International break arrives at right time for impressive West Brom

Posted by Matthew Evans

AP Photo/Jon SuperWest Brom's Claudio Yacob, center, scored his first goal of the season.

West Brom's 1-1 draw with Arsenal on Sunday extended their undefeated streak to four games, in which they conceded three and scored seven, quite the turnaround from their opening three games where they scored none and conceded three. It was another impressive display from the Baggies in all areas of the pitch, particularly when you consider some of the players who were missing.

They were summer signings Scott Sinclair and Victor Anichebe, while the long-serving James Morrison and Chris Brunt were only fit enough for places on the bench. Such is Albion's new-found strength in depth, their absences went unnoticed. Saido Berahino kept his place from the previous weekend's victory over Manchester United and put in another confident display against a top side.

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Not only was Berahino impressive going forward but he showed discipline beyond his years in the defensive work he did, providing good protection for Liam Ridgewell.

Nicolas Anelka replaced Anichebe, which signalled a slight change in style to the one employed against United. Anelka wasn't going to rough defenders up as Anichebe did against the champions. Instead, he would use his technical ability to ensure Albion kept the ball and use his movement to create space rather than his physical presence. He did both well; it's just a shame that Anelka couldn't complete a good display by scoring his first West Brom goal.

He missed one gilt-edged chance, the ball put on a plate for him by Berahino after a great run. His second opportunity was one he crafted himself, outfoxing the Arsenal central defence with his movement to get in behind and through on goal; this time his effort curling just wide of the post. Despite not scoring, it was an encouraging display from Anelka, who seems to be fitting in a lot better than he did earlier in the season.

This match also marked a return to form of Claudio Yacob, who reformed the formidable central midfield axis he established with Youssuf Mulumbu last season. Like many of Albion's players, Yacob didn't reach the heights of last season in the opening games. Off the ball, he seemed to lack mobility; with it, he seemed slow and ponderous, bringing West Brom's attacks to a standstill on occassions.

That wasn't the case against Arsenal. Yacob consistently broke up play and was a lot quicker to release the ball, showing all the qualities he did at the start of his spell with the Baggies, winning the ball back and setting up Albion's attack with simple but smart passes that allow West Brom's forward players to flourish.

In addition, Yacob also scored his first goal for the Baggies, a bullet header from Morgan Amalfitano's cross, giving the Frenchman three assists and two goals in his first four West Brom appearances.

As mentioned, it was an impressive display from all areas of the team and the standout at the back was Billy Jones, who has improved beyond recognition over the past six months or so. Previously, Jones seemed more than capable going forward, but struggled on the defensive side, often being targeted by the opposition as the weak link of Albion's back four.

Since Steve Clarke seemed to confirm Jones as his first-choice right back, the former Preston man has flourished. He has got much better in the air while his pace helps him deal with tricky wingers -- and he provides much more threat going forward than Steven Reid. Some credit must be given to Amalfitano, who performs his defensive duties excellently, which means Jones isn't left exposed in 2-on-1 situations as he was when Peter Odemwingie playing in front of him.

Amalfitano left the action late on with a minor knock. With the aforementioned Sinclair and Anichebe missing the game through injury, as did Matej Vydra, it is because of these injuries I believe that for once, the international break has come at just the right time for Albion.

While it may disrupt a little of West Brom's momentum, it will allow the Baggies' physios to get to work and return these players to full fitness ahead of a busy spell of games.

Another benefit from this international break is that it will allow some of the players who have only just returned from injury to gain some much-needed match fitness. Brunt will go away with Northern Ireland and should hopefully get some games, having only started one for the Baggies this season. Morrison will also benefit from some game time for Scotland, having had a bit of a stop-start season so far this year.

Shane Long is another who has picked up a few minor injuries the opportunity to get some gametime that will hopefully bring the Irishman up to full fitness. Despite the deadline-day drama with his collapsed move to Hull City, I believe he will have a big part to play this season.

The worries for previous Albion managers with international breaks was an injury to a key player could disrupt the whole season. Although Clarke would like all of his players to return to the club in good health, this squad has already proven they can get the job done even with a few big players absent.


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