A Commendable draw but if only we had a Striker

March 30, 2014

Many of us feared as we approached this match with trepidation could the team pick themselves up after a pretty poor week but more importantly would there be a commitment and desire to silence the growing number of critics.

What was to unfold literally was a game of two halves.

City were quicker to the ball and had us mostly pinned in our own half with most of their attacks aimed at our left side  and  at eighteen minutes the ineviatable happened when Silva bundled the ball over the line after a ricochet off our post and thoughts turned to another drubbing on the cards.

The second half was a completely different story and credit to the lads as they slowly regained composure and possession and it was no surprise when Flamini out of all people slammed in the equaliser with the best part of forty minutes to go. His first league goal since 2008 and didn’t he just enjoy it :)

The Home crowd were fantastic. Rosicky ran his socks off and even Podolski put in a shift but defending doesn’t come naturally to him – he could have won the game but at the end of the day we drew with honour but IMO it’s a game we could have won.

Toure and Kompany had been booked in the first half which may have played on their mind but we didn’t have the know how to try and make them commit a second foul, as they are undoubtedly the drive and defensive rock of man city.

Santi always plays better at Home and being two footed is wasted on the wing.

Szczesny concerns me. In the first few minutes he cleared a ball which was inches away of being met by a City player and that could have been one nil down. He flapped again in the second half and in the melee we may have conceded an own goal. He needs competition for his place.

I watched Giroud carefully and apart from one lay off he was completely useless. He can’t control a ball, beat a man, head on target, has no pace, and his long punt from the halfway line was embarrassing. He is the worst striker I have seen in an Arsenal shirt for years, despite his stats. I stress the point about him because at 1-1 a top quality striker would have got that vital goal and most probably won us the game. I know many will say he often gets no support but then I say change the system, or buy a clinical striker not an average hold up player.

All in all a great game to watch and in all reality we could definitely win the FA Cup and it’s a straight fight for forth between us and Everton.

I don’t expect you to agree with me with my observations, but if only a few of our walking wounded especially Ramsey and Koscielny could feature in our last three or four games that would bolster the team enormously and give us CL football yet again.

kelsey


Slog On The Tyne: Arsenal Report and Player Ratings.

December 30, 2013

So we enter 2014 as the star on top of the Premier League Christmas tree.

Will we still be there at the end of May? Who knows, but if we are it will be thanks – in large part – to grinding out difficult wins like yesterday’s at Newcastle.

Toon have been one of the EPL’s form teams in recent weeks so going up there three days after playing another away fixture and coming home with all three points should not be underestimated. Coming away with the win was hard slog indeed and made a fitting end to a year in which we have been the best team in the country, bar none.

If the league title was played from January to December, we would be Champions.

There were a number of reasons to be concerned before the kick-off yesterday: injuries or illness to Ramsey, Ozil, Monreal and Vermaelen had severely reduced the manager’s options; Olivier Giroud was on a long non-scoring run and the referee – Lee Probert – has previously shown himself blind to fouls committed on Arsenal players.

Nevertheless we started brightly, moving the ball well and finding our players at close range for little give-and-gos.

Unfortunately whenever our moves reached the point where we could hurt the opposition we chose precisely that moment to misplace a pass, miscontrol the ball or chose the wrong option entirely.

Even superb technicians like Santi Cazorla were found wanting.

To a degree we seem, as a team and a squad, to be slightly off our game at the moment (perhaps the result of mental and physical fatigue from a recent unhelpful schedule that might have been devised specifically to harm our prospects).

Newcastle, to their credit, worked hard to deny us space and to ‘get in our faces’. They are a big, physical team with some talented players and it was easy to see how they have been getting good results. I noticed before the game that several of the “experts” were tipping this game as a good bet for a home win.

Newcastle were set up pretty defensively against us so it was no surprise that Theo Walcott, in particular, had little space to exploit.

Referee Probert, true to form, was letting quite a few clear fouls on Arsenal players go unpunished but, in fairness, he also overlooked several fouls by our players. However, for the second game running there was an off-the-ground jumping tackle on one of our players (Williamson on Giroud) that went completely unpunished when, at the very least, a yellow card was merited. It seems like it will take another leg break before we start getting protection from this sort of recklessness.

In the first half we managed to get off a few shots from medium distance, but the ball was magnetically drawn to Tim Krul’s midriff on each occasion.

