Thoughts On Tactics And Starting Eleven Against Stoke

Arsenal are visiting Stoke. Normally, there wouldn’t be any need to mention Chelsea. Or Newcastle. But this time around we have to, with a passing mention of Spurs thrown in.

The Champions League semi-finals threw up some not entirely unexpected surprises. Roberto Di Matteo, Just a year after being sacked from West Brom where his attacking style put the club’s survival at risk, will lead the Chelsea bus to Munich for the Champions League Final. Given the way they’ve gone past Napoli and Barca, you can’t write them off. And if they do win the Champions League, the 4th placed team in England will miss out as the Blues will get a chance to defend their trophy. That means Arsenal have to finish third to ensure their presence at the biggest stage next season.

Newcastle are 3 points behind the Gunners with a game in hand. They do have tougher games but barring the City one the others seem winnable on their current form, especially if Chelsea take the League lightly. So Arsenal must win 2 of their next three and match Newcastle’s result with City in the third. In that case goal difference should be enough to hold on to 3rd place.

Interestingly, Spurs are a further three points behind Newcastle. If they win all their four games and Arsenal and Newcastle lose one while winning the rest, all three teams will be tied on points. Once again goal difference could be key.

Although winning all three would undoubtedly be the ideal way to go, it doesn’t seem a realistic proposition given the current form. The visit to Stoke is usually a tough one – Arsenal have lost 3 of the last 4 – so the bookies will probably rate this as the toughest fixture of the three with longer odds on a win for the Gunners.

Tony Pulis’ unique tactics – to use the term very liberally – have caused a number of problems for Wenger’s men. This game should be no different.

We can expect a number of long balls aimed towards Crouch with Walters challenging for the second ball. Pennant and Etherington on the wings will also have crucial roles in attack as they’ll be asked to put in a number of balls into the box, to run in behind from flick-ons, and to attack the back post.

Stoke’s basic attacking approach is simple. Get enough balls and bodies into the opposition box and fight there. Some luck with deflections, with defensive errors or lapses in concentration, or simply from fouls not given can lead to goals.

Given the fact that they’re at home they’ll also get the benefit of doubt – again a term used generously – in almost all physical duels. This makes them very effective at home and a difficult side to beat. City, United, and Chelsea have only managed a draw at the Brittania while Liverpool and Spurs have lost. Newcastle are the only team from the top 8 to get a win there with Arsenal and Everton still to play.

Part of their home strength is also based on a very well-organized defence. They’re not an easy team to break down and Arsenal will have to find better ways than simply crossing the ball from wide areas. Huth, Shawcross, and Co will dominate such situations without breaking a sweat.

Ironically, Stoke have occasionally been vulnerable on set-pieces – which is also their biggest attacking strength – and the Gunners, especially Vermaelen, could benefit from quality deliveries. This is a contradiction with their general aerial dominance but it will be a big mistake if Arsenal don’t try hard on set-pieces thinking they won’t get much from them.

In attack, it will be interesting to see the choices that Arsene makes. Walcott is injured so there is an opening on the right wing. The left wing has anyway seen numerous changes – or little experiments – over the last few weeks.

Gervinho or Oxlade-Chamberlain could start on the right. My preference is for the Ivorian. AOC is still too inexperienced for this level and often gets lost on the pitch. Gervinho has his set of weaknesses but he can make a big impact on the game if he can sustain the sharpness he showed as a sub against Chelsea for the entire duration of the game.

On the left Arsene could pick Benayoun who’s been effective in a couple of recent games or he could go with Santos who had an interesting – for want of a better description – few minutes against Chelsea in that role. The Israeli is clearly more experienced in that role while the Brazilian will have to learn on the job. On the other hand, Santos would offer better defensive support and physical presence in the box. He’s also less likely to be brushed off the ball when compared to his relatively lightweight teammate.

In the midfield Arsene will probably go with the same trio that started against Chelsea. Diaby, given his physicality, would have been a good option but it wouldn’t be wise to start a player who’s struggled with injuries for so long against a team like Stoke.

