The Arsenal defence was immense; let that be your focus. Stoke has become a place Arsenal players and fans do not want to visit. When you see the away fixture on the calendar you cringe. I’ve gone on various blogs, twitter and a my usual podcast with Premier Punditry to say that a draw would be a good result at the Britannia. A nil-nil draw is a better than good result.
By not conceding a goal at the Britannia a change has obviously brewed in the squad. In previous seasons watching Arsenal concede cheap goals has been as common a theme during the season as selling our best players in the summer. It’s a reason to be excited. It almost makes me as excited as watching Pennant fail, Pennant’s quips about Arsenal have irked me, but I take solace knowing that he is the only hattrick man not to claim the matchball thanks for my favourite legend Robert Pires.
Two games into this season and our goal differential is already two better than last year. We have one more point than this time last year. Against Stoke we drew away last year. Against Sunderland conceded 5 goals in three matches, and conceded to Stoke both times as well. Arsenal have also not taken a red yet, and last year we had three in our opening three fixtures.
Fans should be content, maybe even happy. We also had card-happy Lee Mason referee the match, so a draw with him is a good thing, believe me! See my initial referee preview on www.premierpunditry.com
Now that the match is over we can stop worrying about the disgraceful Potters fans. The chants they use are disgraceful, the team is totally built around anti-football. Tony Pulis has alienated them into thinking that this is a good way to play football. Granted they earn points by doing it, but they will not achieve a title with this style of play. Their booing of Aaron Ramsey is deplorable, and Ryan Shawcross, who wants to play for Wales, does nothing to ask for decorum. I think we can measure Shawcross’ character right now based on that.
Some parts of Stoke’s chanting and imitating of Wenger I take as a compliment. They’re jealous! They cannot pass the ball like we can, they cannot hold the ball like we can, and they cannot win like we can. Their mockery of Wenger is hilarious, it shows you the length they have to go to so they can make themselves feel superior. Keep looking up Stoke, look way up, that’s where we are.
How did the players do?
Kieran Gibbs is my Man of the Match, and it’s pretty simple, nothing was created on that side of the pitch. Defensively he played better then Gael Clichy ever did in my opinion. So we have now seen what the finished product can look like defensively there. Now we just need some consistent growth and improvement with his crossing. It was not his best crossing display as he often took the ball too deep for his crosses to pin Begovic back in his net. When Arsenal cross from the goal line the opposing keepers come out and deal with the ball. When Arsenal cross from higher up the opposing keeper is pinned deeper.
Thomas Vermaelen is my runner-up for MOTM. He made a ton of clearances, and organized the back to be a steely wall. And best of all, the defence did not give the ball away in their half, no quick breaks, and mental farts that led to chances. He split duty between marking Walters when he was deep and Crouch when he was on Mannone’s toes, and each time, Vermaelen won. I am also relieved beyond words that Vermaelen was healthy after Wilkinson’s challenge, surely a red card to a referee with any skill; read, Lee Mason has no skill. Lee Mason set a pick on Arteta and Diaby in the match
Olivier Giroud was creative, he was inspiring and he brought something that we need against teams like this, he brought down the high ball, corralled it, controlled it, and moved it to a teammate. There was a moment in the 14’ when Giroud should have taken the shot on himself instead of making that dainty little chip back towards the spot. Keep your head down and bury it son!
Lukas Podolski was good too, he did something that we have not seen in a good deal of time, he attacked players directly. Rather than out running them or playing the 1-2, he changed it up by attacking the defenders head-on and forced them to try and tackle him. It is a tactic that will draw lots of fouls, but also force defenders to pull their leg back. This will create space for Podolski to shoot, and opposing goalies will be pissed because he has thunder-foot.
Gervinho was not convincing in his performance. The times where the ball needed to be moved quickly, he would hold it up a bit too much; when play needed to be slowed down, he would make his move and then have no options for a pass. That may have been a tactic to catch Stoke flat footed or flood the box with options, but changing tactics in the second match of the year with a lot of new personnel is never an advisable idea.
Cazorla is making passes of better quality than Hazard right now, by a large margin. He plays the ball forward in the middle of the pitch more than anybody, granted he does see the ball a lot. His stat line is going to be crazy at the end of this year, and once he creates himself a fraction more space on the field the goals will come because of that extra moment he can set himself for his shot.
Arteta scuffed the one key chance of the match. Arteta can smash the ball, and routinely does when going for goal. This time it was different, and it’s unfortunate because even if Begovic got a hand to it, the best he could do is parry it for a corner. Arteta moved the ball really well and needs to try to make the killer pass himself because opposing players are going to key in to his usual pass targets, the full backs and Cazorla. Time to mix it up.
Diaby played a solid game, he attacked defenders, and got stuck in the way that we all thought he should for the last half decade. The way he is playing is more box-to-box than I was expecting. I have always questioned his defensive work rate and hustle; right now I need some mustard to improve the taste of my foot. When Diaby is shielding the ball or taking down an aerial ball, someone needs to be closer to him to work a neat 1-2 so Diaby can spin the defender and advance the play. He has that skill; with Sagna back in a month we will see some of that for sure.
Mertesacker had another quiet game. He did all of the little things right, was always in position and did a great job using his reputation to help draw a foul. We all know he could have carried on, but Crouch fouled him, so he took the foul. It was very smart because Mannone was not quite settled and the break helped everyone get gathered to carry on.
Jenkinson is really improving defensively, however his performance against Stoke would have resulted in two goals against Liverpool. He is likely to go up against Sterling who has pace and creative dribbling skills. Jenkinson twice was caught flat-footed and twice moved too far in to the middle which allowed the winger with the ball to creep in far too close to the 18. By forcing the winger wide, he would have made Mertesacker accountable for the inside player and I think he needs to learn that Mertescaker and Koscielny will easily pick those players up. Jenkinson’s highlight was his backcheck run in the 71’, yes he conceded a foul, but he did everything right.
Mannone was solid, not quite convincing, but solid. One moment early in the game he seemed reluctant to go for a ball and let it bounce. His indecisiveness seemed to halt right there. I still hope we have Wojciech back for Liverpool.
Theo Walcott never got into this match. The last two times he played against Stoke he has been tackled hard and dangerously by Marc Wilson. I think that he played with “a little handbrake.” Unfortunately because of that handbrake there are rumours that he could be going out. I would be more disappointed if his lack of compunction was due to an impending transfer versus a small fear of injury. I honestly felt like Marc Wilson wanted to hurt him and taunt him last year. You could see that last year when Wilson stood over Walcott after a challenge.
Oxlade-Chamberlain should have been put on earlier for Gervinho in my opinion, he looked anxious. Sadly he was not quite ready for a run-out longer than he got in the match. His ability to single out a defender by going straight at them with pace makes him dangerous, not to mention how fast his vision keeps improving on the pitch. He is seeing the through ball, which is improving the speed at which the team plays.
Ramsey came on for a short run-out and had to deal with some boos. His substitution was inevitable as Cazorla needed to be preserved for Liverpool. His darting run when Giroud made his audacious chip was excellent and showed his desire to win, especially at the Britannia. There would have been nothing like earning the win on your boot at the same ground where the last win came on the day you were injured. I however, do not think that Giroud’s pass inside to Ramsey would have resulted in a goal. Giroud would have had to bend it around the defender, catch Ramsey in full sprint, be controlled and then buried against Begovic who has elevated his status in the Premier League.
Job done to Arsenal, bring on the reds… and Howard Webb.