Stoke 0 – 0 Arsenal: Match Thoughts And Individual Analysis

One point at Stoke is not a bad result on its own. Few visitors will return from the Britannia with three points and that makes it tough to criticize the Arsenal performance. The irony here is that this was probably the Gunners’ best defensive display at Stoke but by the end the hosts, having realized their single attacking tactic had failed to generate any threat, just wanted to hang on for a point. Such a finish and the discernible lack of quality chances for Arsenal, despite the late push, left fans demanding more but the point was a fair result. Both teams were defensive in their own ways and neither did enough to get the game winning goal.

It’s not worth going through this game in a sequential manner as few events of note took place. Instead I want to focus on certain patterns of play that affected either sides attacking and defensive capabilities.

Stoke, for some reason, didn’t press as intensely as they have done in the past. It could be that, just like the Gunners, they’re not at the top of their game just yet. This created a problem for the hosts as they weren’t able to keep the ball in the Arsenal half for as long as they’d have liked.

As expected, this was a game of long balls but Arsenal did excellently against the aerial and physical threats. Stoke just completed a 150 passes in the whole game at a pedestrian 63 percent success rate. In contrast there were 90 ground duels, 28 tackles, and a whopping 70 aerial duels in this fixture. This was literally a battle with some football thrown in between.

The Gunners only won 29 of those 70 aerial duels but they put enough pressure to ensure that the player winning the challenge wasn’t able to do as well with it as he’d have wanted. The midfield also stayed really deep, with Diaby contesting more duels (6/17) than any defender, and helped the back four. Together, Wenger’s team were not only able to put pressure on the first ball, they did extremely well to win the second balls and close down space for the runners. The shape of the back four was nearly perfect. Stoke didn’t find any space in the channels, their midfield runners didn’t go untracked, and it minimized any chance they had of putting crosses into the box or winning set-pieces.

In the past I’ve often noted that a clean sheet does not mean the defending was assured. There are games when Wenger’s team has kept the opponents out with desperation stuff. In this case though, it was a solid defensive effort and Mannone would have loved playing behind that bunch of outfielders.

Unfortunately, that’s only half the story.

For their part, Stoke too put up a strong defensive display. Arsenal only had one shot on target from inside the penalty box and Begovic was almost as comfortable as his opposite number despite Arsenal’s superior possession and passing stats. Wenger’s side won a number of corners and set-pieces but their efforts were innocuous.

I don’t appreciate much of what Tony Pulis does but he can train his sides to put up a strong resistance once they go deep and narrow. Arsenal just did not have enough creativity or mutual understanding between the players to break that down.

Part of the problem for the Gunners was also the fact that they could not strike the right balance between defence and attack. The strong defensive performance fostered a weakened ineffective attack. As Wenger says, you only have 11 players on the pitch. If more are pulled back to keep things tight there will be a shortage up front. Arsenal just did not have enough pace or quality on the transitions to catch Stoke out. Once the transitions were slowed the hosts were able to sit deep and protect their goal.

Arsenal’s midfield was really conservative and rarely ventured beyond the centre of the Stoke half. If we look at passes received by Diaby, Arteta, And Cazorla it shows very little in the form of penetration.

The following charts for Diaby and Cazorla are too similar with a lot of action areas in the middle of the Stoke half.

(Click on images to enlarge in a new window.)

Similarly, if we look at the two of most common passing combinations for the Gunners, Arteta->Cazorla and Cazorla->Podolski, there’s very little in the form of forward movement.

The red line was the off-side header from Podolski but apart from that most passes are just going sideways and are far away from the Stoke goal. Bear in mind these players are Arsenal’s key attacking threats.

Surprisingly, the Gunners didn’t try to use Giroud’s ability to hold off his marker. Very few passes were played to him on the edge of the box. This could have given the midfielders a chance to play one-twos to move forward. Even the wide players didn’t use the striker’s presence well but Arsenal’s weaknesses at the crossing game are complex and it’s perhaps wise that they didn’t try it too often.