The problem with Song – Rosicky – Ramsey in the middle is that they could struggle to bring the ball out. Stoke tend to start the game at a very high intensity and will put pressure on the ball in an effort to deny the players any time and space. Against Liverpool, early on against Newcastle, and in the first half against Chelsea, this tactic worked for the opposition and Arsenal were either wasteful in possession or lost the ball cheaply in dangerous areas. The hosts will be hoping for such mistakes and will try to break quickly down the wings once they win the ball back. If the full-backs have been pushed up, as the Gunners usually do, this could open up avenues for attack and at the very least Stoke could win throws and set-pieces deep in the Arsenal half.

Coming back from a goal down will be difficult despite the visitors’ league leading stats regarding the same. If Stoke score first the best Arsenal will get is a draw. The opening exchanges – first 20-25 minutes or the time of the first goal, whichever is earlier – will test Arsenal’s ability to hold the ball and build the play from the back under pressure.

I’d like to see the following line-up,

Szczesny – Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs – Song, Rosicky, Ramsey – Gervinho, RvP, Santos.

I’d also ask Gibbs to stay deeper and look out for runners. Santos should be asked to stay wide on the left when the ball is in a central area and to tuck in when it goes wide. He’d have to double up as a technical midfielder concentrating on possession play and a winger, toggling between the roles depending on the patterns of play. The Brazilian also has the ability to thread balls through for the other two attackers but it’d be unfair to expect them to have perfect understanding with hardly any practice together.

At the back, Koscielny and Vermaelen will also have to be extra vigilant to track the runs of Walters as one of them will have to duel with Crouch depending on the positions the striker takes up. I’d expect him to pull towards his left between Sagna and Koscielny but teams often try to test Arsenal’s left side, so he could alternate between the two.

Depending on whether Walters presses higher up the pitch or Etherington pushes forward, Arsenal could have an extra man in midfield or on the right. This would be the most likely channel to bring the ball out but they should try to find a better balance between the two flanks otherwise it becomes relatively easier for the defenders to retain a shape to defend a flank and crosses from that side.

To be honest, I don’t expect points from this game. Even a solitary point will be a good result. Three will be a massive one. If everything falls into place and the ref doesn’t have a big influence on the events the Gunners could get something but it doesn’t happen often. A battling, injury-free display is all one can ask for. That will at least give Arsenal a fighting chance.

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38 Responses to Thoughts On Tactics And Starting Eleven Against Stoke

  1. santori says:

    Where’s everyone?

    I’d start Diaby. I’ve been defending young Ramsey (and I stand by the fact that many are stupidly criticising him with no logical context) but he seems a bit bereft of confidence at the moment (not least from all the criticism he has soaked in)

    The short spell Diaby was on against Chelsea was instructive. He was at once more combative and able to hold the ball for us, carry it out from deep if need be. As you mentioned, his physical presence is also a plus against Stoke.

    Admitedly Diaby will not last the entire 90 and he will still be rusty but his ability to hold the ball for us and release Song to go forward when need be will be highly benefitial.

    That said, I hear rumours that he may be ill. 😛

    Agree with starting Santos. He seemed more physical and could act as an extra screen ahead of GIbbs or indeed allow Gibbs to bomb forward if need be.

    I don’t think Wenger will go without switching out the wingers too so there is a chance that we may see all four options (particularly benny and Ox come on later when Stoke tire)

    A lot is made of Stoke but in recent engagements with them, we have got the better of the duels and are no longer that easily cowed into submission.

    Hope RVP breaks his short barren spell and gets a hatrick. Nothing will be more pleasing than a big win at the Britania (although I’d take winning by a goal of course)

    • frick frick says:

      diaby has been ill all week so the best he can do is to make the bench. but the 20 mins he had on the pitch were a revelation and showed just why Wenger had faith in our tall frenchmen

  2. William says:

    Wenger has said he would not alter his approach agaginst Stoke.He did not against Wigan and Chelsea. He seems to have forgotten that teams are not obliged to play football his style ie attack 95% of the time.
    This smacks of arrogance and if Arsenal fail to secure third place,I wonder what’s he going to say.