Newcastle came on strong in the last couple of minutes before the break, forcing a fine save from Szcesny from a long distance effort and hitting the crossbar with a speculative lob.

Half time 0-0.

The second half continued much like the first with Arsenal having the majority of possession and looking like the better team, without fashioning clear goal scoring opportunities.

Newcastle were most dangerous down our left flank where Gibbs was often up against two players because Cazorla had been pulled infield.

But the real battle was in central midfield – a place where Newcastle have been particularly strong and combative this year

Tomas Rosicky and Matthieu Flamini were our stand-out performers, constantly breaking up Toon moves, winning tackles and keeping the ball moving when we were in possession. Rosicky also looked the most likely to provide a breakthrough going forward.

Jack Wilshere also had a very combative game. He has a tendency to turn into trouble and over-elaborate on occasion but I thought this was a much better performance from him than in recent outings. His overall pass success rate was 83% – but it was 100% in our defensive third of the field, 90% in the middle third and 67% in the attacking third, where he was trying lower percentage options. Defensively, he won two third of his tackles. He has also been reading Arsenal Arsenal I reckon, because his body language was much better and he (mostly) got straight back up after being fouled/falling over.

The breakthrough, when it finally came, was from our handsome, non-scoring French centre forward.

Not much had been working for Olivier Giroud (a lot of his lay-offs went to black-and-white shirts) but, as ever, he laboured tirelessly for the team, taking his usual quota of knocks into the bargain.

But when Theo Walcott floated a beautifully weighted free kick into the box, Ollie got a slight contact with his head – just enough to guide the ball past Krul’s left hand.

og

What a pleasure it was to hear “one nil to the Arsenal” ringing around St James’s Park. It goes without saying that our away fans were fantastic (and were just a fraction louder than usual, thanks to the presence of Chas and Ant).

Soon afterwards we almost made it 2-0, when Theo managed to get a toe-end on a through ball which then rebounded back to him off Krul. Theo’s second stab at it – a little lob – was goal bound but was headed onto the crossbar and out by an alert Toon defender. The ball then came to Giroud on our right of the six yard box for a gilt-edged chance to at least threaten the net. Sadly Ollie showed why many people still have doubts about him as a finisher, shanking the ball away from goal. In comments yesterday Rasp put this down to his lack of a decent right foot.

Gibbs was removed with an injury and Flamini moved to left back, while Arteta slotted into midfield.

Then came perhaps the hottest debating point of the game. With about 15 minutes to go, Arsene Wenger opted to go completely on the defensive, taking off Walcott, putting Carl Jenkinson at right back and moving Sagna into the middle to give us three centre backs. In post game interviews he said this was because the team was looking tired and he thought it better to close out the game. He even referenced mistakes from previous seasons where we had let in goals late on through not being defensive enough.

According to some who commented yesterday it was tactically astute and enabled us to cope with the extra forward players that Alan Pardew (Arsene, Arsene knock him out, Asrene, knock him out) had thrown on to try and salvage a point.

To me it seemed crazy. It led to a final quarter of an hour that made The Alamo seem like a pyjama party as we basically said to Newcastle: “OK, you have the freedom of the park to bombard our goal.”

There were numerous Toon crosses into dangerous areas; countless heart-in-mouth moments as the ball bounced around our penalty area; last ditch clearances and headers; frantic hoof-outs from the back.

We failed to control the ball for more than 10 seconds at a time and were, in my opinion, slightly fortunate not to have conceded.

Meanwhile with Walcott off and a ponderous Giroud up front, there was never any chance of countering with speed.

The one real counter-attacking opportunity came when Tim Krul came up for a Newcastle corner. We cleared the ball and got a throw-in in their half. Krul was desperately legging it back up the field. All it needed was a quick throw-in from Jenkinson to the screaming Bendtner (who was on for Giroud) and Bendy would have had an open goal to aim at (albeit from about 40 yards out).

Unfortunately young Carl had been possessed by the Eboue fairies and as he diddled and dawdled the chance went begging.

The final whistle, when it came, was a huge relief.

In summary, we deserved the three points for being the better team for 75 minutes, but boy did we make it tough on ourselves at the end.

