Stoke City 3 – 1 Arsenal: Match Thoughts And Individual Analysis

May 8, 2011

Take all of Arsenal’s weaknesses and put them in a blender. The result will not be very different from what we saw at the Britannia Stadium on an eminently forgettable day.

As I’d feared, Arsene started with Arshavin on the left. It was a bad mistake. The way Stoke are set up, having Arshavin and Walcott on the wings adds to redundancy in attack and leaves the defence vulnerable.

While I do complement the Russian on his willingness to track back and put a tackle in, the first goal came from a needless foul conceded, somewhat predictably, by the little man. Undeniably, the defending was shambolic and once again raises the question, how do these players train for such moments? When fingers can be pointed towards three of four players one has to wonder how signing one or two players is going to bring about a sea change in Arsenal’s defence!

If the first goal was annoying, the second was farcical. Ramsey was completely free in space around the half-way line when he received the ball. He played a blind reverse pass towards Sagna that went straight to Pennant. Inexperience perhaps? To make matters worse, the youngster took a few seconds to realize his error and that gave the former Arsenal man enough time to run at goal. Sagna moved away from him and Djourou took too long to close him down. Szczesny was caught off his line as the ball deflected over the Keeper and into the back of the net.

The goals were the main story of the first half but an equally important side note was the inability of the Gunners to convert all the possession into even a single meaningful chance.

Ramsey and Wilshere just didn’t have the quality or vision to break down a superbly organized home defence. Walcott was rendered impotent as no midfield player could find him in space. Arshavin was having to track back a lot as Stoke had a simple but highly effective strategy of hoofing the ball behind Gibbs. When the Russian did manage to move forward he wasn’t able to make a dent in the nine-man bus that Stoke has intelligently parked.

When Arsenal have been successful in many away games this season, a key tactical aspect has been the areas of possession. It is usually in the central third of the pitch. In this game, probably due to the inexperience of Wilshere and Ramsey, Arsenal played a lot of football just in front of the Stoke box. That is by far the most dangerous place to play this sort of a game. It allows the opponents to pack their box making it virtually impossible to penetrate. It also pulls a number of Gunners forward leaving acres of spaces open for counter-attacks. Tony Pulis must have seen his dream fulfilled. It wasn’t a coincidence that Arsenal had all the possession and very little incisiveness whereas Stoke were comfortable in defence and probing with their counter-attacks.

Wenger did make a couple of changes at half-time. Ramsey and Arshavin made way for Chamakh and Bendtner. It gave Arsenal more of an impetus in the second half but the chances were still limited. Neither Chamakh nor Bendtner have played often enough so it’s hard to blame them. Indeed, I’d like to praise their professionalism and the effort put in despite the undoubted frustration they must be feeling.

Stoke were relatively comfortable despite the changes as Arsenal just didn’t know how to make use of the main strengths of these players. Bendtner, who could have been a real menace in the box, rarely got in the right areas. The first real chance for Arsenal fell to Van Persie when the Dane was finally able to get into the box. Begovic made a crucial save.

Things improved, but only marginally, when Rosicky was introduced for Song. He should have come in for Walcott, who was struggling to find space as this move left the defence even more vulnerable.

The Gunners got one back after a moment of quality from Little Mozart. He played a brilliant ball to Chamakh even though he was facing his own goal. This caught the Stoke defence by surprise, something Wilshere and Ramsey had failed to do, and allowed the Moroccan to link up with Van Persie. Bendtner’s run opened up space for the Dutchman who finished with his chocolate leg.

Song was sorely missed moments later as Arsenal went from the sublime to the ridiculous in the blink of an eye. As usual a long ball was played beyond Gibbs. The midfield didn’t get back in time and Stoke were able to get a shot on goal even though the defenders were doing a good job. That shot looked harmless as the horrible state of the pitch sucked all its venom. Djourou tried a clearance but couldn’t get any power on the stretch. Wilshere was caught ball watching as Walters was able to attack it and knock it home.

After that the game petered out as the home side got a well deserved win.