  3. John says:

    The tactic of song-Ramsy-Rosicky worked for the opposition because we have Ramsy who is useless !!
    Any team can dominate and beat us when he plays!
    Worst arsenal player ever !
    Fans criticism, hate and frustration totally justified !!
    Fans are not stupid ! A player that had shown repeated bad performances weekly and costing arsenal valuable points and good football deserves to be thrown out.
    Yet we favour him and give high wages because of a stupid stubborn manager!
    Finally some fans are sick of waiting for players to adapt or grow at the expense of repeated empty seasons.
    Being 5th richest club on earth yearly means we must buy the best and sell the worst!
    Ramsy is beyond worst. He is a flop, a joke and a disaster that must be sold.
    Bench warming should not be an option.
    It’s about time arsenal build a proper backup and not useless English/welsh players just so England coaches and media can use them for internationals that mean nothing !

  4. Busayor says:

    Nice analyis once & for all.All things being equal,Gunners should nick a battling win in this match.We can all easily agree that Stoke away ¶§ not not always easy but with maximum committment and luck on our side,3 points will be in the bags.Ramsey †☺ M̶̲̥̅Ƹ ¶§ not all that bad but he’s playing without confidence right now,so If he can settle down & concentrate he would definitely come out on top.So also Gervinho who seems †☺ have lost his swaggering movement at the moment,needs †☺ bring right attitude †☺ the game.The defence must be tough on Crouch & Walters especially as both wii be handy. expect TV5 & LK6 †☺ be up †☺ this one.Come on RVP,we need you †☺ bring the scoring boots on today because we can’t avoid any slip down again.Glory Glory Gunners,make us proud.ff @Busie93,much love from Nigeria

  5. Pierce says:

    Let’s all hope and pray stoke do us another huge favour and break Ramsy for us !
    That would improve our chances for this season and many years to come.
    Any game without Ramsy is a blessing and stoke are experts in breaking this guy !
    Please stoke. Please !
    Break his leg and destroy his football career.
    We beg you.
    All arsenal fans beg you.

    Let’s hope today we see the end of Ramsy !
    I don’t wanna be greedy but can you kill him as well !
    PLEASE !!

    • Knob says:

      What a cunt. You wish a broken leg and death on a player of the team you ‘support’. If hes any good or not is largely irrelevant when you talk about rubbish like that. Get behind ‘your’ team, hope you break your leg fucktard.

      • Mike says:

        You are of course right that he’s a cunt. However, a little naive to suggest that he’s a fan…

    • forbar says:

      @John, every one has gotten a right to his opinion but urs is a total rubbish.
      @Pierce, your middle name must be DEVIL. How would you feel if the same is said of ur brother. Infact, thats what is gonna happen to you. Better go to Le Grove to post ur sentimental comments. I bet you are a Spud fan cos no true gooner wishes a gunner bad.

    • #cesc-sheun says:

      screw you….don’t blif these can come out of any arsenal fans,towards our player.wishing someone like u death…(haha)is arsene we trust..has he bilf in we bilif in him..ramsy is coming back to his best..up gunners

    • lankylorde says:

      U are the most stupid and mentally retarded human being in existence. U lack class n brains so u belong in d bush. Hw dare u wish such a thing on any player nt to talk of sm1 that plays for our beloved team. U belong to the ZOO!

    • gunnit! says:

      pierce do all us true arsenal fans a favour and dont ever call yourself an arsenal fan ever again!! you pathetic rat!!

    • mouyolo says:

      pierce ur a cunt how could u wish that on someone let alone ur own player u need to jump off klondon brideg thats what u sick fuck

  6. AJ says:

    Diaby is out due to illness for all those who think he is in.
    “He will not start. He was sick until yesterday and had a light session. He could be short again but he could be in the squad.”

    I say we play Djourou, push Vermaelen up in the midfield and keep Ramsey on the bench, he will struggle physically anyway. Santos on the wing is a good option though, would like to see how he performs.

  7. AJ says: Sorry, lol.

  8. terrence says:

    Can Arsenal play 442 ? more midfield in center

  9. gazzap says:

    The feelings shown towards Ramsey on here are a disgrace to AFC.

  10. Gerry Lennon says:

    Good grief, the replies are harsh today folks. John and Pierce, get a grip! OOT comments are probably welcome on other blogs, but not here!