Player Ratings

Szczesny: one great save from a long range shot; some fine work as we were under siege at the end… but there were a couple of howlers from our young Pole in this game. Following his gift to Carlton Cole a few days earlier I hope the carelessness of last season is not creeping back into his game because he has been fantastic so far. 6

Sagna: very solid defensively and offered plenty going forward: 7

Mertesacker: thank Dennis for the BFG. We really needed his calm head and composure in this game and he was excellent during the final onslaught. 7.5

Koscielny: back in the side and back to his best – which he needed to be at times. 7.5

Gibbs: had real problems in the first half because Cazorla was caught inside and the Toon fullback kept making overlapping runs. Overall though he was as solid as we have come to expect and contributed to our attack when he could. 7

Flamini: a very good game from the Frenchman, tackling hard, covering brilliantly at times and doing well when forced to move to left back after Gibbs’s injury. His pass success was an outstanding 95%. 7

Wilshere: better than in recent outings. His defensive work was solid but he still has a tendency to run or pass into trouble at times. 6

Cazorla: some good moments from the wee Spaniard, but too often his touch was off where it really mattered – in and around the opposition penalty area. 6

Rosicky: all action from start to finish and our stand-out performer. Without Tomas it’s unlikely we would be coming home with three points. 8

Walcott: Newcastle’s approach to the game meant there was little or no chance to exploit his pace. But he made the goal with a beautiful free kick and was very unlucky not to have scored. 7

Giroud: was having one of those games until he scored. You can’t fault his effort, but he will still need to do more to convince some people that we don’t need an extra striker in the January window. He gets an extra point because of the goal. 7

Substitutes

Arteta: seemed a bit off the pace. 6

Jenkinson: aside from falling asleep when he could have given Bendtner a chance at an empty net, he did his defensive work well. 6

Bendtner: did all he could for the short while he was on. 6

RockyLives


Another striker in January?….Do we need to be careful?

November 12, 2013

The need for Arsenal to add an additional striker in January seems to be a hot topic in the media and generally across the net on the Arsenal related sites. This is a topic I have thought about putting up for greater discussion for some time now, and as there have been increasingly more official comments on the site recently about whether we need an addition to the striker department in January, I thought now would be a good time to bring up the topic as an official discussion point.

There seems to be a consistent feeling amongst the media, pundits, and public at large, that Arsenal are potentially genuine title contenders, but require an additional striker to make this a reality. Without said addition, despite how well things are currently going, we will still get caught short as the season progresses. One injury to Giroud and it is all curtains for our EPL challenge. Is this thought process a genuine concern?

I have to hold my hands up and say that I have changed my mind on a few occasions through the summer and the start of the season as to whether an additional front man is required, and if so who. Before the start of the season I was of the opinion that Ollie was a very good front man and totally worthy of a place in the Arsenal squad, but more as a second choice striker to someone slightly more world class (apologies for the cliché).

Well Ollie has very much changed my mind on this. He has stepped up a level and, even if he is still not the most prolific goal-scoring striker, his strengths seem to fit ideally with our current system, and the players he has around him. In other words he makes the whole team play better, and maybe that is more important than a few extra individual goals.

So if we do look to add to the strike force do we need to be careful as to how we do it and who we try to bring in, so as not to upset the great harmony that currently exists in our squad? I feel that if we are giving serious consideration to our striker department then we have three main options :

1 Buy no-one and go with what we have and hope that Stuart Robson is not able to say I told you so at the end of the season.

2 Buy a player who is identical or very similar to Giroud.

3 Buy a different type of striker to Giroud.

So, looking at option 1, what if we bought no-one? At present, due to injuries, I think we can all see that the options outside of Ollie are a little bit bare. What happens however when Theo and Podolski return. Both players who will give a good goal return over a season, and who both seem to be natural finishers. The question-mark with both of them is can they step into Giroud’s role or are they more suited to playing off of him? I have my own personal opinions on this but will refrain until later and allow you all to express yours.

With option 2 we can look at a player of a very similar type to Giroud, so that one can play when the other doesn’t, and we don’t then lose any fluency in the system we play. If so are we looking to bring in this player as a back up to Giroud, who will then become second choice to him, or are we looking to bring in a similar standard player, or perhaps someone considered of a similar style but even better than Ollie?

All potential considerations in option 2 have their problems. Most back up players will not directly replace his quality and may not in reality give us more than Nik B currently does, which for me would seem a futile exercise. With a similar standard player to Giroud, or one considered better, then we are likely asking Ollie to relinquish being permanent first choice and either playing in a 50-50 job sharing role, or becoming back up himself. That would seem very harsh on Ollie, and may even back-fire on us if it upsets the teams balance and current harmony.

