Three things we learned from Stoke 0-0 Arsenal
1.) Steve Bould is Arsenal’s signing of the transfer window.
Forget Santi Cazorla, the promotion of the legendary ex-defender from youth coach to replace Pat Rice as Assistant to Arsene Wenger looks as if it will pay off big time for the Gunners this season. The Sunderland game had some encouraging moments but Stoke at the Britannia would be the real test of just how far the Gunners backline has come in their short time under Bould. Arsenal fans feared for the worst when it was announced that Vito Mannone, who’s last appearance for the Gunners bordered on the farcical out at Olympiakos last December, would come in to replace the injured Szczesny. Ordinarily, Mannone would have found himself under serious pressure in any game, let alone at the Britannia. However, the Italian had next to nothing to do as the Gunners defence superbly dealt with any sort of Stoke threat in a manner that was unrecognisable to some of the defensive “efforts” at Stoke in recent years.
On set pieces, Bould appears to have the Gunners organised, well drilled and meticulous in their preparation. Olivier Giroud came in to help out much like Didier Drogba did so effectively for Chelsea over the years. Elsewhere, Carl Jenkinson produced another hugely encouraging performance. One might argue that such progression would have appeared anyway, but as against Sunderland, the timing of his challenges and his awareness of danger, both Bould trademarks, were terrific. Additionally and for me, importantly, Sunday’s match contained several small tactical tweaks based on the opposition. For instance, Abou Diaby almost stood on Peter Crouch for the big striker’s entire duration on the pitch, thus nullifying the sort of aerial threat that has caused Arsenal many a problem against Crouch in the past. Before Bould, such individual tweaks would never have made their way into Arsenal’s gameplan as Wenger primarily focused on executing Arsenal’s passing football, rather than focusing on the obvious dangers of the opposition. There can be no doubt that Bould is the catalyst for such changes.
2.) The jury is still out on Olivier Giroud
The sheer audacity of the Frenchman’s admittedly brilliant late 35 yard effort that flew inches over the bar has perhaps masked another indifferent day for the new signing from Montpellier. After his late missed chance against Sunderland last week, Giroud’s full debut for the club frustrated in equal measure. The 25 year old undoubtedly brings qualities to Arsenal’s attack: his work rate will endear him to the fans while his hunger to challenge for headers pours scorn on those who told us Marouane Chamakh was good in the air. However, against Stoke, Giroud’s display often lacked a sure touch. It’s perhaps harsh to continually compare him with Robin Van Persie but Giroud is of course replacing the Dutchman and an instance in the first half where he mis-controlled a neat Cazorla through ball which would have put him through on goal clearly demonstrated the differences between Van Persie and his replacement. Indeed, though Giroud’s willingness to challenge in the air is admirable, the forward seemed a bit overawed by the physicality of the Stoke defenders; falling to his feet and claiming for fouls that in the Premier League will never be awarded. Giroud clearly has the makings of a very good Premier League player and of course it is early days, but until he gets that elusive first goal, questions will continue to be asked of him.
3.) Perhaps Diaby IS the answer in the middle of the park?
OK, so this may be the biggest tempting of fate since time began with Diaby likely to break down at any moment in time, both on the pitch and off it. However, the signs were there against Stoke that perhaps Wenger’s faith in him to replace Alex Song is justified. The enigmatic Frenchman divides opinion but most are in agreement that potentially, if he can steer clear of injuries, Diaby can become a major force. His performance at the Britannia was hugely encouraging. Diaby defended very well, particularly in the way he cleverly dealt with the obvious threat of Peter Crouch, while going forward the Stoke defence were troubled by his powerful, direct running. Of course, issues still remain with the 26 year old: at times his awareness of incoming pressure appeared lacking as he turned into trouble while there remains a consistent hesitation to shoot when in a good position. However, in the early days of this season so far, Diaby has been quietly impressive.