This game wasn’t very meaningful in the context of the season. Hopefully, it will serve as a timely reminder to Arsene that he needs genuine, high-quality help in certain areas. The Premiership was not as competitive in his early years and that helped cover up his blind-spots as the Gunners accumulated a number of trophies. It won’t work anymore.

Individual Performances:

Szczesny: Could have done better for all three goals, especially the second. He isn’t ready for the first team and Arsenal have been paying the price of Fabianski’s injury.

Sagna: Struggled to make an impact in the attacking areas. Wasn’t targeted by Stoke so had a relatively easier time in defence.

Djourou: Awful.

Koscielny: The only defender to come away with credit in this game. Hardly made a mistake. Got in the right positions, chased and harassed the attackers, got his foot in when he had to.

Gibbs: His flank was the obvious target for the home side. Should have had more support but Arsenal as a club have been unable to find a workable solution to this. Extremely poor in the attacking areas even when he has space and time.

I thought the back five were disappointing at the very least. The full-backs have been struggling ever since the change in formation so I don’t want to blame the individuals. Djourou and Szczesny, who were the fans’ favourites a short while back, have been found wanting in the final few weeks.

Song: Made a few mistakes but in general offered good cover in front of the defence.

Wilshere: Fought hard, didn’t shy away from the physical battle, wasn’t able to offer any quality in the attacking areas.

Ramsey: Woeful mistake that led to the second goal. Couldn’t offer any penetration in attack.

I thought the midfield paid the price of their inexperience and the fact that they haven’t played together often enough. Against United they got away with it because of one key lapse in concentration by the opponents and also the fact that Arsenal were mentally focussed on defending. In this one, the midfield didn’t provide enough cover to Gibbs and should share the blame for the second and third goals.

All said and done, it is too early to say either Wilshere or Ramsey can take over from Cesc.

Walcott: Was always crowded out. His strengths can easily become his weaknesses when not used in an intelligent manner.

RvP: Scored a good goal. Tried really hard. His movement was good but there was no chemistry with the others in attacking areas.

Arshavin: Not the kind of game where he should be playing. Gave his best but started the dominoes rolling with a soft foul.

I thought the front three lacked a spark and more crucially some height and presence. Wenger should either have gone for a defensive player on the left to support Gibbs or put Bendtner in there from the start.

Subs: Bendtner looked like a threat whenever he got in the box. Chamakh showed good touches but really needs to improve his shooting by a few notches. Rosicky offered the kind of threat that was missing for most of the game.

Wenger: Should have picked a more balanced starting eleven. The fact that it was so predictable shows it’s an area, certain tactical aspects, where he needs help. Should have asked his midfield to pull back and draw the opponents out. Another problem that has been repeated too often but we have seen some visible efforts in this area. Had to find a way to get Gibbs more support. Clichy has lost a lot as he has been exposed way too often. There is a real threat that the young Englishman could lose his confidence and attacking instincts.

Thoughts On Tactics And Starting Eleven Against Stoke City

May 7, 2011

Ryan Shawcross, Tony Pulis, Stoke City… These names are more than enough to get the blood boiling.

It will be a tough challenge for the Gunners, especially young Ramsey, when Arsenal visit the Britannia Stadium for the first time after that horrific injury. But if the players can show anything remotely resembling the mental strength that helped them win that game, I’m confident we can add to the four successive league wins against the Potters.

The ref for this fixture is Mark Halsey and it does leave me worried. He is an old fashioned official who lets the play flow. The ref might give some free-kicks but he likes to keep his cards in his pockets. This means the thugs will be able to get away with countless fouls and rough tackles. When calculated violence meets a feeble official things can get out of hand very quickly. Hopefully, it won’t end in the same kind of tragedy that Peter Walton’s ineptitude caused last time around.

Tactically speaking, I expect Stoke will start with a high level of intensity. The hosts will press (more like push, kick, stomp, etc) higher up the pitch early on and will try to win free-kicks, corners, and throws in the Arsenal half. They will also play long balls on the flanks at every opportunity in order to win the aforementioned set-pieces. After all, the hosts have scored almost half their goals from set-pieces whereas Arsenal have conceded quite a few from the same.

