By Avenell Dave
Without wanting to sound arrogant, Arsenal should be clear favourites against West Brom on Sunday.
The final game of the season, we’ve been given a lifeline courtesy of other results and yet there is more a sense of trepidation than anticipation at the visit to the Hawthorns.
Since Mikel Arteta was injured, Arsenal have struggled, failing to win in our last four games. Three points from 12 is simply not good enough at any time.
This is not the time to be stalling and the difference winning on Sunday and losing will make to our season, our club’s future, cannot be underestimated.
Hopefully that has been drilled into the team – that the focus must be resolute and the discipline in place to ensure that we do not leave chances for our opposition.
Much has been said about Thomas Vermaelen bombing forward at 1-1 against Norwich, something he did not need to do and he must remember that his job is primarily to defend. I love his spirit and he can score vital goals for us but this must be restricted to set pieces and if we’re chasing the game (heaven forbid).
The other key issue, linked to Arteta’ injury, is the form and intelligence of Alex Song.
Don’t get me wrong, he has done good things going forward this season, creating a number of goals at key moments including for RvP last weekend.
But he is not Cesc Fabregas and I wonder if this season he has been encouraged to take over the Spaniard’s role.
Song is at his best when he is covering the defence, when he is tackling and being tenacious, careful in the tackle and simply with his passing.
Too often he leaves gaps in front of the back four, makes rash tackles that see him booked and on a knife-edge and tries the Hollywood pass when a simpler option is available and preferable.
How many times does Song get caught in possession, trying to take on too many players and leaving us exposed?
It would be unfair to blame him solely for the third Norwich goal last weekend but it was clear from the interviews Arsene Wenger gave afterwards that he thought Song had let him down.
Hopefully this week has focused the Cameroonian.
Aaron Ramsey is much better going forward and yet has been asked to do the holding role, something I can’t get my head around. It hasn’t helped him win over doubting fans and despite covering every blade of grass, it’s just not his natural position.
Maybe it is too late in the season to make wholesale changes, but I would love to see Francis Coquelin playing the holding role – his natural position. That would give Song some freedom to push forward while still helping out as he needs to do.
With Bacary Sagna injured, that means Carl Jenkinson coming into the back four and I’m confident he can do a job, but with Kieran Gibbs also poor last week, I’d much prefer seeing Santos start on the left.
That just leaves the forward positions and given the impact he had when he came on, I’d love to see Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain start on the right. He can cause huge problems for the home side, balanced with Yossi Benayoun on the other side of RvP.
No one can underestimate how big a game Sunday is, especially with Roy Hodgson hoping to leave the Baggies on a high before he takes over England.
Let’s hope his mind, and those of his players, is on the summer.
West Brom have nothing to play for, so we can get the win we desperately need to finish this nightmare season on something of a high.
Jenkinson Koscielny Vermaelen Santos
Song Coquelin Rosicky
Oxlade-Chamberlain RvP Benayoun