Another “big” team. Another big match. Stoke visit the Emirates for the 100th game at the stadium. It’ll also mark the 500th league game in charge for Le Boss and 250th appearance for Cesc in Arsenal colors. Small details that tend to come and go in a fast paced world of short term results and instant judgments.
This match has also been overshadowed by the handshake ruckus that excites the media more than actual football. This is the second time in a row that focus on a game has been relegated to the background as the Van Persie diagnosis dominated the Chelsea game. While that was news that must have affected the players’ minds before the game, this one should be relatively easier to discard.
Once again this is a game of size against skill, brute force versus technique. None of our supposedly physical players is back from injury and Song will miss out after picking up his fifth yellow of the season. It’s also a game where Rory Delap rockets will add to our usual vulnerability against set pieces and crosses.
Stoke have done well over the last two years and look comfortable in the top half of the table. Their away record isn’t special but they are a team that is hard to beat. In fact, they have lost only four games this season which is the same as us! For Stoke, that can be considered an achievement.
Arsene agreed in his pre-match press conference that it’s a must win match. He has been talking about winning home games all season long. Given our present form it’s even more important to fight back. A draw will feel like a defeat.
I feel a return to our scoring form is also equally important for the confidence and belief in the squad. I am not sure everyone in the squad is convinced about our credentials and that cannot be healthy for a team that wants to challenge for titles. The best way to change everything is to start the winning streak I’d talked about earlier.
I’ve not seen any Stoke game this season. But they can’t really be much different from last year. Bulk of the game will be them chasing the ball and making crunching tackles. The areas where they chase the ball will define how the game shapes up. The potters will try and push us wide and into corners. We need to move the ball quicker and behind their defence. Sounds simple either way but we all know it’s easier said then done.
I feel we need to try more shots from distance if we aren’t getting the ball in behind. It’s an important tactic to create pressure and make the defensive players think twice. Against the Blues we missed out on utilizing a lot of space in front of their box. Even if we don’t really score from distance it will force their players to alter their defensive shape a little. A little can be big enough for us to sneak through. This will mean our holding midfielders moving five or ten yards further forward. A risky but necessary approach.
In the absence of Song, Nasri might be moved to the middle. The other option might be to give Rambo another game but I think Wenger will go for experience. This game might also see Vela and Eduardo play together as Rosicky hasn’t really looked convincing. Eboue might be given start in the forward position but that would be an overly defensive move. And as Arsene said, there isn’t much choice.
I think the team will look like,
Almunia; Sagna, Gallas, Vermaelen, Traore; Nasri, Cesc, Denilson; Arshavin, Eduardo, Vela
Looking forward to a big result.