Arsenal 1 – 0 Stoke: Match Thoughts And Individual Analysis

Wenger made five changes to his line-up for this game. In some ways it showed the depth in the squad even though it was quite evident that the team isn’t quite as fluid without the likes of Cazorla and Podolski.

Stoke sat really deep for most of the game. It was as if they’d seen what happened to West Ham and were genuinely scared. As I mentioned after that game, for all the talk of aggressiveness and the in-your-face attitude, the tactical approach from the manager was stunningly timid. Their back line was often on the edge of their box or deeper, and the five midfielders in front of them tended to stay within five yards or so, thereby cutting out any space between the lines.

Arsenal were forced wide time and again. It’s common knowledge that the Gunners are among the weaker teams at wing-play, and it could be that Pulis was counting on that to eke out another goalless draw.

It was a hard-fought result but that works just fine. Every game isn’t going to produce scintillating football, and it’s definitely better than exceptional football in a losing cause.

The analysis of this game is directly linked to some individual efforts so I’m going to combine the two sections.

I thought the Gunners struggled because, apart from the general limitations of wing-play, the front three couldn’t really combine in this game. Walcott worked hard on the right, it was encouraging to see him attempt to hold on to the ball under pressure. It seems he’s also been working on his close control and dribbling skills. Many people were impressed by his performance in this game. I wouldn’t say it was a great effort from the Englishman but it was one that showed hard work is being done on the training ground and there is genuine desire to do better. And make no mistake, he’ll have to produce much, much more than what he did in this game if he’s to play a vital part in making Arsenal’s future bright.

I did like the way he handled Wilkinson’s persistent fouling, something that cannot be said for Chris Foy.

Giroud too had a mixed sort of a game. He’s another one who’s trying to improve his all-round game and that’s reflected in a better touch and more meaningful contribution while dropping deeper. But against a team that was sitting so deep, we’d ultimately want to see the central striker creating space where none exists. He has to find a way to bully the central defenders, to hold his own in front of them so that his teammates can ping balls to him and make penetrating runs. The Frenchman also needs to become available when the ball goes wide. It’s not easy for a striker without much support against a deep-lying defence, but who said it’s easy to be the main man at a big club that wants to win trophies!

Oxlade-Chamberlain’s performance was a tad disappointing. I have not enjoyed the hype around the kid at all. It’s portrayed him as a player who’s ready to take on a lot of responsibility when every time he goes on the pitch he shows just how much he has to learn. The difference that Podolski made after coming on through his movement, technique, and game-intelligence should serve as a good benchmark for the youngster to aim for. The two best chances of the first half fell to him and one’d hope in a couple of years he’ll be good enough to finish one of those.

I was surprised Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain didn’t swap wings when things weren’t quite clicking. They might have had better joy against the full-backs on the other flank.

Apart from the front three, the efforts of Diaby in midfield also slowed things down. The Frenchman didn’t have great games against Chelsea or City either and seems a bit off-pace. In such a game, I’d have preferred if he’d stayed deeper and let Arteta have more freedom. Alternatively, a few darts into the box to get on the end of crosses would also have brought something different to the attack.

It was interesting that most of Arsenal’s promising moments came from corners and follow-up balls into the box. Stoke are reputed to be an aerially dominant side but I feel they’re not impenetrable when they sit this deep. Teams just need to know how to play the crossing game against them. I remember Manchester United scored 4 goals against the Potters at Old Trafford, all from different types of crosses!

From open play, Arsenal’s crossing posed very little threat. At times, there were too few bodies in the box. Giroud, as mentioned earlier, wasn’t able to make space for himself. None of the midfielders seemed interested in making darts into the box after playing the ball wide. Some crosses were hopeful and seemingly aimless while some failed to miss the first man. These are just some of the observations that make Arsenal’s wing-play innocuous. But this is another long-standing issue and I don’t see it improving overnight, particularly when the starting eleven has many changes.

Arteta and Wilshere had decent games. I do sometimes feel Jack will benefit if he can slow his game down in the sense that constantly running with the ball or moving off it doesn’t given him sufficient time to pick penetrative passes. It’s not that he doesn’t pick incisive passes – the one that put AOC through is a classic example of doing just that – but I have a feeling he can be a lot more creative if he slows his movement, particularly against a team that sits so deep and narrow thus cutting out space to run into.

The other problem with Arsenal’s attack was that many of them were two-player moves. So the guy on the ball was looking for a pass/cross and someone else was moving to receive it. These types of moves are easy to defend against. Once Cazorla and Podolski came on the speed of passing increased and they started bringing more players into the picture. Combination play involving multiple players when executed at pace is usually hard to defend against. That said, it’s not that Arsenal created too many clear-cut chances with these two on the pitch. But I’ve a feeling they’d have found a way to goal if the free-kick hadn’t gone in. The team just looked sharper and more fluid, and they had better technique and awareness in tight spaces.