That’s not to say the Gunners didn’t have width. Gervinho received most of his passes while hugging the touchline. He just faced two or three opponents by the time the ball found its way to him and that rendered him ineffective. On the other flank Podolski kept drifting inside but Gibbs provided the width. The left back only received 32 passes but many of them were in advanced areas. In contrast, Jenkinson received 51 passes but only two high up the pitch and those came late in the game.

As a unit the Gunners displayed many of the same problems that plagued them against Sunderland in the previous week. Yes it’s tough to break down a disciplined team that plays so deep and narrow but Arsenal are making their job tougher with every passing game as they drop points they should have won.

The understanding between new players is clearly missing but it’s something that will undoubtedly get better over time. The bigger question for Arsene is whether he can create a stronger, more incisive attack without compromising the defensive stability. For instance, if one or more midfielders and full backs starts pushing higher up the pitch to contribute to the attack, will it again leave doors open at the back?

The answer to that question will have a major bearing on the standings at the end of the season.

Individual Performances:

Mannone: Surprisingly easy game for the Keeper. It again validated a point that’s been made on this blog for over two years – the players in front of the Keeper have to take greater responsibility, the problem has not been with the goalkeeper even though many of them have looked like clowns on occasion. How often do you recall Mannone having to come to catch or punch a ball under pressure? Once or twice maybe?

Jenkinson: Was the more conservative full back and held a relatively deep position throughout the game. Did well against Kightly and was also effective inside the box when the balls did come in from the other side. Solid but unspectacular from the youngster.

Mertesacker: Probably the least busy defender in the side. Didn’t have to make any tackles or ground duels but was mostly sweeping behind the midfielders challenging for the ball and did make clearances when needed. Steady passing.

Vermaelen: Did contest many aerial duels and was responsible for a fair number of clearances. Interestingly, despite Arsenal’s inability to score the Belgian curbed his attacking instincts well. Safe passing from the back.

Gibbs: Was the defender who impressed me the most. Was engaged in duels, made tackles and interceptions, and also tried venturing forward to get into space vacated by Podolski. Bodes well for the future.

The back five were well protected and they did a good job of retaining their shape while covering behind the duellers. Stoke’s only shot on goal was a hopeful strike from distance but more importantly, the hosts rarely got into threatening positions.

Arteta: Another very intelligent defensive and possession game from the Spaniard. Did not engage in any aerial duels but mopped up on the floor winning 10 of 14 ground duels and 4 or 6 tackles. Also made 3 useful interceptions. Typically assured and reliable with his passing.

Diaby: Used his physical attributes to improve the team’s defensive capabilities. Contested the most aerial duels and a fair number of ground duels. His success rate wasn’t as eye catching as that of Crouch, say (6/17 Aerial duels against 18/21 for the Stoke forward), but his presence made a big difference from goal-kicks and even on the few throws and set-pieces that Stoke managed to get. Won possession back the most often but also lost possession most often. Was ponderous on the ball and did slow things down when going forward. Did not have enough composure or guile in the attacking areas.

Cazorla: Had the most touches but wasn’t able to offer the kind of creative threat that Arsenal need. High passing accuracy but much of it was safe. Also had a tendency to look for shooting options from outside the box when he had time and space, instead of picking out passes. He has to show his teammates that he can find their runs but if he keeps looking down to work openings to shoot there will be fewer combinations in the attacking third. Has all the talent but must adapt to use it to improve the whole team.

The midfield did an excellent job defensively but lacked ideas and incision in attack.

Gervinho: Very ineffective against a strong and coordinated defensive unit that sat deep and often double-teamed him. Wasn’t able to get past his full back and didn’t link effectively with the midfielders or Giroud when drifting inside.

Giroud: Showed good strength and presence. Wasted a couple of opportunities through exuberance. For instance, he had time to control Cazorla’s corner when he tried that sensational volley. Also took a shot from distance that looked tantalizingly close and like a spectacular effort, but in reality had very low probability of going in. Clearly a very talented but raw player. Another one who has to figure out how to use is talents to benefit the team.

