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Arsenal must prove they are capable of getting a result at West Brom

In May 2012, Arsenal travelled to West Brom knowing a win on the final day would see them secure fourth place and spot in the following season's Champions League.

They were clinging on to a 3-2 lead, when a sensational Kieran Gibbs tackle stopped what would surely have been a late equaliser for the home side, and Arsene Wenger almost collapsed into the arms of his long-time assistant Pat Rice.

This time around the occasion probably won't be quite as stressful given that the Gunners will still have another 11 games left in the season, but the need to take the three points back to London is no less than it was back then. Arsenal are five points off the top four, although they do have two games in hand, but at this point of the campaign you cannot allow the gap to widen.

West Bromwich AlbionWest Bromwich Albion
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The distance between where you are and where you need to be can seem dauntingly further away -- especially as games run out. It adds to the pressure and psychology of the situation, and this Arsenal team haven't always convinced when it comes to their mental strength.

West Brom are a big, strong outfit, very much the way Tony Pulis likes his teams, and he has plenty of previous with Arsenal. He knows from his many years at Stoke how the physical side of the game has often been their downfall, so it would be no surprise if their approach was focused on that and the size advantage they have.

It might also be part of Wenger's thinking when it comes to his own team selection. Who he selects up front is always of interest, but if he were to choose Olivier Giroud it might not simply be for the Frenchman to lead the line, but to add some height and aerial ability to help defend set pieces.

Olivier Giroud could give Arsenal much-needed strength both up front and in defence.

That said, with Danny Welbeck back from illness, a front three alongside Giroud and Alexis Sanchez would add some physicality and power for the West Brom defence to deal with. The England international is generally very switched on defensively, and adding another body over 6-foot might make sense.

It took an 86th-minute goal from Giroud to beat the Baggies at the Emirates in December, and Arsenal were on the wrong end of a 2-1 scoreline at The Hawthorns last season, so it's going to take a serious effort from a team that is still somewhat in the doldrums in terms of form and confidence.

Much will depend on the midfield, and as much as league position and results are a corollary of Arsenal's season, so too is the fact that we're in mid-March and this is an area of the pitch that remains dysfunctional. Since losing Santi Cazorla to injury in October, the fluidity and rhythm required has, for the most part, been missing.

Aaron Ramsey needs to rediscover his best form for Arsenal.

Injuries and suspensions haven't helped. Aaron Ramsey and Granit Xhaka have had their issues, while Mohamed Elneny was absent on international duty before picking up a knock himself. Over time it has become clear that Francis Coquelin's is only truly effective alongside Cazorla. Without him, he is fundamentally diminished.

Although Ramsey and Xhaka haven't always convinced, they seem the best and most complementary partnership Wenger has at his disposal. The reputation of the Swiss international has been somewhat unfairly tarnished by his two red cards, but his skillset as a distributor from deep is what allows Ramsey to flourish.

It has been some time since the Wales international has done that, but if Arsenal are to close the gap and secure another top four finish -- as well as continued progression in the FA Cup -- they have to find a midfield that works, and this looks like their best bet.

West Brom will provide them with a difficult test, but if it's one they can't pass, then worries about how the remainder of the season will pan out will only increase.

Andrew Mangan is one of ESPN FC's Arsenal bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter: @arseblog.


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