The first fifteen minutes of this match will be critical. If Arsenal can survive that period without conceding a goal the game will get progressively easier.

Szczesny will be busy in the initial stages and this should be a good chance for the youngster to prove himself in an ugly, hostile away game. The pressure and the nature of attacks on his goal will be unique in many ways. I hope he doesn’t leave his line too often and lets the outfield players attack the balls floated or thrown into the box. That means bulk of the responsibility should be on Koscielny and Djourou (if he is passed fit).

Another important aspect of defending against a team like Stoke is alertness at the back post and inside the box. Many of their goals come from knock-ons or a scramble in the box. The midfielders and those who get post-duty will have to remain vigilant to prevent clean shots on goal from such situations.

The Gunners will also have to ensure they don’t panic if the ref fails to control the game and things get nasty in the opening exchanges. The crowd will be behind the home side and they will try to get the ball and bodies into the Arsenal box by hook or more likely by crook. The defenders have to maintain their composure in such a case and should avoid the tendency of hoofing the ball to safety. Obviously, the midfield has to help out by being available near the defence. This way they can challenge for the second ball and can also collect the ball from the back five.

Holding on to the ball under pressure, especially when the opponents are pushing or kicking you, can help alleviate the pressure and can also lead to counter-attacks. With Theo on the flanks Arsenal can cause some serious damage early on by controlling the ball and moving it at pace.

In attack Theo and Robin should have the pace and the movement to trouble the Stoke defence. Ramsey should also get a chance to add to his winner against United as long as he is alert to possibilities in the final third.

Arsene has a couple of tough decisions to make with regard to his team selection. Diaby, Cesc, and Nasri are unavailable while Djourou and Clichy will have to undergo tests.

The midfield should be the same that dominated the park against United. Wilshere has had a gruelling season and is running out of steam. Ramsey and Song will have to take more responsibility.

Up front, RvP and Walcott are sure to start. On the left, Arshavin might be the popular choice in the absence of Nasri but I’d prefer Eboue or Rosicky, both of whom can offer better defensive cover and thereby balance the starting line-up. It will be even more important if Gibbs is starting at left-back.

Vermaelen could make a welcome return to the squad. I don’t expect to see him in the starting line-up straight away but a few minutes, late in the game, should be good even if it’s in the midfield.

Preferred starting eleven,

Szczesny – Sagna, Djourou, Koscielny, Clichy – Song, Ramsey, Wilshere – Walcott, RvP, Eboue.

I don’t expect Le Boss to pick Eboue. Arshavin will probably be his choice. Hopefully, the lack of balance won’t be fatal.

This game isn’t as important as it could have been but that doesn’t mean it’s as worthless as some might consider it to be. The players have a lot more than pride to play for. Here’s to a fighting display and a smashing result.

PS: Have you seen this truly insightful table. Just in case you are unaware, that is how the Premier League table would have looked if all the shots that hit the woodwork had gone in. The margins really are that fine! Thanks to YW over at ACLF for sharing it.

Calculated Violence – The Latest Trick In Anti-Football?

February 24, 2011

Over the last few years we have seen quite a few new tricks evolved by the exponents of anti-football. Rotational fouling and rotational time-wasting are two of the most commonly seen ones. After watching the last game against Stoke I have a feeling we are going to see another trick join the list – ‘World’s most successful anti-football tactics’.

I would like to call this ‘Calculated Violence’ or ‘Measured Assault’

Let me illustrate this by analyzing the attack on Djourou by John Carew.

As we can see from that image, when the Swiss defender plays the ball the Norwegian is more than two yards away. It wasn’t a 50-50 tackle it was a 100-0 by anyone’s honest reckoning.

No surprise then that the ball is over five yards away when Carew clatters into Arsenal’s centre-back.

There are two aspects to this attack – what Carew could have done if he actually wanted to play football? And What Carew actually did.

If the Stoke striker had any intention of playing the ball he could have easily done so.