Podolski: Went on one very impressive run through the middle early on. Kept drifting inside which was to be expected but wasn’t able to combine with others to get in behind. Showed excellent instincts when he pounced on the loose ball and should have won a penalty for Wilkinson’s handball.

The front three didn’t get enough support from the midfield and were often lost in crowded areas. They’ll have to do better with their movement and control but finding the right wavelength is the first major challenge.

Subs: Walcott and AOC were ineffective. Ramsey looked tentative in possession.

Wenger: Has to show he can create a balance between attack and defence, not just a quality performance in one of the two. There could be some complaints against the ref but the manager knows his team can and has to do a lot better.

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

  1. Gerry Lennon says:

    I agree with your take on Gibbs. He seemed to have got his forward runs well balance with defencive duties. Made several crucial tackles and headers. Only lacking was an end product to his crosses. MOM for me.
    Giroud also made a good clearance from a long throw, and his bulk and presence is a useful addition in defence.
    Gervinho is much more effective on the left. Pity the Ox wasn’t fully fit, as I think he would have been the missing link in breaking into the box, either for himself or Cazorla. Unfortunately, it looks like he pulled up a bit short at end, so he may be out again.
    Goals will come, but the positions may need tweaking?
    Not having scored yet is one thing, but not letting in silly goals is promising.

  2. davi says:

    IMO Arteta is the reason we dominated possession in both these games. He’s been brilliant in that more defensive position, as he was last season.

  3. RockyLives says:

    Excellent analysis as always Desi.

    I have been quite critical of Gervinho over the last two games (not about his effort – which has been excellent, but about his effectiveness).

    However, as you rightly say, we haven’t exactly helped him with the speed and variety of our passing and attacking play.

    Nevertheless, against defences like Stoke’s and Sunderland’s I feel we would be better off starting with Pod on the left and AOC on the right, as both have more to their game than either Gerv or Theo.

    Liverpool on Sunday, on the other hand, might be a better hunting ground for the latter pair.

    • desigunner says:

      I like the idea of AOC on the right but sometimes I feel he tends to go it alone too often. Maybe he tries too hard or is just young and can’t quite pick the right options but he doesn’t always have something to show for all his dribbling and running.

      Against Liverpool it will be interesting because their pressing will expose technical limitations while their high line will leave space at the back.

  4. RockyLives says:

    I agree – Arteta was my MoTM yesterday (although all the defenders did well too).

    • davi says:

      Yes, I’m surprised that Mertasacker and particularly Vermaelen aren’t receiving more praise for how they played. Stoke put in a number of really good crosses which would usually have caused problems, but we dealt with everything. Defensively the fullbacks were excellent as well.
      It’s quite obvious the affect that Bould has had on the defence.

      • RockyLives says:

        I think Mertesacker is a superb player. He had a slow start in his first few games and some (lazy) people have failed to notice that, after that, he was incredibly composed and calm in the rest of the games he played last season.

        We are very lucky to now have three top CBs to choose from (and Djourou is a very decent fourth choice – although he’s terrible when played at fullback).

  5. John says:

    I think Per have been a good signing he is slow but reads the game very well and only does what he needs too

  6. mike kanvi says:

    dis is one game I feel a player like bendtner cud hav made an impact,especially in d later stages.wit his arial treat frm all dos corners since everymadman has his day.dis could have bin his day n a fine sendoff.

  7. merkin says:

    I have just watched the match again. I was much more impressed with the team watching for the second time, especially the first half. There were things that I missed in the live viewing that quite rightly will scare some other top teams in the EPL.

    The team wasn’t bothered by Stoke’s physical play. Even Cazorla was running through the Orc formation like he was showing a Sunday league the finer points. Podolski and Girioud gave as good as they got. Especially Podolski thought nothing about tracking back and defending. I think that this helped Gibbs no end was one of the reasons he looked so good, especially when compared to Jenkinson, who seemed reluctant to come forward, possibly because Gevinho would not pass to him, preferring instead to try to dribble past the two or three defenders he always attracted.