The defence was fairly solid in this game. At least part of that was down to the failure of Stoke’s one-dimensional attacking approach and tactical diffidence. While the visitors did try to pass the ball around in midfield at times, they just didn’t have any offensive ideas. Once Arsenal showed they could deal with the long balls and set-pieces, a goalless draw was their best hope. One would have expected them to throw everything forward and mount a serious challenge after going a goal down but even after that they couldn’t really test Szczesny.

Arsenal kept the ball well, forced Stoke deep in their own half for long periods, ensured they didn’t have lapses in concentration or make silly mistakes, and that was enough to keep a clean sheet.

I was amazed Stoke didn’t even try to target debutant Nacho Monreal. While this might not have been an ideal game for someone who’s just come from La Liga, it was hardly a physical test that Stoke usually provide at the Brittania. But that’s not his fault, and for his part the Spaniard had a respectable outing. He did have a couple of iffy moments towards the end but those should be ironed out easily. There were glimpses of his offensive quality in a couple of crosses and we should see more once he trains with his teammates and plays with the likes of Podolski and Cazorla on the pitch on a regular basis.

The central defenders had a pretty straightforward game. Crouch was able to receive the ball quite often even when he was the lone forward quite isolated from his team. But the defenders, usually Koscielny, did enough to ensure he couldn’t turn, and this slowed the attacks down. Crouch just didn’t have the speed to play a quick one-two and run in behind the defence.

Sagna also had a regular game. Wasn’t really stretched defensively and couldn’t really offer the final ball in attack, but he did his part in keeping the ball rolling and winning individual duels.

In the end it was a boring game with a commendable result. Certain areas of improvement, individually as well as collectively, were apparent as was some of the work being done on the training ground. But it wasn’t the kind of game I’d want to dwell upon for too long.


13 Responses to Arsenal 1 – 0 Stoke: Match Thoughts And Individual Analysis

  1. [...] Wenger made five changes to his line-up for this game. In some ways it showed the depth in the squad even though it was quite evident that the team isn’t quite as fluid without the likes of Cazorla and Podolski. Stoke sat really deep for most of the game. It was as if they’d seen [...] Source: Arsenal   [...]

  2. Gerry Lennon says:

    OOOH Desi, You were bored with this match weren’t you? LOL

    Probably like yourself, I watched the match on the ‘player long after the game had finished? It makes for a different viewing to a live game, but I came to a different conclusion.
    Given the way Stoke set their stall out, I thought the starting 11 did a good job in ‘softening up’ Stoke for when the subs came on. A solid team effort of possession play that might have seen us 3 goals up on another day?
    I agree on Walcott – his best game with limited space to work in.
    Disagree on the Ox – In the box for the ball that came quickly to him, and had he been square on he would have had a tap in, but facing the far corner was the only shot on. Repeat, the ball came quickly to him, split second decision. The second was a curler to the far post. A tad too high, or low? combined with a finger tip save stopped from him from being the hero on the stroke of half time. Great run and a great pass from Wilshere. For crying out loud Desi, he was in the game to get the experience to be the player you want him to be! If you want him to be another Bartley, or even Coquelin, and get disappointed for lack of game time we may never see the finished article?.
    Stoke’s weapon, had they been able to use it, was always going to be on the counter attack. I think they did not get a chance because of the use of Diaby and Arteta as deep lying defensive midfielders. Remember, we were coming on the back on conceding early goals and then have fight twice as hard to get back into the game. This was clearly our main defensive objective.. This way, our only goal was a decisive one?
    Again I thought Sagna had his best game for a while? Enough to make me think that perhaps contract talks are promised sometime soon? He certainly looked more at ease, and supported Walcott at every opportunity.
    The centrebacks were solid, helped by Crouch being isolated for long periods, but they kept a good line.
    Nacho wasn’t targeted because in the first half he was hardly given the ball to run with, and defensively, having the Ox and Diaby on that side meant very little got down that wing. Using the Ox for his better (than Walcott) defensive work was used when Jenks started last time?
    Where you are right, and the above amplifies the point, is that without Podolski on the left the team are not so well balanced. The attack ball is invariably down the right wing. Poldi demands the ball, and so makes the opposition move about more? Switching Walcott to left was not really an option on Nacho’s debut?
    That was my critical analysis looking at the game as a whole, rather than pick up on individual play, however accurate, it is still more negativee than your usual blog?
    I want my old Desi back!

  3. Ken says:

    For once desi, I disagree with you and agree with the comments made by Gerry Lennon. What was your emotional state at the time you where watching the game?…If I didn’t know your incredible analytical abilities, I would have assumed u wrote this based on watching only the highlights of the game. Anyway still a massive fan of yours , but in football terms, this wasn’t one of your best games.