In the above close up we can see that Djourou has already played the ball as Carew is charging at him. Not only has the defender played the ball he has also pulled his leg out for fear of receiving an ugly stomp from the big man.

If Carew wanted to, he could have landed on his right leg, dropped his left shoulder and changed direction towards the ball. If you look back to the other images above, there is a big gap between Djourou and Clichy and the defender didn’t get enough power on the ball as he was looking to pull his foot out. Carew could actually have won the ball and charged into the box.

I have played a lot of sports at amateur/college levels and can say with confidence that changing direction is not that big a deal, certainly shouldn’t be for professional footballers. If he had any positive intentions he would also have been anticipating such a touch by Djourou and actively seeking to exploit it.

We have seen enough examples of quality football from the striker prior to his Stoke days to know that he can do it if he wants to. That leads me to believe that he had no intention of playing the ball.

This brings me to the second part. What was John Carew trying to do?

I was a sports nut while growing up and one of the sports (although now I don’t consider it a sport) that I followed was WWE (WWF as it was known in those days). Carew’s charge reminded me of the term Clothesline that was quite common in that. I just Googled it and found this description of how to perform a clothesline attack.

  • Face your opponent, about five feet away from them. A good clothesline has a lot of power so get some momentum going.
  • Bend your knees and be ready for action. Charge at your opponent as quickly as you can. The faster you go, the more force there will be in your clothesline.
  • Put your dominant arm out to the side of your body. If you are right handed, then stay about a foot to the left of your opponent. Swing your arm and try to hit your opponent in the chest with your forearm. Jump to get more power and knock them over.

Read that description, look at the earlier images in the article, and the final image above. I believe John Carew gave us the perfect tutorial on how to deliver a clothesline.

The purpose of this was two-fold. Early on in the second half it tested the resolve of the ref. Once it was clear the ref is allowing such an assault to go unpunished Stoke were motivated to go at the Gunners in every manner possible.

The second point to this is to rattle the individual. No matter how strong Djourou is, such a blow to the diaphragm would leave him winded. He would continue to feel the effects of the hit for the next few minutes and there is a chance that he could lose concentration. Another advantage for Stoke would be that the defender would be hurt and wary of going into another such challenge knowing fully well that he won’t be protected by the ref.

Spread this around i.e. different players assaulting different opponents, and you’d undoubtedly make an impact on the other team’s ability to play football.

Make no mistake about it, Arsenal are going to face more and more of this ‘Calculated Violence’ till the end of the season.

On a related side note I also wanted to discuss some of the lies spewed by Tony Pulis.

Let’s not worry about his attempts of trivializing the discussion by talking about the card counts of the two teams. This game itself was a good example of how Stoke get away with shocking challenges that renders any discussion based on the number of cards received meaningless. It’s a shame that no one in the media has the guts to question Pulis about this.

But this is something we have heard often enough and isn’t worth dwelling on. More interesting was the Stoke manager’s comment about his team’s honesty.

We are a very honest team. Jermaine Pennant showed that second half when he was tackled and he got straight up. We do that at this football club. We don’t like people rolling around or seeing people trying to get players booked or sent off. It’s traditional but it’s the way we like to do things at this club.

In the first half Bendtner attempted a sliding tackle that was deemed to be a foul by the ref. I thought the Dane got the ball but since it was a little bit from behind it could have been considered a foul.

If we look at the details it’s a very decent attempt. Bendtner ensures his laces were facing the opponent and not his studs. He also had his other leg tucked in below him to cut out any chances of a scissor action. Even his leg movement was going across him and not in the direction of his body weight/momentum. Unfortunately, these are the kind of technical details that no one in the media seems to focus on when discussing good or bad tackles.

Pennant, for his part, went to ground far too easily, rolled on the pitch twice, and was holding his shin as if it had been hacked off.

Even in the second half, Clichy actually won the ball and Pennant went down far too easily, that is if we apply the same standards that people impose on Arsenal.

An honest and traditional club indeed. They seem to have a tradition of violence and cheating and seem to follow it honestly, nay, religiously.

