Arsenal have a great chance to go top of the League this weekend when they take the Gun show on the road and face a West Bromwich Albion side with the second worst home record in the League.
Albion have shipped 16 goals in 12 matches this season and 12 of those have come at home on the way to a 1-1-4 record. Perhaps it’s a bit unfair to Albion to call out their home record out since the opposition they have faced at home so far this season has been Man City (0-3), Chelsea (2-3), Southampton (0-0), Everton (2-3), Sunderland (1-0), and Leicester (2-3).
Three 2-3 losses at home in the opening 6 matches is an odd record for sure. And considering the teams they faced it might be a bit reckless to suggest that this will be a walk in the park. But Arsenal have title aspirations and if Arsenal want to claim the League they are going to have to match or best what Man City and Leicester have come and done before them.
City also have a much tougher match, facing Liverpool, as the late game for Saturday. An Arsenal win over West Brom would pile a bit of pressure on City. As an aside, Leicester (and Man U) could also go top of the table, if they beat Newcastle and both Arsenal and City drop points.
West Brom have some underlying stats which show that they can’t be taken for granted. They have only conceded 1 goal from an error and 5 errors total this season. That ranks them 3rd best in the League in that category, tied with Man U and Leicester, and just above Stoke and Southampton. This indicates a team that is well drilled by Pulis. As an aside, the phrase “well drilled by Pulis” was originally going to be the Killing Word for the Weirding Module in David Lynch’s Dune.
But the reason why West Brom have so few errors is that West Brom play an Allardycian system: they spend more time getting restarts and time wasting than they do playing football. This is similar to the van Gaalian system, though van Gaal is known for keeping possession and killing off games that way. Either way you slice it, Pulician, van Gaalian, and Allardycian squads are remarkable for their overall lack of activity.
West Brom have the lowest possession% in the League at 43.5% and they are also 3rd lowest in tackles. West Brom also commit the fewest fouls in the League, take the fewest overall shots in the League, are 15th in the League in dribbles, and draw the third fewest fouls. Like all teams who hate playing the game, these teams put out very few stats in general. Their goal isn’t to play football, it’s to kill off games.
As Eduardo Galeano put it in Soccer in Sun and Shadow, men like Allardyce and Pulis are technocrats:
His mission: to prevent improvisation, restrict freedom, and maximize the productivity of the players, who are now obliged to become professional athletes.
Pulis has players, Sessegnon, Berahino, and Rondon all have the ability to turn a drab afternoon at the Hawthorns into a night to remember with a deft dribble or a delightful moment of interplay. But under Pulis, these men are left to be just another cog in Pulis’ anti-relegation machine. It’s no wonder that Pulis can’t find a place for Arsenal’s Serge Gnabry, another in a long line of precocious Arsenal players, because Gnabry is probably smart enough to see that Pulis doesn’t teach people how to play football.
There is a lot of talk about the cost to watch a football match, with Arsenal often the focus of fan’s ire because of their prices. But what price would you pay for a season of Pulician football? The Midlands of England is a dreadfully boring place to live — their star attractions in West Brom are a climbing wall, a laser tag place, and a pub — but in those conditions wouldn’t you want your football team to do more than simply “survive” relegation? If I lived there, I’d rather my team got relegated with a manager who had a vision to bring something magical to my existence rather than watch a single minute of Pulis’ team time-waste their way to a 1-0 victory over the equally dreadful Sunderland.
Lost in the debate about “greed” in football is how teams like West Brom don’t even try to bring beauty into the lives of their fans. Hiring a man like Pulis is simply telling the local fans that the only thing that matters is saving the team from relegation. Hiring Pulis is like calling the ambulance. How much money would you pay to watch Tony Pulis perform CPR on the WBA corpse for an entire season?
Arsenal and West Brom are on the opposite ends of the spectrum: one plays beautiful, attacking football with unpredictable players like Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Özil serving up incredible moments of skill and the other plays cheap, boring, anti-relegation technocratic football which essentially cheats all viewers out of the joy of the game.
My prediction is Pulis will double down on his efforts to close castle West Brom. He will note Arsenal’s injuries to key improvisational players like Ox and the possibility that Arsene might rest Alexis for this match and he will set his team out to take a 90 minute match and turn it into about 5 minutes of play. It’s in those 5 minutes that the game will be decided.