It also needs to be considered, that with a player that some will perceive to be better than Ollie, it is not guaranteed that they would indeed step in and actually be better. They may have looked great before they came to us, but may not look as suited to our style, and the EPL in general, once they have stepped in. That could be an expensive mistake to find out, and I am in reality struggling to see many target men type strikers that have the all round game that Ollie has, that could be considered to be as good as, or a better option than him.

Option 3 is to buy a different type of striker to Ollie, and if possible one that has both the ability to lead the line in Giroud’s absence, or even play alongside or behind him. It is my belief that this is what Arsene was looking for with Suarez. His ability to play both roles means it wouldn’t always have to be him or Ollie, as it would be with the type of player from option 2, but could be him and Ollie at times. These types of players don’t seem to grow on trees though and tend to be the most expensive players out there, because they have the dual ability of a top goal-scoring striker, and the ability of a top class attacking midfielder so that they can also play the slightly deeper or support striker role.

So what is the best option for us as it currently stands? I would like to hear your opinions on this subject but would like to ask you to, as well as just putting names forward, think about what it means to the squad as a whole both in a positive way and a negative way, and to give a rationale to your answers.

For example if you don’t think we need anyone then which players will cover the role Ollie currently plays if he is injured? If you do think we need another addition then are you more leaning towards option 2 or 3 and who is it you want? Is your preferred choice firstly a realistic one, and secondly are they coming in as a back up striker, or as first choice striker? Will one of the previously more regular first team players be pushed down the pecking order to the point where they will likely consider leaving us and if so are you ok with this and who do you consider that player should be?

Over to you….

Written by GoonerB


“We blew Napoli away” …….

October 2, 2013

I have to apologise. In the build-up to our second Champions’ League group game, I said Napoli would “be our toughest opponent in the season so far”. I had expected a real challenge would be presented by a team that has dropped just two points in six Serie A games to date, plus had impressively beaten Borussia Dortmund in their first CL game. They were a settled team that had been thriving under a new and familiar manager, and with a high quality replacement for the striker they had lost to PSG. This would be a true test of our resurgent team. Wouldn’t it?

No, it wouldn’t. Napoli didn’t turn up. They were utterly woeful in defence, naïve and disorganised beyond belief. And in midfield they completely failed to impose themselves. I can’t really comment on how they did up front, so little did we see of Pandev. Napolistas might point to the absence of their Argentine new boy, Gonzalo Higuain, as justification for their lame performance, but important as Higuain must be to his new side, that doesn’t explain or excuse the frankly pathetic, gutless and brainless performance from the Italians. They have other players of quality, like Inler and Hamsik, but the only players in camouflage kit (yuck) who came close to earning their corn were Insigne and Reina. You might think I’m going over the top, but I honestly cannot recall any visiting opponent underperforming in a CL game against us, and we’ve played some decidedly ordinary teams down the years.

Ok, enough of slating our oppo.

Arsenal were excellent on the night, though the limitations of what faced them makes it harder to determine just how good we really were last night. However, as the cliché has it, you can only beat the team that is in front of you.

In truth, we blew Napoli away in the first half hour of the match, arguably in the first 15 minutes. We played with speed of passing and thought, fantastic movement, cohesion, calmness and confidence. Wenger brought the recovered Rosicky back in, playing in attacking midfield alongside Ramsey and Özil, in front of a solid pairing of Arteta and Flamini. Wilshere and Gnabry were left on the bench.

If that selection looked conservative and cautious, the truth quickly showed that the opposite was true. From the off, we saw the ball being pinged around with consummate ease. The intelligence and understanding between the players was a pleasure to take in.

And then in the seventh minute, the breakthrough. And not just any old breakthrough; this was the moment, after some majestic interplay on the right flank between Giroud and Ramsey, Özil received a perfect cut-back cross from Ramsey on the edge of the penalty area. Özil opened out his body and placed the ball with precision into the corner of the net, with Reina flailing to get to the ball. This was it, the moment our new diamond went one better than provide an assist, this was the talented German’s first goal in the red and white.

Ozil scores v napoli

After the goal, Arsenal continued to dominate Napoli, who just couldn’t get the ball. The Arsenal midfield ran rings around them.