Well, at least they can consider themselves the world’s best at something. I don’t know who pioneered this art of ‘Calculated Violence’ but Stoke have perfected it.

Arsenal 1 – 0 Stoke: Match Thoughts And Individual Analysis

February 23, 2011

Peter Walton tried his best. He did get manage to get the scalp of Walcott, who was stretchered off with what appeared to be a serious injury, but couldn’t do enough to thwart the indomitable, resolute Gunners.

This game had everything I feared; rabid animals from Stoke, a biased ref, and hypocritical commentators. Thankfully it also had one thing I truly hoped for – a fully focussed Arsenal side that did not switch off even for an instance. That, when combined with the quality that Arsenal have, is normally enough to take on and defeat the worst English football has to offer and it just highlighted the indescribable gulf in class between the two sides.

I didn’t get to watch the first half properly as every stream I found was stop-start. But I was able to watch enough to enjoy the electric start by Arsenal and the first goal.

The start was a little unexpected. I’d the feeling the visitors will start pressing at a higher tempo but they were content on sitting back. Arsenal seized the initiative and Theo rattled the woodwork just after a minute. The Gunners kept creating chances but the goal in the 8th minute was ironical. Who’d have thought that Arsenal would actually score against Stoke from a corner!

Wilshere’s delivery was excellent and for once Arsenal had a man at the back post. Bendtner did well to control the ball and even better to pass it back across the face of the goal rather than lashing it across. Squillaci was unmarked and scored from four yards. That’s how you score a legal goal from a set-piece but I doubt Stoke will care to learn.

Soon after Cesc limped off and Arshavin came on. It was supposedly a precautionary substitution but it did make a huge impact on the game. For the rest of the first half Arsenal dominated the ball but didn’t really create many chances.

I thought the tempo was too slow and Arsenal’s passing and movement was too predictable. Arshavin, Bendtner, and Walcott haven’t played together often enough and that showed in the final third. Even Nasri was struggling to influence the game as the movement in front of him wasn’t up to scratch.

I don’t know what happened in the tunnel at half-time but Stoke came out in the second half knowing that they could assault the Arsenal players with impunity. Carew flattened Djourou with a shocking challenge that was so late it was virtually off the ball. All he got from Peter Walton was a, “Well done, lad. Don’t do it again or I might have to book you just to keep my cover.” Next it was Nasri who took one in the ribs but this time the ref didn’t even blow for a foul. I guess getting within two feet of the ball was enough of a justification for a deliberate elbow in the ribs.

Soon after Delap did a Flamini and got away with it as ‘he got the ball’. I didn’t hear the commentators say it was an absolute disgrace.

All these challenges happened in the first ten minutes of the half and set the tone for the rest of the game. It would be unfair on Walton to say that Stoke won all 50-50 calls. They won even 20-80 calls. If a Stoke player shoved a Gunner out of possession it was fair. If an Arsenal player herded an animal out of the way it was a foul. If Stoke got the ball by kicking through a player it was a fair tackle. If the Gunners did it, it was a free-kick.

Clichy was booked for winning the ball!

Things got so bad that I almost expected Walton to award a penalty when Shawcross grappled Sagna to the floor. Thankfully it was too blatant even for a ref as biased as this old geezer.

Theo was injured in the 70th minute when Walton allowed Whitehead to nibble away at his legs and shirt. There were a number of fouls by Whitehead in that incident and if the first one had been called this injury would not have happened. Somebody has to make the ref explain in public what he was doing but we can all guess that will unravel the supposed integrity of League.

In the 84th minute Marc Wilson picked up a booking for a stupid foul on Chamakh wide on the left. Pulis, who was right next to him on the touchline, was shouting “Don’t foul, don’t foul.” Sadly for the zoo keeper his instructions in the heat of the moment weren’t able to override the instructions he gave before opening the cages.

In the very little football that was played, Arsenal did have some nervy moments but did well while defending the throws and set-pieces. I can only remember Szczesny flapping on one occasion when Huth headed over and one header from Shawcross that was deflected wide as Djourou was well positioned.

