Arsenal 3 – 1 Stoke City

Morning all,

Last Monday I commented on how Monday’s always seem brighter when the Gooners have had a win at the weekend, but three wins in the space of a week, climbing to the top of our Champions League group and now 7th in the Premier League has given me a real case of the Happy Mondays…

I foolishly suggested yesterday that we all knew what Arsene Wenger’s starting eleven would be. You would think that after fifteen years I would know better than to try and second guess the man.

The back four was as expected, Johan Djourou came in at right back whilst Mertz, Laurent Koscielny and Andy Santos all kept their places *Well obviously they did, the trio may be in fine form but it’s not like we’re blessed with defenders right now, not any who can stand up anyway. Aaron Ramsey came back into midfield in place of Thomas Rosicky to link up with Mickey Arteta and Alex Song while Theo Walcott kept his place on the right and Gervinho started on the left flank. The biggest surprise was the omission of Robin Van Persie. Wenger may have alluded to resting the front man during his pre match press conference on Friday but I’m assuming not many people took that seriously because it certainly wasn’t widely reported. So with Robin amongst the subs Marouane Chamakh was given his first league start of the season.

There were no defensive replacements on the bench (see above comment marked by *). We’ll assume that the boss considered he could sufficiently re-jig if required.

The two goals aside the first half didn’t provide much in the way of talking points, Stoke seemed fairly happy to dwell in their own area, sometimes sending Peter Crouch forward to test the miasma free air. I guess it’s the kind of thing they work on in their training cave.

The Arsenal saw plenty of the ball but until the 27th minute didn’t seem overly sure what to do with it. Our front line was incredibly static and devoid of inspiration particularly Walcott and Chamakh. I’m not suggesting neither man tried, in fact I thought the Moroccan worked quite hard but without him starting to put the ball in the back of the net or at least show some sort of creative spark he’ll continue to carry that monkey on his back and I’m pretty sure that it’s not at all easy to play football with a monkey perched on your shoulders. Perhaps had Jenkinson been playing he could have picked the forward out with his crossing? In fact down the right hand side we really could have done with either Jenkinson or Sagna, Djourou doesn’t have the pace nor the nous to bomb on in the way our regular right backs do and without a man running on in front of him Theo looked even more lost then has done of late.

Just before the half hour mark the Gunners jolted into life. An Arsenal move on the edge of the Stoke box broke down and the ball fell to Aaron Ramsey who played a lovely ball over the top of the Potters defence for Gervinho to take it down and slot past Begovic to make it one nil. The pass from Rambo was exquisite and the finish by Gervinho was equal to it.

It seemed that we might go on and apply some pressure on the visitors but just five minutes after the opener Stoke were back on level terms.

Referee Lee Mason, who was as consistently poor as he always is, decided that Laurent Koscielny had fouled Peter Crouch even though the defender had cleary out jumped the beanpole and won the header cleanly. Crouch pulls this trick so often that I can’t believe officials haven’t clocked on to it yet, any time anyone jumps above him he collapses to the ground and claims to have been fouled. From the resulting free kick the Gunners decided to parody recent defensive blunders and once the ball had pinged off of a few heads without ever being in danger of being cleared it dropped to Crouch who continued his good scoring record against us.

We should have had the chance to regain our lead from the penalty spot but as I said, Lee Mason was consistently inconsistent and whilst in his eyes a defender cleanly winning the ball is an illegal manoeuvre, flinging two arms around a players neck and hauling him to the ground within the penalty box is perfectly acceptable. That is just what happened when, I think it was Shawcross, performed the kind of tackle on Chamakh that would be deemed high and illegal in Rugby, not that Stoke are that kind of team or Shawcross is that type of player…

So the half came to an end and it all seemed a little flat about the place and when the second half kicked off we were initially treated to more of the same.

It took the initial introduction of Van Persie, on in place of Chamakh, to add some spark and bring us to life. The Dutchman instantly give the team and the crowd a lift, putting Pulis’s knuckle dragging giants under more pressure in the space of sixty seconds then Chamakh had done in sixty-six minutes, and once Arshavin replaced the ineffective Walcott five minutes later meaning a shift to the right for Gervinho, the Gunners really kicked into life and in the 73rd minute regained their lead.

