Arsenal welcome West Bromwich Albion to the Emirates on Boxing Day at the start of a run of games in which they cannot afford to drop a single point.
It’s fair to say we have seldom struggled against West Bromwich at home – the last time they triumphed at the Emirates was a 3-2 win in 2010 – but it’s no secret we are in a bit of a rut at the moment.
Losing back-to-back matches in the league is bad enough, but squandering winning positions on two occasions is almost inexplicable for a team harbouring ambitions of claiming a first league title in more than a decade.
For some, our title chances are all but gone already this season – with Chelsea nine points clear – and even the most optimistic fan will acknowledge that our hopes of glory hang by a thread.
Nothing short of victory will do against Tony Pulis’s side, therefore, and a mighty response will be needed to see that we get back to winning ways, particularly against a side that sets up, first and foremost, not to lose.
For all his faults, Pulis is a very astute tactician and he will have learned a great deal from Arsenal’s defeats at Everton and Manchester City. He will seek to dominate Arsenal physically from the outset and Arsene Wenger’s side must be ready to respond, they must go toe-to-toe with the Baggies.
Speaking about the defeats ahead of the Boxing Day clash with West Brom, Arsene said: “In both games we were 1-0 up and we lost 2-1, and there are two aspects to it,” said Wenger. “One is the aspect we cannot influence, it’s the refereeing decisions. I must say as well that the two goals [from City] were 100 per cent offside.
“The other factor is our performances – which we can influence. Could we have done better? Certainly, yes. Especially when you lead, I would say it looks like we became a bit restricted, and don’t play with the same intensity and urgency and relentless attitude we have had until now.
“We lost that and I think there was room to win the game at City. There was big room as well to win the game at Everton and we have to look at the fact that maybe we have not had that relentless attitude that we have based our success on.
“But I have a group that is ready for the fight,” he added. “I am personally really ready for the fight and it’s now for to come back because things can change quickly, especially over Christmas.”
Demanding a response and insisting his players are up the fight is something we have all heard before, it’s the stock line given out by almost every manager after a difficult run. What Arsenal fans will want to see is a team that does the kind of things it was doing at the start of December, in which we scored dominant victories over Stoke City and West Ham.
There is an awful lot of malcontent among the wearied Arsenal faithful at the moment – a group of fans so used to seeing the team crumble under pressure. If Arsene talks about a collective will to fight in this team, it is about time we see it.
We need a 90-minute performance.
Arsenal’s greatest folly over the last two weeks has been in their collective wilting under pressure, pressure brought down upon themselves by poor decision making when in a position of strength.
Giving up a lead is not something Arsenal fans are used to, but we have done it on three occasions already this season – which is once more than we did in the whole of last season. That cannot happen again in 2016/17.
If we get ahead, we must go for the throat in a way in which we failed to do at Goodison Park and in Manchester. We cannot drop 10 yards as a team and invite pressure on to ourselves, we must continue to do the simple things that work well.
That means pressing the ball high, marking tightly, winning the ball back, moving it quickly, and converting our chances. These are our strengths and we must utilise them for the entire match, not in fits and starts.
There’s no question Arsenal are better than West Bromwich and victory is something this team is well capable of, they have proven that time and again this season. The question that remains unanswered is their ability – and, indeed, their willingness – to fight when the pressure is on.
From here, every Premier League match is a make-or-break moment for Arsenal. Boxing Day is the first test.