On the other end Walcott missed a good chance when Arshavin set him up.

The best part of the game came in the form of a masterclass by Arshavin and Nasri in the five minutes of injury time. Stoke barely touched the ball in that period as two highly skilled artists toyed with their opponents. If Arshavin had been alert to the possibility of scoring, deep in injury time, he’d have had a tap in from Nasri’s delightful chip across goal.

As expected this game was a tight one and decided by one goal. I was hoping to see all players come off with their limbs intact but that wish was not granted. Only time will tell how big an impact this injury will have on this season.

Individual Performances

Szczesny: Made an excellent save in the first half. Organized the defence well. A couple of punches didn’t have enough weight but they fell to his teammates. Flapped once but Huth missed the target. Overall a strong, confidence boosting display from the youngster that should prepare him for a much tougher away game.

Sagna: Did well at the back. Wisely, didn’t go forward that often in the second half. Might have done better in the attacking areas but that can be said for the whole team.

Squillaci: Good to see him get his first Premiership goal. Handled the physical challenges well enough. Carew won the balls in front of him but the Frenchman didn’t let him turn or get past him.

Djourou: Strong in the air. Good positioning and composure while defending set-pieces.

Clichy: Pretty much like Sagna. Was exposed a bit after Arshavin came on but did a good job of not giving Pennant any space.

The back five deserve a lot of credit for this result and their second half performance. I’d have preferred better attacking contribution from the full-backs and the central defenders when they got a lot of time on the ball in the first half.

Song: Was always available to challenge for the second ball. Worked really hard in defence. Went forward often enough but wasn’t able to create a spark.

Cesc: Was looking dangerous before he came off.

Nasri: Wasn’t as influential down the middle as he is on the wings. It could be due to unfamiliarity with the position and the fact that in the middle we need someone who moves the ball fast rather than a player who runs with the ball. He was quite a threat when he moved back to the right wing. Excellent in the final few minutes. Did well to remain composed despite suffering some bad tackles.

Wilshere: Started where he’d left off against Barcelona. But once Cesc was off the pitch Wilshere went into his shell a bit and played with caution. Did well on the ball and offered a body in the box and on the left wing.

The midfield should have done a lot more in the first half but it’s hard to criticize them when the spine of the team (Koscielny, Cesc, RvP) was missing. They must be commended for their defensive concentration and effort.

Walcott: Another player who looked very dangerous when Fabregas was on the pitch. After that the tempo of the game was slow and it allowed Stoke to close him down with numbers. Might have done better with the chance that Arshavin created. Really unlucky to suffer an injury when he should have won a dangerous free-kick.

Bendtner: He was excellent for most of the game and his physical presence made a big difference. Won the corner by outmuscling Huth, which is no mean feat. Showed good awareness and composure to pick up the assist. Also contributed to the defence on set-pieces.

Arshavin: I expected more inspiration from the Russian in the first half but overall he worked hard and made a difference. Really took charge of the situation at the end.

The front three were a little unbalanced after Arshavin came on. They also lacked understanding of each others’ movement. They’ll need to do a lot better in the upcoming games if Cesc and RvP are missing.

Subs: I’ve already covered Arshavin. Denilson was decent in keeping possession and stayed close to the defence. Chamakh was a strange one and didn’t get much time.

Wenger: I liked the way he stayed away from commenting on the ref at the end of the game. Even the players will have to realize that criticizing these ‘sold-out’ relics will only harm Arsenal’s chances even further. While Arshavin did fairly well, I’d have brought on Denilson or Rosicky for Cesc to maintain the balance of the team. I thought Arsene wanted his best players on the pitch but sometimes it doesn’t work. Since the manager is criticized for his selections when the result is not good he deserves credit when the game is won.

Thoughts On The Tactics And Starting Eleven Against Stoke

February 23, 2011

I don’t know if I can ever dislike a football team any more than I do Stoke City. Fat Sam’s teams run them close as do Birmingham. But none of those teams can quite reach the level of Arsenal’s next opponents. Dislike is actually a really mild word for my feelings towards Tony Pulis and his bunch of thugs. But I’ll try to keep my feelings out of this and try to focus on the football/rugby.

