Apr 21, 2016

    Gunners at big risk from falling off a tightrope


    ARSENAL'S quivering tightrope walk towards their Premier League top-four objective resumes today when West Bromwich Albion visit the Emirates Stadium in a re-arranged fixture.

    Sunday's 1-1 draw at home to Crystal Palace saw Arsene Wenger's side slip to fourth place and left them with precious little wriggle room ahead of their final five matches of the season.

    Fifth-placed Manchester United and sixth-placed West Ham United both had opportunities to close the gap on Arsenal last night and goalkeeper Petr Cech knows that his side cannot afford to keep tossing away points.

    "We've been talking about the situation where if any of the teams ahead of us slip, we need to get three points, but unfortunately we've not been able to do that," the Czech international said this week.

    Arsenal dominated Sunday's game against Palace, enjoying 72 per cent of possession, but Yannick Bolasie's 81st-minute equaliser allowed the visitors to depart with a share of the points.

    Usually ruthless against weaker teams at the Emirates, Arsenal have taken just eight points from a possible 18 in their last six home fixtures and it is threatening to derail their season.

    Wenger has never failed to steer the Gunners into the Champions League during his 20-year tenure but the risk of failure has scarcely loomed so large at this stage of the season.

    Arsenal were top of the league as recently as mid-January but their springtime domestic capitulation, coupled with Cup disappointments, has placed the manager in the spotlight as never before.

    With large sections of Arsenal's support now calling on Wenger to step down, another slip-up against West Brom could make for a very uncomfortable evening for the 66-year-old Frenchman.

    West Brom, who prevailed 2-1 in November's reverse fixture, would appear to pose little threat to Arsenal's top-four hopes, particularly after a run of four matches without victory.

    But with Premier League survival effectively assured, they can play with relative freedom and manager Tony Pulis has urged his players to make the most of successive away games against Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur.

    "They are great games," said Pulis, who saw Saido Berahino have two penalties saved in Saturday's 1-0 home defeat by Watford. The result left West Brom 10 points clear of the relegation zone.

    "I've told the players when we played Manchester City, there's such a small percentage of people that get the opportunity to do this in their lives."

    England midfielder Jack Wilshere is nearing a first-team return for Arsenal after stepping up his comeback from a broken fibula with two run-outs for the club's under-21 side.

    His midfield colleague Aaron Ramsey is a potential starter against West Brom after making his return from a thigh injury as a late replacement for Alex Iwobi against Palace.

    Scottish midfielder James Morrison is a major doubt for West Brom with a hamstring injury while left-back Chris Brunt (knee ligaments) is a long-term absentee.