Gervinho made a bursting run into the Stoke box before pulling the ball back for Van Persie who continued his incredible scoring run squeezing the ball between Begovic and the near post. Nine minutes later the pair combined again, this time Gervinho collected from Arshavin, who just like the game against Sunderland was impressive coming from the bench, the Ivorian again stormed into the box and cut back for Van Persie to add to his ever-growing goal tally.

So amongst all the suggestions this morning of us now being a one man team, Van Persie will take all the plaudits and perhaps rightly so but that does seem a little unfair on Gervinho who undoubtedly had his best game since joining the club. A goal, two assists and a 100% pass completion rate backs that up.

I’m not suggesting we don’t need to see other players chipping in with a few more goals because we certainly do, but it is a bit of a double-edged sword with Van Persie. We’re now being lauded as a one man team, but if the skipper wasn’t in such a rich vein of form, 29 goals in his last 36 outings for the club, we would be drowning in the weight of newspaper columns telling us we need a prolific striker.

Hopefully Gervinho will be boosted after his performance and can now replicate that form week in week out. I would be interested to see him start on the right in place of Theo but the question becomes ‘Who plays on the left?‘ Despite his impressive cameo appearances in our last two league games Ashavin did nothing during his start in Marseille to suggest he would make the most of a regular starting birth.

It seems that Ju will get a chance to slip on his shooting boots against Bolton in the Carling Cup tomorrow night, we could do with him bagging a goal or two and pushing for more first team involvement. He certainly isn’t going to be overtaking RVP but we do need another striker finding the back of the onion bag when called upon.

Koscielny and Mertesacker were once again fantastic at the back, the boss really will have a big decision to make once Tommy Vermaelen returns. Aaron Ramsey impressed me again, the boy has such a fantastic work ethic and it was brilliant to hear his name ring out around the ground a few times yesterday.  Andy Santos continues to improve and whilst Djourou didn’t set the world alight at right back he certainly didn’t let himself or us down.

It’s all very positive at the moment, not perfect but positive. All any football team wants to do is win games and we’re doing that, as fans we can ask for little more. Of course we will ask for more, we’re never content, but let’s enjoy the positive progression of this side.

I’m taking no joy out of the United result because it came at the hands of City, had Fulham or Everton pitched up at Old Trafford and hammered Fergie’s side I would be in raptures but City… Merh! I’m also not fussed about the Chelsea result because I don’t like Warnock and I don’t like Barton. I’m glad Drogba will miss our game against the blues at the weekend but that’s about as much as I care and anyway our most important game is tomorrow night against the Trotters.

Our form, NLD aside, since the Blackburn defeat has been frankly magnificent and whatever the line up, whoever the oppositions and whatever the competition we need that to continue because it keeps spirits high and helps us improve.

I’ll be back tomorrow morning with a look towards that league cup match but for now let us bask in the warm glow of yet another victory and dream of those that are to come.

Thanks for reading.

Paul.

Advertisements

Bolton Preview

Well there is bad news to start the day off with. Late last night it was revealed by the Arsenal that Jack Wilshere will have to undergo surgery on his right ankle and will be out for a period of “months”. The player himself used his Twitter page to confirm the news and suggest that he hopes to return to action around Christmas time.

This is no doubt a massive blow for the team and young Jack, the bone hasn’t healed whilst in the protective boot he has been wearing for the last month or so and the club have decided that now is the time to take further action in the shape of surgery. It’s very disappointing news but we have to think of Jack’s long term future and this needs to be dealt with correctly and if this operation proves to be just that then it’s surely for the best.

Considering that Jack has only played one full season of first team football with the Gunners, after a brief loan spell at today’s opponents Bolton, we’ve really missed his tenacity in midfield this season. The sooner we can have that desire and drive back in the side the better and I wish Jack well in his continued recovery. At least it gives him more time to listen to the whole Michael Bolton back catalogue.

So, today see’s Owen Coyle’s Bolton Wanderers visit the Emirates.

In league terms the Trotters are having a sorrier time of things then we are at the moment (just), in fact their poor run of form can be traced back to our previous encounter at the Reebok at the end of last season.

