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May 5, 2014

Arsenal defeat highlights squad shortcomings

West Brom's 1-0 defeat to Arsenal was disappointing, but that disappointment was counteracted with relief, as later results all but secured the Baggies Premier League safety for another season.

It has been a very poor season for West Brom and the way in which they limped over the line to Premier League safety was an apt way for the campaign to end. Captain Chris Brunt described the season as a "shambles on and off the pitch," and I don't think I could have put it any better myself.

The performance against Arsenal was again another reflection on the season Albion have had and the transfer business they did in the summer. There was a lot of huff and puff going forward without any real quality, while they were let down at the back by a piece of poor defending from Craig Dawson, who allowed Olivier Giroud a free header that he duly converted.

Dawson's presence at right back in a makeshift back four that included only one of Pepe Mel's first-choice defence showed just how badly the club did in the transfer market this season. Billy Jones has had a much improved season at right back and is one of the few players to emerge with any credit this season, but he has struggled with injuries.

For the alternative at right back to be Steven Reid is criminal. Reid is clearly a fantastic professional and played a big part in helping to establish the club in the top flight, but it's fair to say his injury record isn't the best, so having him as the backup option just makes no sense.

The fact that Dawson was shunted out to right-back was also incredibly unfair on him. He's just had his best game in a West Brom shirt in the previous clash with West Ham, but instead of being allowed to continue at the heart of the defence, he was moved aside so Diego Lugano could come into the side. Dawson just isn't capable of playing right-back, it doesn't suit his game and Keith Downing should have known this having seen him struggle there in a cup tie against Crystal Palace when Downing was in charge.

Surely this would have been the perfect opportunity to give youngster Liam O'Neil a start in a position that is far more natural to him than it is to Dawson. In turn, this would have allowed Dawson to continue at centre-half in place of Lugano, who was another strange signing. For seasons now, every head coach West Brom have had has told fans that Dawson is the future of Albion's defence. So why sign a player like Lugano, who instantly became third-choice centre-back until the coaching staff realised just how slow and unsuited to the Premier League he is. At left-back, Chris Brunt was forced to fill in for the injured Liam Ridgewell. Brunt did an admirable job on the left, as he did when he played there against West Ham, but it did hamper West Brom's attacking play. Although Graham Dorrans has performed extremely well since being recalled by Pepe Mel, he isn't a wide player -- it's only natural he will drift inside. This left the side with no width, something that Brunt normally provides.

But the biggest issue with Brunt playing left-back is that Goran Popov is fit to play. Mel would prefer to pick someone out of position in a makeshift back four rather than Popov, a clear indication that he doesn't rate the Macedonian international. It can't even be said that Popov was a player more suited to previous head coach Steve Clarke, as he didn't pick Popov last season even when Ridgewell was struggling. If Clarke didn't rate him, what possessed Albion to think that re-signing him for another year would be a good idea?

It wasn't just in defence where West Brom made some strange signings. Up front, Saido Berahino led the line by himself against the imposing duo of Koscielny and Mertesacker. I had no issue with this as Berahino had scored the winner in the previous game. My question is, how many West Brom fans would have thought the England under-21 forward would be Albion's first-choice striker come the end of the season?

The Baggies signed three forwards in the summer, but none of Victor Anichebe, Matej Vydra or Nicolas Anelka has performed to the level West Brom would have wanted. I think the pressure and expectation that was put on Berahino's shoulders when it became apparent Albion lacked a goal scorer had some impact on his decline in form and the unfortunate press he has received based on his behaviour.

Albion's summer dealings just made no sense whatsoever. Only Stephane Sessegnon and Morgan Amalfitano have had any real impact, and even that hasn't been on a consistent basis. They can't afford another summer like that if they want to improve on what is likely to be a bottom-five finish.