    Their biggest problem was a lack of understanding of each other. The only one who seemed to know instinctively where the others were was Arteta. The rest seemed to be looking and pausing more than an Arsenal team normally does. Cazorla is very impressive, but he is passing to where his teammates are. It will be really impressive when he is able to pass to where his teammates are going. This is going to go away quickly as they get more game time together. It is a real shame that the team didn’t get a real preseason together.

    Giroud wasn’t used enough holding the ball with his back to the goal.He is a brute there.

    I have watched Podolski for many years. I lived in Köln. He will do anything on the pitch that you ask him to do. He is much better on the ball than you have seen yet.

    Gervinho is playing out of position on the right, he needs to play on the left. Unfortunately for him I think that that is where Podolski will play.

    The team faded in the second half. It is a shame because Stoke was in worse shape. The pace of the first half was brutal. I have seen nothing like it in the league this season.

    Cozola and Diaby were really tired. Their fitness might be somewhat behind the rest of the team. Diaby didn’t get hurt!

  8. shizy says:

    you got it spot on.

  9. Long Island Gunner says:

    One of the “Desi type” points I would mention is that the backs – in particular – didn’t bend their runs enough at Stoke. So when gerv or poldi get the ball and begin to dribble, or Cazorla draws defenders centrally with his dribbling and looks to play out to Gibbs or Jenky, they are too narrow and the defenders aren’t punished enough for their pinching in to help defend the ball.

    We really need these guys to exaggerate their bending runs so as to punish that narrow defensive presentation – either one of 2 things then occur; we stretch the defense horizontally (creating better passing channels) or, if they choose to stay tight and narrow in defense, having plenty of time on the ball for the wing backs to take an unhurried touch on the flank and play from there – service or combination play.

  10. Charlie says:

    I don’t think there’s anything to add to the analysis, excellent post again Desi and well said Merkin. I just want to add that this situation lends itself to a good performance in the cups more than in the league. There will be more points dropped at the start of this season because the attacking play will take time to gel but the team will be hard to beat if they continue as they’ve started. With Wilshere coming back too I see a team that will grow as the season progresses to a point where they are virtually unbeatable after Christmas. Despite not scoring I see signs that Giroud can be excellent for Arsenal. The only weakness that i’ve spotted is that he seems to be very left-footed. If that chance against Sunderland had come to his left foot i’m sure he would’ve buried it but i’ve seen some poor touches with his right.

  11. amahgfur says:

    This is by far our best performance at Stoke. We knew what Stoke would give us, but we refused to be bullied by their physical game and long throws.
    I’m not really concerned about our attack because I’m sure they will get better as they play together in more games, and AW will turn Giroud into a beast, just like he did to Henry and Robin.

  12. a99 says:

    Gibbs: excellent but I counted a couple of times where he left a man unmarked on his side – but at least he noticed quickly and ran across to challenge before the player could take advvantage of the space; still not IMHO a natural defender but it’s coming thanks to (what I imagine is) improved defensive coaching.

    Jenkinson/Diaby: both players looked inhibited and anxious about taking risks and potentially losing the ball; an unintended consequence of the increased focus on defensive stability? Is AW allowing Bould to get the defensive shape right before he focuses on the attacking game? If so, the next few games will be disappointing from an attacking perspective but sacrifices need to be made for long term improvement of the team.

    Arteta: excellent defensively but most responsible for the lack of attacking impetus as he refuses to play one-touch even when there is a simple pass available to a wide player. I also counted 3 occasions where he passed the ball behind an attacking player (Gibbs) rather than infront of the player to run on to.

    Giroud: 3-4 times he was blatantly pushed in the back as he went to head the ball; a couple of times were right infront of the referee who did absolutely nothing. The three new players do not yet know how to combine with each other as AW has played two different systems so far this season. Understanding will only come with familiarity.

  13. Shiv says:

    Interesting match, i thought. A very compact looking defensive outfit unlike arsenal teams of past seasons. Their cohesiveness made mannone look good. The attacking guys are not on the same wave length right now. Santola looks the part for sure and i liked the way OG n Pods looked combative. Our play has been heavily reliant on the wingers but they still seem to ‘run’ out of ideas with the ball at their feet. Was a single decent cross put in during the match ? For all the possession we didn’t create chances. With OG available, for a change we can put in a few long balls also. Hope to see a faster team at anfield.

