Good Morning Insiders, are you as nervous as me? I’ve got the pre-season sickness… quite like sea sickness but it doesn’t end till May, it’s a nightmare. Problem is last few seasons the sickness hasn’t had a reward… its gotta be this year, hasn’t it? Our opener is against the yoyo Premiership/Championship side West Brom. I’ve been talking to Finbarr about our season opener.
PGL – Welcome back to the Premiership. How are Baggies fans feeling about the season ahead?
Finbarr – Mixed feelings, as ever! While we all want to be in the best league in the world, the reality of games endlessly moved for TV, the huge gap in ability and revenue between us and the “big” sides and the feelings we kept getting of decisions going against us will probably take some of the shine off it. Still, that minimum of £60 million over three years coming into a club that’s already well run and free of debt will help to keep building us up on and off the pitch.
PGL – Were you hoping for an easier first game or are you glad to be straight back into the thick of the top flight?
Finbarr – In some ways it’s a bit of a “no lose” game for us – lose and it was Arsenal and we had no chance anyway, anything else is a great start to the season. Starting with an easy game and losing it would be a lot more worrying and a big dent to our confidence. But who would give us an easy game anyway?
PGL – How do you feel about your squad for the new season, given the rigors of the Premiership?
Finbarr – We’ve made some encouraging signings over the summer – £16 million so far and still shopping, although other clubs will spend that on one player rather than eight! I think most of us would like to have kept Phillips and Gera and added to them rather than try to replace them just to stand still. Up front is probably the main worry – last season we leaked a few goals but usually scored more; the signing of Luke Moore has yet to pay off (he looks like missing the game anyway) and the other strikers are totally unproven at this level despite some encouraging performances last season. Overall, however, the squad is probably stronger in depth than it has been for many years, and in Carson and Kiely we have two good keepers fighting for their
PGL – Arsenal and West Brom are strangely in a similar position, we’re both hoping to finish ahead of the other 3 teams in our respective mini leagues. Many are pointing to Arsenal inexperience as a reason we can’t be on top of the big four. Do you think the Baggies experience of the relegation dog fight will help them this year?
Finbarr – I think the only people the relegation experience will help will be the supporters! Since it happened last, we’ve changed the manager, most of the backroom staff and most of the squad – but there are probably just enough left who don’t want to experience it again to keep motivating the rest. In any case, when we’ve been relegated before it’s been through playing negative, defensive football and that simply isn’t Mowbray’s style. I guess Arsenal will find things difficult until they’ve paid for the new stadium, but Wenger and Mowbray both seem to have the knack of finding diamonds in the rough rather than taking the cherry-picking approach used by certain others.
PGL – Tony Mowbray said he’s relishing the Wenger test and admitted he’s a fan of the Wenger style of management. Do you think Mowbray can become the Baggies answer to Wenger? Is he capable of not only keeping you in the division but consolidating in the way Allardyce did at Bolton?
Finbarr – We certainly hope so! There’s always the worry that another club will tempt him away, but I think he views promotion as another step in his plan to build a side up to compete at the highest level and has unfinished business here at Albion. He’s a man who lives and breathes football, watches and studies it endlessly and never seems to stop learning so the comparisons with Wenger are probably entirely appropriate. Actually, the more I write the more I’m looking forward to the game!
PGL – With Neil Clement out, how do you feel the West Brom defense will cope with the Arsenal attack?
Finbarr – We missed him for most of last season and didn’t do too bad, and with the signing of Meite and the benefit of his experience at Bolton it’s possible Clement may be second choice for many games anyway. It’ll be interesting to see who gets the starting places at the back; we’ve signed a few defenders over the summer but it may be too soon for them all to have developed the understanding they’ll need against the top sides. Fortunately, after many years of the “big ugly centre half” approach, we do now have some pace at the back and players who are comfortable on the ball.
PGL – Arsenal have looked a bit shaky through the middle in pre-season. Have you got the players to exploit this?
Finbarr – I think the midfield will be the key area in this game. It looks likely we’ll go 4-5-1 and make use of some of our more creative midfielders, although Koren will still be out of action and that will be a big loss as he and Greening made a great team in the centre throughout last season. Hopefully Kim Do-Heon, our new Korean International, will take up the challenge, and he’s looked sharp in pre-season. Morrison and Brunt have ability and goals in them too, though we’re still in the market for a more defensive midfielder with Charlton’s Zheng Zhi rumoured as a serious target.
PGL – And finally what’s your prediction for the game?
Finbarr – Despite all the positive signs, the bookies aren’t often wrong and I think anything other than a home win is going to take a great deal of luck on our part. I don’t expect a repeat of the 5-2 battering we took a few years back, so I’ll play safe and go for 2-1.
So that’s the Baggie viewpoint Insiders. Despite of the disjointed performance on Wednesday I think we’ll be far more composed come today. I’m going for 2-0, though I’m expecting quite a nervous start. The first half may be a tight affair but don’t panic, I think we’ll settle in and come good second half. So Gooners this is it… let the Premiership battle begin.