Seven minutes after scoring this goal, Napoli’s left-back had a throw-in near his corner flag but stupidly didn’t launch the ball up the line, and instead threw it infield to his centre-back, despite the presence of several Arsenal markers. Flamini got in front of the man he was marking and nipped the ball away from him, nudging it to Giroud, who immediately laid it off to Özil, who quickly got to the byline and put in a short, low cross to Giroud, who typically had run towards the front post. The players tracking back were too slow to do anything about it, and big Olly did the easy bit and put the ball in the net. From the moment Napoli took that throw-in to the moment the ball hit the net was eight seconds. And to think, we used to be accused on lacking a cutting edge.

team v napoli

We could have scored more goals, but quite rightly, Arsenal played within themselves for the remainder of the game. Having scored two goals, the onus was on Napoli to force the pace, and show Arsenal that further effort was required. The Italians didn’t, and almost all their efforts on goal were high and/or wide shots from distance. Szczesny must have been disappointed not to be tested but outfield, Arsenal contented themselves with probing for further openings without busting a gut and without giving up their shape.

It was impressive to watch Arsenal play with discipline for the remainder of the game, denying Napoli any chance of reducing the deficit. Özil, Ramsey, Giroud and Rosicky continued to dominate the top third, with quick movements and passes, and further chances were created. Arteta and Flamini similarly dominated the middle third. Koscielny, Mertesacker, Sagna and Gibbs held their positions very well and afforded their opponents no gaps to exploit. Szczesny was denied the chance to play, so dominant was the Arsenal performance in front of him. When Napoli tried to press the ball when Arsenal defenders were in possession, a few passes sliced through their ranks and we emerged on the attack again.

Arsenal may not have scored any further goals, but they remained in control for the remainder of the game. Reina made a very good close save from Koscielny in the second half, but that was a detail. With Benitez failing to stir his players into life for the second half, the outcome of the match was clear from very early on.

Some might say Arsenal were so dominant that they should have scored more than two goals. There might be something in that, but it also feels a little churlish to criticise. With an epic first half performance, Arsenal took control of the match and challenged Napoli to show them why more effort was required. Napoli couldn’t rise to that challenge, and couldn’t undermine the shape and confidence of their opponents, so there was little need of urgency in the remainder of the game.

And, it was great to hear the positivity, the unity of the crowd was a pleasure to behold, as if the months of fractious division had never happened. And it was great to hear chants of “We’re the North Bank/Clock End/East Stand” – we are truly beginning to grow into this stadium.

So, six points in the bag already, we couldn’t have wanted it to go any better than this. One more win in the remaining four games and we will likely get through. It would be nice to get our business in the Group of Death done early though.

Were you watching Suàrez, Rooney, Higuain and van Persie?

Ratings:

Szczesny: 8. The Pole in goal did everything asked of him well, especially in dealing with high balls put into the box. The fact that he wasn’t asked to do much wasn’t his fault.

Sagna: 8. His link-up play was excellent, and much of our attacking play came on the right flank.

Mertesacker: 8. Not tested fully but his performance was nonetheless exemplary.

Koscielny: 8. It is great to see Kos rediscover his mojo – the panicky efforts of a few weeks ago have gone, to be replaced by unpretentious calm.

Gibbs: 7. Didn’t do much wrong, perhaps there were one or two misplaced passes, but Kieran had a good night.

Flamini: 7. Probably the only Arsenal player whose technical limitations were apparent, but his energy was valuable. And without his interception, Özil would not have had the ball to set up Giroud.

Arteta: 8. Marshalled the centre of the pitch well, and with the Flamster, completely dominated Napoli’s midfield trio.

Ramsey: 10 (but not MOTM). Simply magnificent. The energy and intelligence of an in-form Rambo is a beautiful thing to see. On another night, he’d have walked away with a hat-trick.

Özil: 10. Oh…. My….. God….. Just how good is this guy? Answer: really very good. Thank you, Florentino Perez, you are a gent and a scholar. And a fool. Silky skills, incision, vision, awareness, Özil has the lot. I particularly liked watching how he can sense a defender closing in behind him, and then shift the balance of his body so as to move effortlessly into the space the over-eager defender has just vacated. Nice. (And yes, that should be read in the voice of the jazz guy in The Fast Show.) Perhaps it’s no accident that Özil was able to impose himself most effectively in a game against an Italian side. I feel sure he will reach these standards in domestic games too, once he has the measure of our game.

Rosicky: 7.5. Tom misplaced a few passes but still slotted into the passing game brilliantly. Perhaps should have done better with a chance he had early in the second half.

