Arsenal must break this habit of losing two in a row. I realize that it doesn’t happen all the time but we’ve seen successive losses far too often for any fan’s liking. This time however, I do feel we should be able to bust the trend on Saturday.
Stoke. What can one say about the Potters? I fell asleep thinking about their game and then woke up with a start due to a nightmare in which another Arsenal player had been Shawcrossed or perhaps more generally, Stoked/Pulised; couldn’t see the details as it was a hazy vision and thank God for that!
To summarize the visitors in a nutshell these words come to mind – organized and stubborn defence, rash tackling, deliberate and rotational fouls, good crosses, dangerous throw-ins, aerial strength, and physical battle.
Offensively, we can be sure Stoke will be looking to win corners, throw-ins, and free-kicks in the Arsenal half. Win a number of those, put enough men in the box and hope for a mistake. Foul the Keeper or other players and hope the ref misses a few. Be persistent and a goal is likely to come at some stage. The visitors might also look to break on the counter but most of it will eventually boil down to set-pieces and throws.
Defensively, they will have 9 or 10 men behind the ball. Pulis’ side will be happy to concede set-pieces and throws because they have the physical advantage. They’ll also break Arsenal’s rhythm by “getting stuck in”.
Arsenal just cannot afford a lapse in concentration in the box while defending. At times we have a tendency of leaving some opponents unmarked while the players are caught ball-watching. That must be avoided and we have to hope the defenders put in as strong a shift as they did at Blackburn and Sunderland. After the recent attempts by some teams and given Stoke’s penchant for long balls, the central defenders will have to be ready for a busy night. The midfielders in front of them have to win the knock downs.
Creatively, I feel this team should have more than enough to score some goals. Hopefully, one will come early and open the game up. A high tempo along with good movement up front will the key. Last season at home against the same opponents Arsenal attempted over 700 passes. Something like that cannot be accomplished without excellent off the ball movement and quick passing. More of the same please.
Needless to say, the ref has to play a vital role in such a game where one side will spend the ninety minutes flirting with the boundaries of football laws. Based on this review of Lee Mason, I’m a little worried things might get too rough. Normally the home advantage should count in Arsenal’s favour and the home support should influence the ref like it does almost everywhere. But it’s the Emirates and the crowd could just as easily do the reverse.
A lot might depend on the first five to ten minutes. If Arsenal can establish control of the midfield and push the visitors back in their own half we can minimize the threats they pose and give the supporters good reasons to cheer. If Stoke can win some set-pieces early on and put the Arsenal goal under pressure it could lead to some groans and moans from the fans. The first few minutes will define the momentum of the game.
As far as the starting eleven goes, I’m hoping for some crucial changes.
I don’t have any updates on Fabianski’s fitness so the junior Pole might continue his challenging Premiership introduction. There is a case for having Djourou in the starting line-up for this game, especially if the inexperienced Szczesny starts, but I’ve a feeling Arsene has his reasons for picking Squillaci and Koscielny. Sagna and Clichy have to start.
In the midfield, hopefully, we’ll see Cesc back in his usual position, fit and raring to go. El Capitan can make a huge difference to the way Arsenal play and deal with pressure. Last season in the same fixture Fabregas attempted close to a 100 passes with a great deal of accuracy and impact. We need him back at that level not only for this game but for the rest of the season. Song and Wilshere will probably start although some might want to see Denilson instead of the youngster.
Arsene will have to make some important decisions in attack. I’d start with Van Persie in the central striker role flanked by Arshavin and Nasri. If Stoke do push forward and press us higher up we should bring Walcott on at half-time. If Fabregas can run the midfield, the trio of RvP, Arshavin, and Nasri will be too much for Stoke to handle.
The starting eleven could look like,
Szczesny – Sagna, Squillaci, Koscielny, Clichy – Song, Cesc, Wilshere – Nasri, RvP, Arshavin.
On an unrelated but important note, I’m happy Arsenal have drawn Farca. As of now that game belongs to Messi, and unless he is injured for the two ties I can’t see Arsenal going through. Nevertheless, they’ll be exciting games for football fans. Here is a hilarious take on the draw.
Finally, I just wanted to share this post by Mr. Renoog on his Backwards Gooner blog. If you haven’t already seen it and if you enjoy getting into details of the game, that post and the blog in general are highly recommended.