Van Persie and Koscielny have been ruled out of this one. I guess both were unavailable for the FA Cup tie as well but it never came up because of the rotation. That does explain the inclusion of Miquel. More importantly, we are likely to see a centre-back pairing of Squillaci and Djourou against Stoke. These two haven’t played together that often but have done well in the few games that they’ve played. I also expect Sagna to keep his place while Clichy and Szczesny should come back into the starting eleven.

This game will be the first time the young Pole comes up against players who will foul him at every opportunity. It will be intriguing to see how he handles that. If he can dominate his box in this game, something that will be needed given the strengths of the opposition, he will have passed his toughest test yet, even tougher than Barcelona as this one will involve illegal challenges. Luckily for him this is a home game and Stoke don’t do that well away from home. Even then I expect the youngster to be quite busy, especially early on.

The midfield should see the first choice trio, Song-Cesc-Wilshere, back together. Up front Nasri and Walcott should have a different striker between them. I’d go for Bendtner ahead of Chamakh as the Dane has already played and done well against these thugs. His physical presence will be an asset in both boxes.

Expected starting line-up,

Szczesny – Sagna, Squillaci, Djourou, Clichy – Song, Cesc, Wilshere – Walcott, Bendtner, Nasri

Tactically, the initial exchanges will be extremely important. The Gunners have to go out on the pitch and show that they are ready for the battle. The visitors will look for any signs of weakness, and if the Arsenal players aren’t fully committed in the 50-50 challenges or individual battles, it will give them a boost.

Le Boss stressed on the importance of dominating possession in such a game and it’s not difficult to see why.

Stoke will try to play the long balls down the channels in an effort to win free-kicks, corners, and throws in the attacking areas. Arsenal have to keep them pinned back and minimize the number of men they can get forward.

Stoke do have one genuine quality and that is their defensive organization and work ethic. It will not be easy for Arsenal to open them up. Van Persie will be dearly missed in this game but I’m hoping Bendtner will deliver in a central role as he did in the away game last season. Some good quality crosses from Sagna and Walcott will certainly help.

Arsene might pick Chamakh but it will be a mistake in my opinion.

There will be more than usual grappling in the penalty box. I can only hope the Arsenal players will not lose concentration as the ball is flying around. Conceding a soft goal to an unmarked player at the back post is most infuriating. The smaller players can do their part while defending set-pieces if they are alert to the knock-ons and loose balls.

I’d also like to see the central defenders take charge of the balls being hoofed down the wings. They should reach them ahead of the strikers and should try to keep possession under pressure. Hoofing it up-field or kicking it out will only motivate the opposition.

I’m not sure whether Lee Mason, who was supposed to officiate the original fixture in Dec, will be the one to take charge of this game or not. I will be worried if it is Mason.

Arsenal have done fairly well at home against Stoke who are not good travellers but I expect this game to be close with no more than 1 goal separating the sides. A bigger win will be a mighty impressive performance from the Gunners and will only be possible if Cesc has a brilliant game. I don’t want to dwell on the possibility of a loss but it is possible if Arsenal don’t turn up with the attitude of defeating 12/13 men.

More than the result though, I’d like to see all the players come through with their limbs intact.

Thoughts On Tactics And Starting Eleven For The Stoke Game

December 17, 2010

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.

Dirty, Rotten Scoundrels 1 – 3 Classy, Brave Warriors: Positives Galore

March 1, 2010

Yesterday, I was too distraught to write a match review. Even now I am quite peeved but there were too many positives in the game and I think it deserves a proper mention even though the horrendous tackle cast a gloomy shadowed all the bright moments.

The start of the game reminded me of our previous two visits to this stadium. Our players were nervous, hacking the ball away as if defending in the last few minutes and Stoke were all over us. The hosts looked for opportunities to get a set-piece with a preference for a throw in. We looked vulnerable for the first few and finally succumbed in the eighth minute.

