Venue – The Hawthorns, West Bromwich, UK
Time – 12:30 P:M GMT
It’s Time for West Brom to get back on track.
Tony Pulis and his players have come under plenty of scrutiny after the last two results.
The leaps forward made this season shouldn’t be forgotten, but back-to-back defeats once the 40-point mark was reached felt all too predictable.
Although both results were explainable – Everton simply outclassed them, and Crystal Palace edged a tight match with clinical finishing – the timing of this blip doesn’t sit comfortably.
Focusing on 40 points infuriates supporters because it smacks of a lack of ambition that was supposed to have been eradicated by the takeover.
Pulis, and all the players, have assured outsiders intensity remains, but next up are Arsenal and Manchester United.
An element of misfortune in the scheduling may serve to magnify the issue unfairly. But supporters aren’t stupid, they understand an Arsenal side – even one crippled by the endless saga surrounding Arsene Wenger’s future – has the ability to outperform the Baggies.
What they will demand tomorrow is proof that focus hasn’t slipped. Pulis and the players have talked the talk, now it’s time to walk the walk.
As the season nears its business end, performances matter just as much as results, which has not always been the case in the past.
Of course, this is a luxurious position to be in and one that Pulis and this group has put themselves in.
But there is an opportunity here to heap more misery on an Arsenal side that has, in the last eight games, lost to every opponent apart from Hull City and two non-league sides.
One key will be the possible return of Matt Phillips, who is still struggling to get back from his hamstring strain.
His absence has coincided with this fall off the boil, and unsurprisingly so.
Salomon Rondon could be recalled to the squad, not only has the winger had a hand in more goals than any other Albion player this season, but his pace offers a different threat to anyone else.
“Take someone like him out of your team and it does affect you,” admitted Pulis.
The head coach rested James Morrison, Chris Brunt and Salomon Rondon against Everton because he thought all three looked ‘flat’ against Palace and he wanted to add some steel in midfield.
Claudio Yacob played well enough at Goodison Park to keep his place, and may well do exactly that should Pulis want his scurrying tackles at the base of midfield stamping out Arsenal’s passing game.
Hal Robson-Kanu and James McClean can also hold their heads high from last weekend but their positions are more precarious.
Pulis rested Rondon against Everton and the Venezuelan is in line for a return against Arsenal.
“I understand exactly where he’s at, he needs a goal and if he’s going to get a goal he needs to be playing,” said Pulis.
“I’m sure with Salomon, if he gets one goal he’ll get a lift and it will take him on to the end of the season.”
Albion have been good this season, but not so good against the top seven.
They’ve picked up one point and scored three goals in nine games against those above them.
West Brom have lost two on the trot, and their performances in those defeats were disappointing as well.
The Baggies are yet to beat a top-seven team this season but I am expecting a response from them on Saturday after their recent displays.
They don’t have the attacking players to really unhinge the top sides but you can see why they do so well against everyone else because they are strong, well organized and committed.
I think Tony Pulis’ side have probably reached their ceiling, if you like, in eighth place – but that is still a big achievement.
They know what they are good at, and it works.
I am still not quite sure what to expect from Arsenal, especially on the road, but on the upside for the Gunners it has been a quiet week for Arsene Wenger after they reached the FA Cup semi-finals.
It still feels like Arsenal are in limbo, though, because there is so much to be decided about Wenger’s future, and Mezut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez’s contracts too.
They have a mixed record at The Hawthorns with only one win in their past three league visits, and I don’t see them leaving with three points this time either.
This is a tough away game for Arsenal. I think they are feeling the pressure lately so I’m going for a bit of an upset here.