Arsenal v Stoke Preview & Line-Up: Same 11 as against WBA bar Gibbs?

Stoke City – Arsenal Preview–Make or Break Time up in the Potteries

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Stoke away is a match which has become infamous since 2010 when a full blooded tackle from Ryan Shawcross broke Aaron Ramsey’s tibia and fibula. Shawcross (to his credit, I believe) left the field in tears, while Ramsey left it on a stretcher–to boos and derision from Stoke supporters. Subsequently, in an atmosphere of very high emotion, Cesc Fabregas led Arsenal to a 3-1 victory. Unfortunately, the acrimony between partisans was further stoked by pantomime dramas in the press around apologies and misplaced behaviours. The negative tactics (and demeanor) of then manager, Tony Pulis, did nothing to mollify matters, nor did Arsenal’s continued struggles in trips to the Britannia. Pulis is now gone, but another manager, Mark Hughes, who has never been high on the list of most revered men amongst Gooners–or our own manager, Arsene Wenger–is now at the helm. Faces have changed but the animosity most certainly has not.

Shawcross, now Captain of his club, will lead a slightly more elegant bunch onto the pitch tomorrow. Will Hughes keep the mowers off and let it grow for an extra day or two as they used to during the Pulis era? At least the groundskeepers can no longer bring in the touchlines to league minimums to favor the long throws of Rory Delap and try to hinder the better passing clubs. Things may be modernizing at Stoke City, but the always simmering bad blood between the two clubs will not be cured by the simple handshake Shawcross and Ramsey are sure to share in the moments before kickoff.

That Ramsey will have to reprise his 90+ minutes of hard running which, at the very end, yielded the assist which allowed Gooners to breathe again, is down to the injuries in the squad. Long termers Ozil, Debuchy, Wilshere are out and Theo Walcott has not recovered from a groin strain picked up on International duty. Tomas Rosicky also seems to have picked up a thigh injury and Yaya Sanogo might be carrying a hamstring strain from 10 days ago. Both left backs, Nacho Monreal and Kieran Gibbs, are nursing knocks picked up last weekend at West Bromwich Albion and Nacho, it appears, will definitely be withheld. Laurent Koscielny, although still bothered by at least one Achilles tendon, appears to be able to continue in central defense, but faces a late fitness test. His presence along with the solid work of Damien Martinez in goal have been strong factors leading to consecutive clean sheets in the league, and three in all competitions. Even though Wojciech Szczesny has recovered from his collision with Gibbs vs ManU, it seems unlikely that he’ll get the call between the sticks.

Stoke have injury issues of their own. Jonathan Walters has a knee problem and Glenn Whelan and Robert Huth are also doubtful with calf injuries. Stephen Ireland could miss out because of illness while Steve Sidwell, Peter Odemwingie, Victor Moses and Dionatan Teixeira are all sidelined with longer term issues.

At least Hughes and Stoke had an extra day to recover from their midweek match on Tuesday at ManU. They lost that one, 2-1, but it was a very close and hard fought battle which turned on the slimmest of margins. They also played very well vs Liverpool and only lost on a late goal from Glen Johnson. Will they be lacking confidence from the results or taking heart in the strong performances and feeling they are due?

Arsenal, in many respects, are coming from an opposite perspective, having eked out tight wins in their last two. The fight and organization shown has been good but the inability to create more comfortable margins has taken a toll. While the manager would surely love to rotate his players, he’ll instead have to ask his guys to dig deeper, perhaps promising stalwarts like Atlas, er, Alexis Sanchez, a chance to rest in midweek when we have to make the long trip to Istanbul for the final Champions’ League group match. At least Galatasaray will have nothing to play for in that one. We would like to win that match to have a chance at winning the group, but that seems a long-shot, given that group leaders Dortmund are playing (also eliminated) Anderlecht in their home stadium.

Talking recently about his team and “lessons learned,” in reference to the way the team got exposed chasing an equalizer against ManU two weeks ago, Wenger may also be chastened by his experience in this same fixture last season. In that one, our attack, despite ample possession, was unable to make headway against a stubborn Stoke defence. Trying to rest key players, notably Mesut Ozil, backfired when, with only 15 minutes to go, a very soft handball penalty was called on Laurent Koscielny and subsequently converted by Jonathan Walters. Despite the introduction of Ozil, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sanogo, the goal served to re-invigorate the Stoke team (and their crowd) and they were able to see out the victory. Trying to push earlier (and take the home support out of the match) then, might be a better tactic.

