And boss discusses options against league leaders as he challenges players
STEVE Clarke has warned his players to expect Arsenal to come flying out of the blocks when the two sides meet at The Hawthorns tomorrow (ko 4pm).
The table-topping Gunners have scored the opening goal inside 23 minutes in five of their six Barclays Premier League outings this term.
And they will arrive in the Black Country on the back of 12 consecutive wins on the road in all competitions - including a Capital One Cup penalty shootout victory at The Hawthorns 11 days ago.
“The way they are playing is tremendous," said Clarke.
“This season they have looked really strong.
“They have obviously made a fantastic signing in Mezut Ozil.
“He’s come in and given the whole place a lift and the team an extra dimension.
“A number of players they’ve signed over the last two or three years are starting to blossom, are starting to get used to the English league, are starting to understand what they have to do and how they have to play to get results in the Barclays Premier Legaue.
“This year I think Arsenal are a strong team."
He added: “I watched Arsenal in midweek against Napoli.
“They were absolutely outstanding and in the first 30 minutes they blew Napoli away – and Napoli are a good team.
“We have to be ready for that.
“We have to be on our guard.
“In most of the games Arsenal have played this season they have always started very, very quickly and they’ve managed to get their noses in front, and from there they control and dominate the game.
“So we have to be ready for that."
The Albion chief has also challenged his players to find the level of performance they reached in last weekend's 2-1 win at Manchester United - but admits the way he sets his team up against the North Londoners could well be different.
“You can’t say the way we approached the game last week will necessarily be the best way to approach the game this week," he said.
“I’ve had a look at one or two different things in training.
“I’m waiting on one or two players to show me they’re ready to play as I have one or two doubts in key positions.
“Once I know more today I’ll shape up the team the way I think is the best way to get a result this Sunday.
“We strive to be like the top teams and the top teams are always capable of winning matches back to back or three in a row.
“That’s something we have to try and get into our game.
“To go to Old Trafford last week and get a win was good – but the question to the players is ‘Arsenal at home, against the form team in the league, can you do it again? Can you push to that level again and produce another performance like that?’
“You’ll get the answer tomorrow and hopefully it’s a positive answer."
One thing Clarke has ruled out is the possibility of man-marking £40m play-maker Ozil as he highlighted Arsenal's numerous other threats.
“If you man-mark a player you can upset the balance of your own team," he insisted.
“I think we have to look at what we did at Old Trafford last week and try and replicate that.
“We produced a good team performance, so rather than concentrate on one individual and maybe getting side-tracked a little bit, we’ll concentrate on making sure the team performance is as good as it was last week."
Clarke added: “Some players come in and settle quickly.
Some players take longer – and I think Giroud is one of those players.
“He did well last year and it’s just taken him time to find the way to play or the way to influence games in the Premier League.
“He’s certainly one of the players who has been key to Arsenal’s form this season and the other would be the big centre-back Per Mertesacker, who at first couldn’t find his level but is now one of the best centre-halves in the Premier League.
“They’ve got some good players.
“Flamini has been a good re-signing for them.
“He’s come in and given them the strength.
“In reference to man-marking Ozil, what do you do about Ramsey, who can’t stop scoring, or Wilshere who is a clever player, and Arteta, who is also a clever player?
“This week we’ve got our work cut out to live up to what I think our supporters will expect, which is another good performance and another three points.”