There were 10 Arsenal players in the box and 5 Stoke players, yet two of them were unmarked at the far post. I won’t dwell on this as I just want to focus on positives.

After the goal Stoke made a serious mistake of retreating into their own half. Before they scored we could see them pressing high up in our half and making it difficult for us to push forward. Once Stoke retreated, it became easier for us to control he ball and keep possession. We didn’t get our game flowing for a while but our confidence grew with every minute and after a while it was clear that Stoke are in for a tough night.

The first goal was a collectors item! We haven’t seen too many inch perfect crosses from this young Arsenal squad but Cesc is Cesc. The header from Bendtner was as good as any I have seen this season. He had to generate some pace, get the accuracy, and see off the challenge from two defenders. Bendtner has been pivotal for Denmark during the qualifiers and once again showed he had the makings of a top class center forward. I feel if we can find him 4-5 times in a game with a cross, he is bound to put one in.

After the goal Stoke tried to come at us but our players were confident of dealing with their physical game. Initially we were struggling to get the ball on the ground and keep possession. But now Stoke were struggling to get a touch in spite of their physical approach. I’ve a feeling that they must have been frustrated by this and it could have culminated in that horrible challenge, but that’s pure speculation.

Ramsey was extremely impressive in the middle. For someone so young and inexperienced, he was able to control the ball with his head, chest and feet even under pressure. He was also able to take the physical challenges in his stride, move forward with the ball and pass it in all directions.

By this time the movement of the front line had also been synchronized. Players moved around seamlessly and we looked like we could get a second anytime. I was also delighted that some of our players tried a few cracks from distance even if Stoke got bodies in the way.

The way our Center Backs played aggressively with Fuller and Sidibe was heartwarming. Clichy and Song were also very good in physical battles with these big forwards. Stoke never came close to creating a proper counter attack. It’s easy to miss such good work and I’m sure if we continue doing this in the remaining games, we will be really tough to beat.

I also felt our players raised the tempo of the game to a level Stoke just couldn’t match. There were a number of fouls that were not given simply because our players managed to keep possession in spite of the fouls. There was a serious “F**k You” kind of spirit in the players and they really wanted a win.

The challenge on Ramsey did slow the tempo down and for a few minutes I was really worried. All the good work could have been undone by a reckless moment from a looney. Thankfully, even Stoke were stunned and we didn’t suffer further damage on the field.

The way the players responded after a few minutes was exhilarating. Once again our tempo, movement and passing was way beyond Stoke’s limited talents and they were completely outclassed. At this point I was sure we were going to create a lot of chances, but when a team puts 10 men behind the ball for the final few minutes it’s very difficult to score. We needed a little luck and I feel we got it because the referee was a little sympathetic after the tackle.

I don’t mean that the penalty was not stone-walled, it was. But this referee hadn’t given us one earlier and denied us one after the second was scored. That leads me to believe that he gave it out of sympathy or a sense of justice that outweighed his obvious bias!

It was a big moment in the game and I have always been a little concerned with Cesc taking the penalties. Fortunately, even though Sorensen guessed right (I mean left), the ball nestled into the back of the net. Is this the moment when our luck finally changes!? Only time will tell.

Another great aspect of the game was that none of our players shied away from a challenge even after the injury. Stoke persisted with their fouls but Arsenal did not surrender.

Finally, it gave me immense pleasure to see that we didn’t sit back after the second goal and pushed for the third. The “F**K You” spirit had returned and Arsenal meant business. Every single player maintained focus right till the end and achieved a result that will achieve monumental proportions in history if we go on to win this title.

There were other notable positives like Eduardo coming on as a substitute, Almunia having a very good game (I remember only one flap and that was given as a foul on the keeper), the team huddle at the end and so on.

This game was a trailer of the heights this team is capable of achieving. Let us not forget we were playing without the likes of Arshavin, RvP, Gallas and Diaby. I hope this particular incident acts as a reverse of that Birmingham game. The first step is in the right direction. We have to replicate the same spirit and desire in the following games and there is every chance we will be celebrating in May.