Has it really only been a fortnight since Arsenal won that 1-nil match up at Newcastle? It feels MUCH longer, doesn’t it?
It’s not so much that we were playing beautiful football and had to take a break for some not very exciting International football, instead (for me at least) it’s more about the damp squib which was the closing of the transfer window. With Arsenal passing on last minute opportunities–real and imagined–we’re right back to the existential crises which seem to gnaw at the very soul of Arsenal supporters.
On the plus side, we now have a new moniker regarding our management team–‘the only club in the top five leagues which didn’t buy an outfield player.’ On the down side is well, everything else. (And, of course, the bit about the no outfield players is likely a negative for many.) Now, on top of all the usual hysteria, hyperbole and bad logic the transfer window generates, we’ve got the ‘lies’ surrounding Danny Welbeck’s injury. I’m ready to move on. Anybody else?
The truth of the matter, as Arsene Wenger sees it at least, is that our squad isn’t that bad and the opportunity to improve by way of buying players in the transfer window just wasn’t there. This is the key statement from his pre-match press conference: “Buying and selling is one way to strengthen your team but that’s not the only way.”
Did I say “pre-match” press conference? Yes, yes I did. We have a match. It’s against Stoke City and it’s Saturday at 3 o’clock. Football, actual Arsenal football. Yay!
Playing Stoke in our home stadium has been a very good fixture for us. Since their promotion back to the top level of English football in 2008 this one has been a guaranteed three points. All the real action–all the bad results, all the horrible injuries (with the Stoke supporters cheering them)–that we associate with Stoke, has taken place up there in the Potteries.
As such, the expectation must be for a solid win on our home pitch against a lesser opponent–except that we haven’t had such an outing since the end of last season. In fact (as we all know) Arsenal have yet to score on our home pitch this season. Going further back, with the exception of that final day 4-1 romp against a West Bromwich Albion team which appeared already on vacation, we’ve failed to score in 5 of our last 6 home matches!
What’s going on here? Well, that’s the question I asked in the last post so I won’t ask it again. The link is at the top of the page. Check it out…
Many believe it’s a tactical problem and some would like to see an approach similar to that which worked in that one match (vs WBA) where we scored at will: Theo Walcott at center forward. It worked that time, and other line-ups, mostly built around Olivier Giroud in that position have failed. Why not?
Why not, indeed? Stoke are a different team under manager Mark Hughes than the defence-first, try-to-nick-one-off-a-long-throw outfit which made them a solid mid-table club under Tony Pulis. Since Hughes took over, they’ve added flair while losing a bit of size and graft. Hughes has bought attacking players who couldn’t get a look in at places like Barcelona (Bojan Krkic, Ibrahim Afellay) and Bayern Munich (Xherdan Shaqiri). Is Sparky the new Pep Guardiola?
Unfortunately, in this one at least, I doubt we’ll see too much in the way of Stoke pushing hard for a win. Afellay (along with Charlie Adam) are suspended and this would be Bojan’s first match since knee surgery. Additionally other strong attacking characters, notably Marko Arnautovic and Mame Diouf, are fitness questions. They may play but can they give Hughes 90 minutes at full strength?
My bet is that he will use these players but will rely on more agricultural types like David Whelan and Jonathan Walters, even if the latter was almost off to Norwich at the transfer deadline. That move didn’t happen and Walters will want to try and show that he can do a job for his club. Holding the ball up and frustrating Arsenal from the front will likely be his assignment as Stoke will also be missing the man who broke Aaron Ramsey’s tibia and fibula, Center-back Ryan Shawcross.
Without Shawcross, they will have to work even harder to protect their promising but very young English goalkeeper, Jack Butland. As such, I’d expect Stoke, like so many other teams, to come to Arsenal hoping to defend deep and hit on the break.
Predictable as it may seem, I believe Wenger will thus go back to his main group and try to break the parked bus not with speed but with our best football players. Boring, boring, I know–and actually a big risk for Wenger–given that it hasn’t worked well in recent times.
Bench: Ospina, Gabriel, Debuchy, Gibbs, Arteta, Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain
Or, I could be wrong, very wrong. Maybe Wenger sticks with Gabriel (who looked good vs Liverpool and at Newcastle) and continues the rest Koscielny got with the French team. Giroud was booed off with that group, so perhaps Wenger mixes things up by moving Alexis central and playing the English attackers (Theo and the Ox) on either side of him, while reserving Ollie as a sub to employ if we need goals late on. Or maybe Giroud and Theo play side by side and one of the more regular attacking mids (Ramsey, Ozil, Cazorla) gets a bench seat. Could this be the match where Wenger rests Francis Coquelin to get a slightly more attacking player into central midfield (Aaron Ramsey, perhaps)? Mikel Arteta, the club captain, has been talking big about finally being fully fit and wanting to fight for his place in the team. Would giving him a start be just the change the team needs to improve their home form?
I don’t think so. Instead, I think the main group just needs to play their best, keep themselves and the ball moving well and break down the resistance Stoke will bring while being ever alert to their threat on those occasions when our possession breaks down. Like I said, boring, boring, boring…
That’s just my thought, of course. What say you, fellow Gooners? Whose got the (more exciting) ideas sure to put Stoke to the sword?
Go on you Gunners… And you Gooners! Get behind the team (as AW also suggested supporters might do) or have at it. Either way, enjoy the football!!