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With that notion in mind, my best guess for the starting 11 would be the group which started at WBA, with the one change at Left Back.

Arsenal v Stoke 17HT

Bench = Szczesny, Bellerin, Ajayi, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Podolski, Campbell (and one of Sanogo or Rosicky depending of fitness)

I could give a list of who I believe Stoke will play, but instead, I will only name the guy they (and their support) will be attempting to influence… The referee, one Anthony Taylor, infamous to Gooners for his work on Opening Day last season vs Aston Villa. Will he seek to make up for that (woeful) performance or continue in his efforts to punish our brand of football? Regardless, despite his Howard Webb hairstyle, he seems like one of the younger sorts, brought up based on a reputation for “letting them play”… Hopefully he can curb that tendency just a bit, remembering the ugliness of the Ramsey injury and its aftermath. Maybe Rambo should show him the scar… Again, taking the crowd out of this one, in the hope that the better side can prevail, seems a worthwhile tactic.

Can we do that and, more pointedly, are we actually the better side?

Under Hughes, Stoke have quietly gathered a good group which includes Stephen N’zonzi (another deep lying midfielder Arsenal might’ve considered given our own troubles in this area) and Barcelona flop, Bojan Krkic. Peter Crouch (no longer an automatic in the first 11) always seems to play his best against Arsenal and another new player, Mame Biram Diouf, took down another big team, Man City, with a solo effort on the counter for Stoke’s best moment of the season.

Stretched as we are (and Wenger admitted to the team “lacking fluency” vs Southhampton), I would say that this will be a (very) tough one. As the manager also suggests, we have to hope the boys can dig deep and get the job done. Given the high expectations of most Gooners, nothing less than taking the full 3 points will suffice. Stoke, of course, also need a result and will be well motivated to get one in front of their home support. They will also have a full week of time off before the next one, so I would expect them to pull out all the stops to leave it all out on the pitch and do everything they can to draw a line under this run of close results (but strong performances) which have gone against them. There must be a million other platitudes to suggest that another very tough battle awaits.

Insert your favorite… Or tell us who you would play (and how you would rotate) and what sort of result you’re expecting… Or anything else… 🙂

Go on you Gunners, Up the Arsenal, etc., etc., etc.

Written by: 17HighburyTerrace

Sexy Alexi, Sanogo the Shaper, and Terry Adonis: Match Day Report

Arsenal 2 – 0 Dortmund – a match day report.

Sexy Alexi a joy to watch! :)
Sexy Alexi a joy to watch! 🙂

Blogging, in some ways, is a weird phenomenon. You can be ‘in contact’ with people for years but never actually meet in person. Yet, virtual friendships develop and we get to know each other quite well, even though we often do not even know the real name of the persons we are blogging with on a daily basis.

To then meet two fine Bergkampesque bloggers in person, before and during the match against Dortmund, is special. It makes supporting Arsenal a whole lot more human, if you know what I mean.

Nik, who looks like a mixture of the BFG and Fernando Torres, is based in Germany, not far from Dortmund and has been a Gooner from a very young age. He has written a few posts for the site and has watched the Arse live both in Germany and London. He is in his early twenties and is into sports science, and boy does he know his football.

Terry Mancini Hair Transplant – ‘Terry’ in short – looks like a short-haired, Greek John Travolta, and he has teeth that blind you and could bite through a mahogany table with ease. He has never written a post, but we all know him for both his many very funny anecdotes and his love for Arsenal and Arsene (not just platonic, I fear!). He also really knows his football.

Nik does not know a fellow Gooner in the small town he lives in, whereas Terry, who lives in North-London and has literally split his house in two to live separate from his estranged wife, is totally surrounded by fellow Gooners: two very contrasting ways of supporting Arsenal, whereas I sit somewhere in the middle. However, what unites us all is of course the love for Arsenal.

I drove from Norwich to London wearing the mighty red and white. It was two hours before darkness would set in, but the sun never came out and the sky was deep grey, which made the shirt stand out more. Driving from Norwich – a very small ‘city’ – to the metropolis of London offers the perfect mental preparation for the game. There is nothing between the two places but woods and agricultural land, and about 200km of it. What else can one think about but our beloved team?

