Belfast Telegraph

Irvine to target Arsenal defence

West Brom boss Alan Irvine has revealed his gameplan to beat Arsenal as he looks to follow Louis van Gaal's lead.

Irvine wants to cash in on the exposed Gunners defence and repeat Manchester United's success at the Emirates Stadium last week when the north Londoners visit the Hawthorns on Saturday lunchtime.

Van Gaal's United recorded their first away win under the Dutchman when they won 2-1 at Arsenal last Saturday evening.

The Old Trafford manager said the Gunners gave his side too much space as they twice hit them on the break to score, and Irvine is hoping to exploit the same weakness.

He said: "They play in such an open and expansive way.

"They get so many players forward. On the one hand that gives you a huge problem dealing with all those players because I can give you video clip after video clip where they have eight players in the final third.

"That only leaves three (in deeper positions) and one of them is a goalkeeper, so straight away you can see the difficulties they've got and how you can break out and hurt them.

"But you've got to stop them first and Arsene (Wenger)'s philosophy has been 'we attack and in order to be effective we have to commit a lot of players forward'.

"That's his method. Chelsea wouldn't be quite as effective as that but then that's their decision.

"Manchester United under Louis aren't being quite as open.

"What's a strength for Arsenal can also be a weakness but you've got to get the ball first and stop them from doing what they're so good at, which is opening teams up.

"They got a lot of criticism last week but Louis' play almost didn't work. If Arsenal had taken the chances they had it could have been a completely different result."

Claudio Yacob is suspended and Jonas Olsson (Achilles) is out for the Baggies while James Morrison is a doubt through illness.

Saido Berahino is available despite being arrested on suspicion of drink-driving last month.

Victory would leave the Baggies just one point behind the Gunners in the Barclays Premier League with Emirates boss Arsene Wenger under pressure during a stuttering season.

But Irvine insisted the Frenchman does not deserve the criticism he gets.

"He has been outstanding. He has brought in things that have changed the way people go about things in English football," he said.

"I don't know how many times he needs to prove people wrong but he's clearly done an exceptional job there.

"They haven't been the biggest-spending team there. They have spent a bit more money recently.

"When they're playing at their very best people say they're a great team to watch, then everybody hammers them when they go and get caught on the counter-attack.

"You probably can't have it both ways."

Saido Berahino is available for West Brom at the Hawthorns despite the revelations of his arrest for alleged drink-driving.

James Morrison is a major doubt for the Baggies though as he is struggling to recover from a sickness bug. The midfielder was on the bench for the 2-0 defeat at Chelsea last week after feeling ill.

Sebastien Pocognoli (hamstring) is a minor doubt and Jonas Olsson (Achilles) is out. Claudio Yacob starts a three-game ban after he was sent off at Stamford Bridge.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is confident midfielder Jack Wilshere can return stronger from the setback of facing three months out with an ankle injury.

The England international this week had surgery to repair ligament damage following a tackle by Manchester United defender Paddy McNair during the Barclays Premier League match on November 22.

Wilshere is now set for another frustrating spell on the sidelines, having seen his progress hampered by various problems before and at one point being absent from the Arsenal first team for around 17 months after suffering a stress fracture in his ankle during 2011.

Wenger, though, has no doubts the 22-year-old has the strength of character to overcome his latest challenge.

"He is very down. Jack is a football man who loves the game, but on the other hand, he is a very strong character as well and he has learnt to deal with adversity at a very young age," said Wenger, who has a host of fitness concerns ahead of Saturday's lunchtime kick-off at West Brom.

"I think he will be back at the end of February, beginning of March, and he will focus on coming back to rehab, having a strong rehab, and then I am sure he will help us to do well until the end of the season.

"Jack always came out stronger and, when I spoke with him, the final sprint of the season is already in his mind and [he wants] to come back stronger.

"He is prepared and focused to come back and finish the season well."

Wenger believes Wilshere can shrug of the latest in what has been a long line of injuries to hamper his progress.

"I was more worried one year ago than I am today because he had two or three surgeries on his right ankle. At some stage, you could raise that question, but today I am much more confident that he will [fulfil his potential]," Wenger said.

"If he has no problem with his joints, he will make a massive career."

While Wenger feels McNair's challenge was "very bad", he accepts it was "not malicious".

He said: "When you see it again, I don't think that anybody would have escaped without surgery in this tackle."

Wenger does not expect Wilshere's dynamic playing style to change.

"It is his strong point to turn, run at people and be committed - you don't want to take that away from him," he said.

Arsenal will look to bring in "at least one body" to bolster the depleted squad, Wenger confirmed, with a defensive midfielder the expected target with centre-half Laurent Koscielny fit again and full-back Mathieu Debuchy close to a return from his long injury lay-off.

Wenger, though, stated there had been "no enquiry from anybody" for Germany forward Lukas Podolski and denied a move for Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech.

The Arsenal manager conceded, however, the set-up of the side would have to be changed, given the loss of captain Mikel Arteta to another calf injury, adding to an already packed treatment room.

"I will adapt because I lost two players who can play in a defensive area in our midfield. We, of course, have to adapt," he said.

Wenger is confident Arsenal can use their midweek Champions League win over Borussia Dortmund to kick-start the Premier League campaign, his side currently in eighth place.

"Even in the games we lost, there was something happening in the team. That, for a manager, is the most important thing," he said.

"I am very positive about this team because there is something special in there and we just have to keep going."

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