexis and even Mesut to get into space. And as a second option, you can play the ball into the box knowing you have the tall Frenchman in there. Makes perfect sense right? Now, let’s see if Arsene Wenger agrees.

Whether it’s Giroud or Alexis leading the line, this is an absolute must win for Arsenal. One could argue this is their most important fixture so far this season. Anything but a win here would really hurt them mentally, and I don’t even want to imagine the things that would be said on the tele, or on social media.

But, let’s think positive here. Arsenal has more than enough weapons to beat the Baggies. Now, we must wait and see whether they can send Pulis back home with another defeat, or if Arsene Wenger will have to face yet another difficult post match interview.

Don’t let us down dammit! We need all three points. I plan on writing a joyful recap of an Arsenal victory.