  4. Charlie says:

    As always a good thorough article but a little harsh. You are right about the lack of real crossing ability but it is difficult to score when the opposition puts 10 behind the ball and there were a few chances. I think Arteta, Cazorla and Wilshere is the most creative combination because, as you said, Diaby (and Ramsey) plays at a slower pace than the others. Oxlade-Chamberlain is not as good as established wingers such as Valencia, Bale or Mata, we shouldn’t pretend that he is so I agree with you there too. He has a lot to learn but the time spent on the pitch now will make him a much better player when he does reach his peak and we all want to see him evolve into a star so it’s worth giving him the chance. In games like this you normally need someone to win it for you with something exceptional.

  5. mansor says:

    not your day desi

  6. JohnW says:

    Dont worry Desi, The Ox will come through. The chances he missed I put it down to inexperience, had it been Theo, one of them would have gone in. The way Diaby played would not work with a team like Stoke, but will be an absolute weapon with Bayern, a team that uses possession to defend, but a tard slow in defence and central midfield.
    NB: I can officially predict that Arsenal will knock out Bayern. 2-1 to the Arsenal in the first round; 3-2 to Bayern in the second round.

  7. wawa says:

    though a little bit harsh but the whole game changed when Carzola + Podolski were thrown into the fray. i agree with you that our team was lacking in fluidity as they normally do. i even bemoaned the absence of Carzola & Podolski in the first eleven. Didnt really had the liberty to watch the whole game, but I saw the goal. Desi, was the linesman trying to rule it out for offside or what?

  8. T2T says:

    3 points! No significant injuries!
    TW14 is now starting to show the consistency of what he can do and he is just about to hit his prime:-)
    Look at e.g. Rooney who peaked younger but most ManU fans will probably agree that Rooney played better a couple of seasons ago. TW14 will probably be at his max this and the next 4-5 seasons. The only concern is that he only signed a 3 1/2 year contract. That may be because he wants to see if Arsenal can compete for trophies. If Arsenal cannot, he will probably leave summer 2015 @ 26 years.

  9. Nick from Portugal says:

    When Ramsey is on his game (as he has been recently) he moves the ball quickly. Diaby, on his game moves quickly with the ball. Both tend to be static and uncertain if they are lacking in confidence or feeling a little for form, as is the case with Abu at the moment. Stoke are a woefully managed bunch, if I hear Pulis mention his lack of resources one more time I’ll puke. Betfair are hardly lacking in cash and he is always spending money. He doesn’t know how to take them to the next level so if they want to be a bigger club they have to shift him. I share Desi’s views on the Ox, willing, talented, naive.

  10. Shauri says:

    If we keep on playing giroud as a central striker we wont finish in top 4 position.,play poldi there!

  11. Nepali Gunner says:

    Oxlade definitely came with a lot of hype, and the danger is that the Walcott scenario might develop where the hype makes him a bigger player for the club than his talent allows him to be. However, I think his attitude is good, which means he himself will be able to manage expectations, both for him and his supporters. I think the reason Walcott was kept by Wenger is also because he does have a very good attitude.

    Anyways, about the game, we just lacked that “little bit of quality” upfront. Stoke defended very deep which always meant that it would be difficult to get clear cut chances. We did manage to create a few, but were just short. This is where that extra bit of talent comes into play. Oxlade should have scored one, but he is still a young player.

    Monreal looked solid, but too early for any judgment. I will reserve his judgment for the summer.

    Overall though, Arsenal looked poised, although some defensive lapses were still evident. Not any major mistakes, but just affording space to Stoke at times which could have been fatal against teams with more attacking threat. The collective defending between now and the end of the season will probably determine our top 4 goals and the cup ties.

    Needed the win. Hope we will build on it.

  12. rotimi says:

    arsenal play beautiful game

  13. santori says:

    1) Per. Should mention him. Had a very good game.

    2)MonReal. The real Nacho. Wlaters all banged up and bruised to match Huth. Stoke bloodied. Snack on that.

    3) Chambo. What did you expect honestly. Considering most of our young players come good around 23 (Walcott, Song), he quite obviously has some ways to go. That said, he has been limited in playing time and he is still developing at a far quicker exponential than Walcott was. Some good movement into dangerous areas. Finishing could have been slightly better but he had tow good efforts on goal.

    4) Diaby. Looks a bit cautious (understandably) but some good movement. A bit short of match sharpness. I don’t think there is a comparison between Ramsey and Diaby. If fully fit, I will take the Frenchman. . If our memories aren’t so short these days, an excellent assist last game against Liverpool. Essentially Coquelin and Ramsey are competing over auditions to back up Arteta. There is no substitutue for Diaby;s height and strength at the moment bc of whatever reluctance Wenger harbours in not dipping into the Jan transfer market for a Capoue type player.

    5) Walcott. Excellent control in the game and great movement. Feeling very good that we have secured his short term future at least with the club.

    6) Jack. Sqaured off to Owen. Battle of the giants.:D

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