A football game can become unbearable for fans if their team doesn’t turn up. Most Arsenal fans know this feeling all too well so they’d have sympathized with the plight of those supporting the Black Cats as they failed to put any sort of a challenge at the Emirates. It shouldn’t take anything away from the Gunners though as Wenger’s team produced some immensely enjoyable football to win the game comfortably. If anything, it was even more pleasing because it’s been such a while since Arsenal cantered to a win in second gear while playing a sumptuous pass-and-move game.
These days I find it hard to write about such a game because there is almost nothing fresh to offer from an analytical perspective and I’m sure the superlatives have long been exhausted. Enjoy the game and forget about it. Some moments will be etched in memory for a long time, like that move for Rosicky’s goal, and the rest doesn’t matter.
A couple of individual performances deserve a mention, I think. Giroud was left out of two big games and has gone through some unsettling personal issues so it was good to see him back and close to his best. His goals were unspectacular in the individual sense but a distracted striker would most probably have missed those chances. The Frenchman’s overall link play was again excellent as was his work rate. One might even say the break was good for him, mentally and physically.
While Wenger was being understandably charitable in likening Rosicky’s performance in that game to some of Bergkamp’s contributions, I did enjoy Little Mozart’s play. It was nice that he was on the end of that move and I hope he scores a few more goals. The Czech star’s displays have been memorable and decisive in some games over the last couple of seasons but I keep getting this feeling that he has more to offer. Hopefully, this game will help with that unlocking process, although continuity, or lack thereof, might also have a role to play.
Özil was conspicuous by his absence. It must have been a tough call for the manager but I’m glad he made it. The break should help him leave the Bayern game behind and also give him some chance to recover physically.
March Madness Begins with Stoke
Last week there was an interesting poll on the official website. “How many points will Arsenal take from their four league games in March?”, they asked. The responses, when I’d last seen the results, showed the majority of Gooners were quite optimistic about the team’s chances.
I don’t know what the final tally was but I doubt it will have changed much. Around 85 percent of fans say the Gunners will pick up 7 or more points from these 4 games.
This is very interesting because last year Wenger’s team managed exactly 1 point from these 4 games. And at the moment, after 27 games, the squad is level on points with last season when corresponding fixtures are compared.
For what it’s worth, The Gunners picked up 7 points from these fixtures in 2011-12 including wins over City at home and Chelsea at the Bridge. The year before that they picked up 2 points from these games.
I guess it shows why many fans think we will truly understand how much this side has improved at the end of this month. Interestingly, in each of the previous three years, Arsenal have failed to win at the Britannia. A win on Saturday will automatically give the Gunners more points than in two of the past three years and it seems a minimum requirement if they wish to pick up more than 7 points from these games.
Stoke are no longer the same team they were under Pulis but they aren’t too different either. Furthermore, Mark Hughes has had some success against Arsenal by adopting a physical approach at some of his previous clubs. That should probably guarantee a battle on the pitch after the previous walkover.
Some aspects of the game should be quite predictable. The Potters will defend the central areas and invite crosses into the box as they’ll back their physical and aerial strengths. Crouch will be a constant threat whenever they gain territory and get the ball around the Arsenal penalty area. The visiting players should be prepared for some pushing and shoving, and maybe even some kicks to the ankles as the hosts attempt to disrupt their passing rhythm.
One of the interesting anomalies of this season is that Stoke have scored very few headed goals (2?) in the League and the Gunners are amongst the most, if not the most, prolific in that regard. If memory serves, Özil picked up three assists from set-pieces in the reverse fixture. I’ll be very surprised if we see a repeat of that.
There were phases in the game at the Emirates where Arsenal had to drop deep and consolidate their position with resolute defending. They’ll probably need more of that again.
In six visits in recent times, only once have the Gunners failed to score on this ground. But only once have they scored more than a solitary goal and that was the only game they won, although it is better remembered for a terrible tragedy. I don’t think Arsenal have happy memories from this ground.
Things might change this time around if Wenger’s side can sustain their collective defensive resolve. Arnautovic is mercurial, Odemwingie fast and occasionally lethal, Walters belligerent and a real nuisance, Adams has an inconsistent but troublesome left foot, while Crouch really does enjoy playing against Arsenal. A ground out win, with maybe a late-ish buffer goal, seems the best possible scenario for the Gunners.
Team selection will again be a tricky task. Many reasonable permutations are possible in midfield. I’d like to see the same team as last week with Flamini coming in for Arteta. The left back spot will probably go to the fittest of Gibbs, Monreal, and Vermalen.
Szczesny – Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, ? – Flamini, Cazorla, Wilshere – Rosicky, Giroud, Podolski.
I hope Wenger will give Özil more time away from the pitch. Bigger games are right around the corner. I doubt he will do it though. If Özil starts, it won’t be wise to pick both Wilshere and Cazorla in the side. That midfield will not enjoy the game if the ref is lenient and favours the home side in 50-50 decisions.
A player like Podolski can offer useful goal threat in such a game. Gnabry is another interesting option but it’s possible he won’t enjoy the close attention as much.
Litmus test begins…Follow @goonerdesi