    To the analysis … I will just add a couple of names to the possible starters, Jenkinson(for Walcott). He would add height to the defence, as well as a double up act with Sagna?
    I realise, if we do the same on both wings, Santos left, Jenkinson right, it does send a negative message out, but to hell with it, it is a game we cannot afford to lose.
    The other name ?…. step forward Francis Coquelin.. Without Diaby he is the obvious choice? Quick, strong in the tackle, and bundles of energy. With a virtual 5 across midfield it should stifle anything that they can muster … not a great game to watch for the purists, but if we nick 0-1 I’ll be more than happy.
    So this weeks team that (should play), is:
    This allows for an attacking bench, with AOC for Jenks or Rosicky, Gervinho for Santos, Benayoun for whoever is flagging.
    Naturally, your choice will be nearer the mark!

  11. kins says:

    From the Arsenal training yedsterday and the tactical set-up, i believe the Midfield will be Song-Coquelin-Rosicky,Ramsey will be on the bench.

  12. Doc brody says:

    ________ Szcz
    Sagna – Kos – Verm – Santos
    ________ Song
    ____ Rosiky – Benayoun
    Ox _____ – RVP – _____ Gervinho

  13. Aussie Jack says:

    Poor Aaron. if he plays and we lose he will take the blame, better he stays on the bench and play Beneyoun. Santos on the left wing would be interesting he likes to get in the action, Gibbs at full back.
    A lot will depend on `little Mozart`….

  14. Ade David, a Nigerian Gooner. says:

    Desi Gunner. As usual, you have come out with a fantastic preview. I also go with your line up. With the past experience, playing against Stoke whether home and away has always been difficult for us. The players and the coaching crew are aware of this and because of the important of the match to us, the boys will up their game. Stoke has nothing to play for except pride and they may want to be spoilers. I believe in the power of positive thinking. 3 points to Arsenal. Up Arsenaaal.

  15. fanuel says:

    in ma view,instead of santos,letz hv ox

  16. Ade David, a Nigerian Gooner. says:

    RESPONSE TO JOHN AND BUSAYOUR ABOVE. John I can understand your frustration about Ramsey. We all feel the same but we should bear it in mind that the boy had just come back from injury. He is still young at 22 years. If you look at our bench, there is no many option and to add to that, about a year ago, many Arsenal fans wanted to crucify Rosicky but now many of us are saying hail the messiah. But for the Busayour above, I dont see you as Arsenal supporter but see you as somebody who is satanic. You want a fellow human being like you to break his leg and even to be killed on the field of play and ended his career abruptly, you must be wicked.

  17. Ade David, a Nigerian Gooner. says:

    Busayor, I am very sorry one thousand times. By the time I realised is not your comment, but that of Pierce, I have already posted my response. My brother, pls accept my apology.

  18. Should RVP leave ,who willl be de nxt Arsenal cap?
    As for Santos,he is bcoming a utility player,but we need Benayou to strenghten our possesion in de middle.

  19. Steve of Chiang Mai says:

    It might mean nothing at all but in the pictures of the team training on the 1st team players seemed to be wearing green shirts and the reserves seem to be wearing white. Francis Coquelin was wearing green. Could we see Song Coquelin and Rosicky start in the middle?

  20. nickinportugal says:

    Desi you seem pessimistic; I can understand why but I am more sanguine. Walcott out, not so much of a problem because Theo is no friend of the physical contest. Gervinho looked like he was coming into form last week. I like the idea of Santos drifting from winger to inside player and yes, the left side is our achilles heal. Ramsay was poor last week but never gave up looking for the ball. Diaby did not seem effective for me, though he always looks classy, moreover he is sick. I think we need 3 oints here and if we get it and play decently against Norwich the last game could simply be a celebration. Newcastle will not win all 4, no way.

  21. ak47 says:

    nice write up as usual. i think you’ve got the line up spot on. ramseys engine pressurising from the front will pin them back hopefully and rosicky is great at turning his man so playing the arteta role shouldnt be too hard for him. the left is a tricky one. ben deserves to play but i wanna see santos ahead of gibbs.

    ill go for a rob brace and with diaby finishing them off in the last 20 🙂

  22. Borntobeagunner(btbag) says:

    Commenting on Desi preview after the match makes me think he dreamth of everything about the match before writing the preview except for wenger starting Benayoun instead of santos, evenly Desi still makes himself clear about that option. Cant wait for the review of the match, probably a justifying write-up i think. Ramsey haters get lost. Desi well done n all those behind n supporting ramsey.

  23. Dacqri says:

    How could you want Ramsey starting ever?

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