Tamir Cohen’s last-minute header, which was celebrated with emotional scenes as the defender revealed a t-shirt commemorating his late father Avi, left the gunners nine points behind leaders and eventual champions Manchester United with four games left to play while Bolton were themselves flying high in eighth place and seemingly pushing to end the season with Europa League football to look forward to. That victory, which all but ended our title chances, was somewhat of a bright spot for Bolton in their end of season darkness. Their previous fixture had seen them go down five goals to zero against Stoke City Rugby Football Club in their FA Cup Semi-Final at Wembley and Coyle’s sides final five league games, which followed that win against us, all ended in defeats.

While the opening game of this season saw the Lancashire side get back to winning ways with a 4-0 hammering of newly promoted Queens Park Rangers they have since seen their league form continue in the same vein as it ended last season. Four defeats in four, including a home defeat at the hands of Norwich City last weekend, has seen the sweet taste of victory being confined to the Carling Cup – the second round elimination of Macclesfield and Tuesday nights 0-2 victory at Villa Park.

So in their last fourteen games since, and including, that FA Cup humiliation the Trotters have won only four times and have been beaten in the other ten games scoring eighteen goals and conceding thirty-two in the process. That run looks like this – LWLLLLLWLWLLLW.

At any other time you would look at that and expect Bolton to arrive in London tomorrow and be little more than cannon fodder for the gunners but as we all know our own form is hardly that of a side you would back to win the contest.

Since that late and currently familiar capitulation we’ve managed to win only five of our own fourteen games in all competitions. We’ve picked up four draws and been beaten no less than six times. In this period we’ve found the back of the net on nineteen occasions yet we’ve been forced to pick the ball out of the back of our own goal on no less than twenty-six, meaning our run only appears marginally better than this weeks opposition due to the addition of the letter ‘D’ – LWLLDDWLWLWDLW.

What is clear is that whilst both sides have the ability to score goals we both also have a penchant for letting them in too, so on paper we should maybe expect this to be a high scoring encounter which would make for another great game for the neutral in which we compete.

The team news is pretty much as expected, Yossi Benayoun is out with the ‘strain’ which he alluded to in his Tweet on Thursday (turns out it’s a thigh strain, not an eye strain from reading without sufficient light) and Johan Djourou misses out with a hamstring injury. Arsene Wenger has suggested that they may both be back for the North London Derby on October 2nd but will defiantly miss the Champions League clash with Olympiacos on Wednesday as well as this afternoons fixture.

Tommy Rosicky is back in the squad whilst Bacary Sagna & Aaron Ramsey both came through fitness tests yesterday morning so are likely to start.

It will be interesting to see who takes up the left back position, using our last two fixtures as a barometer I wouldn’t say there is much between Andy Santos and Kieran Gibbs who have each had a game to in which to state their case. I suspect Wenger might go with the Brazilian but I wouldn’t be confidant enough to put money on it.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain may have done enough to win himself a place on the bench after his performance in the win over Shrewsbury earlier this week, similarly I think Franny Coquelin’s performance in the same game will see him take us a place amongst the subs ahead of Frimmers.

Other than that I would have thought it will be very much as we were against Blackburn Rovers last weekend but with Theo coming in for Andrey Arshavin.

My line up would be –

Szczesny – Sagna – Mertz – Kozzer – Andy Santos – Song – Mickey – Rambo – Gervinho – Theo – RVP.

Subs: Fabianski – Iggy – Gibbs – Franny – Arshavin – AOC – Chamakh.

I think we’ll see a home win and the collection of three much-needed points, but I’m not sure it’ll be an easy victory. One thing I will guarantee is that Kevin Davies will be booked – the lumbering forward has collected a total of eleven bookings in games against us, that is more than any player against any one side in Premier League history.

I’m really looking forward to the game, it’s a traditional three o’clock kick off and that always sits well with me. Enjoy it wherever you’re watching and if you happen to be up in the North Bank sat next to a guy who clearly needs a shave then chances are it’ll either be me or a tramp who has somehow managed to get into the ground.

Thanks for reading

Paul.

%d bloggers like this: