18 mins: Saka cuts in from the right again, and his curling cross is again just beyond Aubameyang. So far Arsenal have had five shots, two on target, and one corner. West Brom’s equivalent stats read 0-0-0.
16 mins: So close! Saka is released on the right, cuts past O’Shea and shoots across goal, and Aubameyang nearly turns it in at the far post but then he … well … doesn’t.
14 mins: An Arsenal free-kick from the right is punched clear by Johnstone, and Tierney runs onto it and half-volleys wildly high from 25 yards.
12 mins: Arsenal are well on top in these early stages, but West Brom are defending their goalmouth pretty well. The Gunners win a corner, but it’s headed clear.
9 mins: Saka bursts into the right of the area and stings Johnstone’s palms with a low shot. “Can we get a mention for Deportivo Binacional’s stadium, 12,543 feet up in the Peruvian clouds,” asks Daniel Tunnard. When they’re promoted to League Two we can, sure.
6 mins: A pleasingly chaotic start to the match. It’s as if the snow hasn’t been cleared at all, but broadcasters have used some technical wizardry to make the pitch look pristine while the players slide and hack through the drifts.
3 mins: Save! Aubameyang crosses from the left and Bellerin drills a low volley goalwards, but it hits Johnstone’s right leg and rebounds to safety.
2 mins: Cameras find Allardyce absolutely losing his rag on the touchline. Start as you mean to go on, right?
1 min: Peeeeeeeep! They’re off. And then the referee calls them back again. And then they are, in fact, off.
The players are out, and action is just a few moments away. In other news, it is snowing pretty heavily again.
A couple of people have doubted by assertion that the Hawthorns is the country’s highest football ground. One even says Oldham is higher. In fact West Brom’s ground is fully 42 feet above Boundary Park. May I refer you to this bit of an old Knowledge answer (there are, it’s true, some Football League grounds that weren’t in FGoB, but so far as I’m aware the record stands):
According to Simon Inglis’s definitive work, Football Grounds Of Britain, the three highest league grounds above sea level belong to West Bromwich Albion, Port Vale and Oldham Athletic. The Hawthorns – built in 1900 – is the highest of the lot, standing at 551 feet above sea level. Next comes Vale Park (525 feet) and Boundary Park (509 feet).
The highest football ground in England, though, is at Silverlands, home to Buxton FC, which is more than 1,000 feet above sea level – but that’s nothing compared to the real altitude-busters in central and south America.
The Azteca Stadium in Mexico City stands at 7,000 feet above sea level, while the daddy of them all, the National Stadium in the Bolivian capital La Paz, is a breath-sapping 8,500 feet above sea level.
Sam Allardyce has a quick chat about West Brom’s last game, the thrashing by Leeds, and this one:
Obviously not very good on the result, and you have to say that Leeds on this day are physically so much better than any team in the Premier League and that showed on the night. I think the effort we put in at Liverpool took its toll on us. I watched Leeds today against Tottenham, and I wish they’d have played like that against us.
Tonight is about containing a team that’s got a lot of quality, and we have to be aware of their dangers and we have to get the ball, get forward, try to create and try to score a goal. That’s hard for us to come by, but we’ve got to believe and try to do it.
“We’re always told that referees ‘make allowances’ in these conditions,” writes Gary Naylor. “The question is, will VAR?” Well firstly, VAR doesn’t make allowances for anything. Secondly, as BT Sport start their broadcast it isn’t snowing at all, and the pitch is clear and looking perfectly football-ready.
According to the Met Office, the chance of snow in or around the Hawthorns is 90% now, 70% at 8pm and 80% at 9pm. It then warms up, hitting 2C in the early hours of the morning and the balmy heights of 3C tomorrow afternoon.
Snow is falling all around him. Children playing (well, Saka and Smith-Rowe), having fun. It’s the season of love and understanding – Alexandre Lacazette everyone:
Will these clubs be doing business in January?
Spare a thought for the groundstaff at the Hawthorns. The highest football ground in England, don’t you know.
Get the orange ball out, lads.
Both teams make two changes: West Brom bring in Ivanovic and Pereira, with Peltier moving to the bench and Grant having the night off. Meanwhile Ceballos and Lacazette come into the Arsenal side, and Elneny and Martinelli dropping to the bench.
Anyway … heavy snow is coming down at The Hawthorns. Both managers have been out on the pitch with the officials to have a look at conditions. The groundstaff have been working hard to clear snow from the lines but it is still settling across the playing surface. Hopefully all should be fine …
The team sheets have been handed in, and David Luiz and Willian both return for Arsenal – but only to the bench:
West Brom: Johnstone, Furlong, Ajayi, O’Shea, Ivanovic, Sawyers, Matheus Pereira, Phillips, Gallagher, Diangana, Robinson. Subs: Gibbs, Bartley, Grosicki, Austin, Harper, Krovinovic, Peltier, Button, Diaby.
Arsenal: Leno, Bellerin, Holding, Pablo Mari, Tierney, Ceballos, Xhaka, Saka, Smith-Rowe, Aubameyang, Lacazette. Subs: Willian, Runarsson, Maitland-Niles, Pepe, Luiz, Elneny, Willock, Nketiah, Martinelli.
Referee: Martin Atkinson.
A big game here between two teams who need points, both of whom have injury worries for this match: West Brom might have to live without Kieran Gibbs, while if late fitness tests don’t go their way Arsenal might feel obliged to play one or both of Willian and David Luiz.
West Brom have only won once in the league this season, and have two points from their last six games (only avoiding defeat at Manchester City and Liverpool, perversely). “Let’s hope they see Arsenal as big as they see Manchester City and Liverpool because they seem to do the right things against the teams they seem to have a bit more fear of,” says Sam Allardyce. ““I hope they fear Arsenal and it kicks them into performing like they did against Liverpool and certainly at The Hawthorns. We’ve got to start picking up points wherever we can.”
Arsenal have won their last two games to inject a little seasonal cheer into their season, having approached Christmas with a string of dismal performances and depressing results. Win this, though, and they’ll be sitting pretty in 11th, or 12th if Wolves beat Brighton, and with lots of teams not too far ahead of them. Bukayo Saka is likely to be key, though he came off with nine minutes remaining at Brighton in Arsenal’s last game – other than the match at Leeds in November, when he was injured in the first half, he has missed just 37 minutes of league football since September – and is a minor injury doubt.
Anyway, enough from me. Welcome!