West Brom v Arsenal: Baggies can tighten up after horror show

Sam Allardyce's public criticism of his players can have the desired effect and tighten up West Brom for the visit on Arsenal on Saturday, says Andy Schooler...

West Brom v Arsenal
Saturday 2 January, 20:00
Live on BT Sport 1

What to expect from up-and-down Baggies?

Sport was relatively unpredictable in 2020 and West Bromwich Albion summed it up in the year's closing days.

Last weekend a solid defensive display saw them earn a 1-1 draw at champions Liverpool yet three days later they were torn apart at home by Leeds, who ran out 5-0 winners.

Not surprisingly given those performances from different ends of the spectrum, boss Sam Allardyce has already got stuck into his new charges, criticising not only their "massive" inconsistency but also, more importantly, their professionalism.

"The performance against Leeds put a lot of doubt in my mind about their dedication," he said. "Leeds didn't only play us off the field, they ran us off the field."

Such public criticism three games into his reign is a calculated gamble and Allardyce is banking on getting a reaction from his men against Arsenal. He surely will.

The Baggies showed at Anfield that they are capable of fighting in the relegation scrap they find themselves in and Arsenal aren't the worst opponents they could be facing after such a setback.

Be wary of Gunners' uptick

Yes, the Gunners have picked up with back-to-back wins over the past week, although I doubt their fans will be getting too giddy just yet given the opponents were a Chelsea side stuck in a rut and a Brighton team who won just one home game in 2020.

The Gunners were poor before the break on Tuesday but an improved second-half display saw them eke out a 1-0 victory. Bukayo Saka was again a leading light at the Amex but he's a doubt for this one having picked up a knock. His absence would be a big blow given those around him are struggling to find anything like their best form.

Forwards Alexandre Lacazette (back) and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (calf) have both been battling on through the pain of late, while boss Mikel Arteta will likely face a further selection headache with recent illness absentees David Luiz and Willian likely to be available. Defender Gabriel Magalhaes is set to miss out again though following his positive COVID-19 test.

Arteta will probably want to stick by the men who have earned him two recent wins - Pablo Mari, Emile Smith Rowe and Gabriel Martinelli have all performed well enough - but his squad has picked up niggles; hardly a surprise given they've been played twice a week for the last six weeks.

Games piling up for odds-on Arsenal

This will be their seventh game in 21 days with only the League Cup clash with quarter-final really seeing an under-strength side fielded.

The fatigue factor can help West Brom, who may well look to turn this into an attritional, physical battle.

Arteta admitted the problems his side had against Brighton's low block and I can see Allardyce employing similar tactics against a team who have won on only one of their last six visits to The Hawthorns.

Leeds unpicked West Brom after a daft own goal immediately forced a more positive approach but I still believe Allardyce feels the way out of trouble is a solid backline and making the most of his famous set-piece routines.

With Arsenal currently fielding Mari and Rob Holding as their centre-backs (they've played just twice together) this doesn't look a rock-solid opponent and I certainly have no interest in backing them at 1.65 to win the game.

At the same time, it's hard to suggest a home win with any conviction following the Baggies' midweek debacle. They are 6.2 for those prepared to take the risk.

If pushed, I'd probably opt for a narrow Arsenal win - they are 13/5 to win by a one-goal margin, while a repeat of the 1-0 correct score at Brighton can be backed at 8.4.

Go low on goals

The goals markets appeal much more with under 2.5 looking the best bet at 2.08.

A return to defensive frugality looks the likely aim - and more than possible to achieve.

At the other end, Karlan Grant looks a little out of his depth at this level so goals will again be hard to find for the hosts.

62% of Arsenal's away games have landed this bet (they've scored just goals in eight games on their travels), while the majority of West Brom matches this season have too, so I'm a tad surprised to see this option at odds-against.

Opta fact

Arsenal have won just one of their last six Premier League away games against promoted sides (D2 L3), with that victory coming at Fulham on the opening day this season.

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