Consistency is an exasperatingly elusive beast but Arsenal must find a way to capture it if they are going to kick on from their draw at Chelsea last Sunday.
Their bid to do just that begins on Monday night when they welcome West Bromwich Albion to the Emirates, with an opportunity to build a little momentum the prize up for grabs.
Since the Gunners were thrashed by Liverpool at Anfield some four or five weeks ago, they have been markedly better as a group of individuals and as a team, with three wins and a draw from their following four matches testament to that improvement.
Despite that mini-upturn, there is work still to do before Arsene Wenger’s men truly convince that they have steadied the ship and taking the initiative against Tony Pulis’s side will help to do that.
We cannot afford to see the Baggies as fodder, however, as Pulis has proven time and again over the years that he knows how to organise a side with absolute efficiency, squeezing the maximum out of a limited group of players.
Although our home record against West Brom is excellent – we haven’t lost to them at the Emirates since 2010 – there can be none of the sort of sluggish, lethargic starts to matches we have seen from this team over the years, particularly in games they clearly expect to win.
Make no mistake, this is a match we absolutely should be winning but complacency has been our enemy in the last decade and the team must learn to play with tempo and vigour from the first whistle, to ensure we are not throwing caution to the win from the 70th minute onwards in search of a breakthrough.
There is no doubt in my mind that the Baggies will be set up to defend deep and counter, making the most of any set pieces that might come their way, so pace and efficiency are going to be crucial to success.
Breaking through early on will change the complexion of the game and will force West Brom to push that little further forward. We have to make their uncomfortable for a change, we have to force them to play in areas they don’t want to play in.
What we cannot have is a repeat of the sort of effort we saw at the Hawthorns in March where the defensive discipline was some of the worst ever produced by an Arsenal team. I still have nightmares about the appallingly lax attitude to set pieces shown by the Gunners, and Aaron Ramsey in particular.
While those lapses in concentration remain, we will continue to struggle against teams of West Brom’s ilk, but I would like to think the mistakes of last season and, indeed earlier this season, will form a key part of the discussion as the manager looks to prepare his team over the weekend.
In terms of playing personnel, the injury to Danny Welbeck means his promising start to the season will be curtailed and a spot playing behind the striker is now available. Despite having played for 90 minutes last Wednesday in the Carabao Cup, I believe Alexis Sanchez will start in that role on Monday. Whatever the talk of a reduced role for the Chilean in response to his desire to leave the club in the summer, Wenger cannot have an asset of his calibre simply warming the bench. If he is fully fit, I think he should start and be allowed to work his magic.
Whether Mesut Ozil starts or is given an extended rest following his injury is the only other question mark for me, and I am leaning towards him starting the match. Picking a way through a compact Baggies’ defence will be tricky to say the least and the German’s laser-guided passing could be key to doing just that.
But, who knows, we may even see an improving Alex Iwobi given another chance to show how he is learning and maturing into the role Mesut has mastered. After all, after this season, it may be Alex we turn to for creativity and guile if the German decided to move on to pastures new.
With everyone fit and firing, and the team demonstrating the sort of fight and desire we saw at Stamford Bridge last Sunday, there is no excuse for not taking all three points from Monday’s match. If we are truly to show that we intend to challenge this season, and that our rotten start is behind us, only victory will do.