Once I got to Cockfosters, I felt ‘at home’ straightaway. The colours of the mighty Arsenal can be seen everywhere, even as early as 5pm. There are smiles on people’s faces and there is a buzz in the air which only an imminent home game can bring about. If you love football, you know what I mean. I was a bit early for meeting Terry and Nik, so walked around Finsbury tube station for a while. All of a sudden I heard a collective, guttural sound and before I know I am confronted by an enormous and very load yellow and black caterpillar. A few thousands of Dortmund fans were making their way to the ground, whilst onlookers were taking pictures of, or filming, the ‘experience’. It was pretty awesome to watch.

Terry, Nik and I met up at the Arsenal shop under the shirt of AR16 and went straight for something to eat and drink. A Turkish restaurant looked clean and tidy enough to suggest we would not end up with an icky belly. There were plenty of fellow Gooners inside and as soon as we entered all the women looked up. For a split second I thought it was me who created those expectant looks, but then I realised it was Terry’s ‘ray of light’ smile that was the babe-magnet.

Terry got spotted!
Terry got spotted!

We had a great chat about footie, Arsenal, life and women and then we walked to the ground. Terry walked with a wobble and made us believe he had a dodgy knee. However, it was clear that he held us back with his rubber-necking and touching up of every woman that walked past us. It was a pleasure to watch the Adonis at work, finding his many Aphrodites in the crowd; and Nik was eagerly making notes of the master’s endeavours.

Thanks to Terry’s dodgy knee, we entered the ground late: too late for both Terry and me to watch the first goal, but young Nik jumped up the stairs, four flights at a time – the BFG would have been proud of him – to just see Sanogo put it away. Good on him.

As soon as we took our seats we realised we were surrounded by both Gooners and BVBers. We sat not far away from the away supporters, and as expected they made a real racket, with a pre-medieval drum and more guttural sounding Dortmund songs. The sound and movement of the away fans were very impressive and it drowned out most Gooners’ singing around us.

The game was good to watch and we played well in the first half. However, it was clear that Dortmund played with their foot off the gas, as it seemed they were not too bothered about the outcome of this game. They hardly pressed as a team and when in possession there was not enough movement in front of the one with the ball to be able to hurt us. The tempo was often low and Cazorla, our playmaker, regularly found himself in space he would normally not get. 

I guess the early goal was a tonic for us and sedated further Die Gelb-Schwarzen and then set the scene for the rest of the game. It was good to see Sanogo giving us structure and his hold-up play and passing was good and reminiscent of Giroud. He also had good positional awareness and passed on the ball quickly and often accurately; and more than once he managed to start an attack from receiving the ball with his back towards the goal. He makes it look simple, but yet it is so effective; and the whole team benefited from his game.

We all laughed a bit when Sanogo wasted a good chance to make it 2-0, as his movement and control of the ball looked comical. He still has a lot to learn but he is a very interesting prospect for us: let there be no doubt about it that he is a great talent.

Both Ox and Alexis were active on the wings and the FBs were a great help in making things happen. We won most of these ‘two or three against two or three’ battles on the flanks this time round – a strong contrast with the return game a couple of months ago. Santi, often with time and space, moved the ball round well and was a joy to watch. This would have been a great game for Rosicky, but his time must be up now (unless he is injured). Arteta and Ramsey had been industrious and effective, but were also given an easy time given the lack of pressing and movement by Dortmund.

Dortmund had just a couple of chances and Martinez – totally in bright orange to have a strong presence, which I liked – made an excellent safe at a crucial moment.

During the break, Terry seduced a few more women, leaving Nik and me to analyse the game in peace – good man! 🙂

The second half was more of the same, with Arsenal controlling the game and Dortmund not giving enough to be able to hurt us. The Ox hit the bar with a fine volley just before THE moment of the game. Alexis received the ball, from a very alert Santi, outside Dortmund’s right side of the box: he looked at the goal and placed a brilliant, diagonal, curling shot to the keeper’s left side, leaving him no chance whatsoever: a moment of supreme skill that finished the game off for good.

With a sex god next to me – attracting gorgeous women all around us 😉 – and sexy Alexi on the pitch, what had started as the dullest of days ended up bright and positive. A two nil win – three out of three wins for my Emirates visits this season! – fine company, lessons in the art of seducing the other sex, and a brilliant goal by Alexis….. days don’t become much better than that.

Written by: TotalArsenal.

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