  14. Winner says:

    I hope we are not seeing a repeat of January and February 2009, when we had a series of six very good performances both Home and away and yet all those games ended up as draws because we lacked the cutting edge. In games like these Arshavin’s ability to wriggle through very confined spaces is very important. Nasri and Hazard seem to be doing this rather well for their respective teams.
    There is definitely something still missing in the team. Yes, the training ground will resolve some of the issues but I think we might need to add to the squad before the window slams shut.

    • 'ed gooner says:

      I agree that Arshavin still has a place in this team. Still a classy player especially if opponents afford him time on the ball by not closing down.
      We needed a moment of magic.

  15. jeff says:

    IMO, we just miss rosicky fast-thinking passing especially when facing a team like stoke,we need more creativity. I would put another creative mid like on the flank,probably cazorla with rosicky(if fit) in the playmaker role. Sometimes,I think we did pass the ball very well but not when we get to the final third. We seem to be confused where to make final pass. Sometimes,very late as well. Santi is a pleasure to watch,but probably he needs to release the ball a lil bit faster. I thought he could be the player of the year if he could maintain his performance. Who knows? Haha..

    • Dhruv says:

      I missed Rosicky too the other day. But once Rosicky gets fit, he will also need time to gel with Giroud and Podolsky. Anyway but, I want Rosicky, when fit, to come as a substitute and run the game.

  16. 'desi'gner gooner says:

    Everybody has made some very good comments along with the usual excellent analysis by Desi….
    I want to make a slightly different point here.
    If Wenger is going to play Podolski on the left then we definitely need to sign another central striker. I say that because that only leaves Giroud as the leading centre forward without any competition for his place in the squad. Well Chamakh if we don’t sell him or loan him out, is surely not going to challenge for a starting place anytime soon. He wasn’t involved in pre-season and wasn’t even amongst the subs at Stoke. And our record with injuries surely warrants another centre forward striker if we are planning to utilize podolski on the left wing primarily.

    And if Wenger is going to play him more centrally then we need to sign another technical forward minded player to play on the left – someone like an Arshavin. I say like an Arshavin because I am not too sure about him staying at the club. Would love it if he stayed and had a second wind sort of thing….
    Last season our best performances came when we had one player running his lungs out on the right wing – i.e theo on the right and the other a slightly technical player on the left wing – i.e benayoun & ramsey (away at everton). We tried the all out pace on both wings option a few times last season with both Gervinho & Theo in the starting eleven but that clearly took our bite & control away from the midfield. So we reverted back to the one technical player and one all action winger and it worked really well for us.
    So if we are going to play Podolski centrally then it becomes important that we either retain Arshavin or buy someone else in that mould. Heck I wouldn’t mind Benayoun coming in again for that matter. He was always super committed to the teams cause and he is a really technically slick player. Also having seen Podolski run directly at defenders one or two times, it would be great to play him centrally – where he can drop deeper and collect balls and run directly at defenders. That would get us lots of free kicks on the edge of the box and some penalties as well….and if he gets through the defenders well he has a mean left foot on him so….Also him playing centrally wouldn’t compel us to buy another striker although Arsene is fond of strikers and I wouldn’t be surprised if he has something up his sleeve. Podolski playing centrally also means Gervinho playing in his more natural left wing position and AOC taking up the mantle of the more technical player on the right wing….although his exuberence might mean him running his lungs out anyways!!! Wonder where that leaves Theo though!!!

    Traditionally Arsene has always preferred the balance of one technical winger and one traditional pacy winger – be it Pires-Ljungberg or Nasri-Theo or Benayoun-Theo. So where we play Podolski will have a lot impact on our formation-combination on the wings. Fascinating last few days of the transfer window. I still feel Arshavin can contribute a lot to this team – especially after his new found fitness post euros….Whether he stays or goes and if he goes – who replaces him could have a vital impact on our performances in the final third of the pitch.

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