Giroud: 8. Copy and paste from previous reports: great link-up play, great lay-offs, great movement to score his goal and great effort.

And the subs:

Wilshere: 7. Once again, Jack was played out of position, on the left, where he was efficient without being incisive.

Monreal: Had too little time to make a mark.

Written by 26may89


Arsène: “Don’t drop Ollie G!”

July 28, 2013

Dear Arsène,

Not sure I can help you much more than I already have this week. Engineered some brilliant stats for you, and previously did all that tactics bollocks stuff to help you out with formations and whatnot.

Thing is this, Arsène, I keep reading how you are sniffing around all these expensive strikers, and I have concerns.

You see ,Arsène , while I believe all these stories, I’m not sure you’ve thought this through, and the main concern I have revolves around Ollie G. I mean, how can he not be better in his second season? Don’t you remember some of his sublime finishing, and that is to say nothing of his contribution to the overall team effort. My biggest fear is that you will buy said expensive striker, and either plonk Ollie on the bench, or worse, be tempted to do some crazy person thing, and to accommodate said striker in his preferred central role, put Ollie wide like you did with Cham and Bendy.

olivier giroud 1

So, what’s the plan?

I’ll tell you. Don’t spend all the loot on a similar player like Higuain. Waste of time as you’ll have blown the lion’s share of the transfer kitty on a type of player who offers no real alternatives.

So Arsène, this brings me on to Suarez. Two options here, give him one of those free roaming GiE type of starting slots, but that’ll mean dropping Gerv/Pod from the left. Could work if you get Theo to keep the width, and the pair of them can do the switch over manoeuvre from time to time. I keep reading how you’re about to flog Gerv, and naturally I believe what I read here also, so with a little rotation, and allowing for injuries, this will allow you to select three from Ollie, Theo, Pod and a Suarez type.

giroud 2

Couple of things to avoid then.

One, Santi stays in the middle, so don’t start all that deep lying No10, in the hole, false whatever nonsense to try and accommodate the new boy just behind Ollie.

Two. Ollie starts every game.

giroud3

Best wishes for the new campaign. Get the right couple of signings and we’re away.

Arsène, you have my mobile number, so as always, feel free to call whenever you like.

I remain, you’re humble servant,

DidIt.


1 nil to the football team …..

February 3, 2013

Some thoughts on the game (some of which I have wantonly culled from comments I posted earlier this morning):

1. Arsenal looked laboured at times, but they held their concentration facing a Stoke side that did virtually nothing with the ball but which held its shape without the ball extremely well. We were too often forced to cross the ball, which only plays into Stoke’s hands, even with Giroud up front and despite the fact that Walcott put in a few very good crosses. It was certainly not a pretty spectacle, but that had everything to do with our opponents. I’m just pleased our players and fans didn’t panic, and stayed focused and patient. The substitutions were made at the perfect time, and being able to introduce a fresh Cazorla and Podolski with 25 minutes to go worked very well. It was good to see some genuine squad rotation, with Cazorla and Podolski starting from the bench.

untitled

2. How the linesman even thought there was a possibility of an offside (whether for Theo or the deflection, if it had come off one of our players) is beyond me, it was clearly not offside. Well done to Chris Foy for putting him right. As for the complaints to the officials, both sides were doing it, so Pulis’s whinge about us being out of order is just one more example of his hypocrisy.

3. Begovic would be an excellent signing as a second choice keeper if we did try and rescue him from his purgatory in the summer. And with Butland joining Stoke then, one of Sorenson and Begovic will surely move.

4. Did anyone notice that Shotton (the new Delap) has a special piece of material fitted in his shirt to substitute for the towel he gets to use at throw-ins at the Britannia?

5. You remember that “Same old Arsenal, always cheating” we routinely get treated to by the enlightened souls of clubs like Stoke? It’s funny, when Matthew Etherington (a player I happen to quite like) dived to the floor right in front of the Stoke fans, to earn Stoke one of their very few attacking opportunities, the Stoke fans didn’t complain. And I don’t seem to hear much from Pulis when his rugged, muscular, it’s-a-man’s-game players dive to the ground in the mode of Filippo Inzaghi. Funny, that………

6. The Stoke time-wasting was ridiculous, starting in the 15th minute. Chris Foy’s laid back approach to refereeing is good in many ways, but there are times when you have to get a grip on cynical behaviour like that. A couple of early yellow cards, for example when right in front of the ref, Huth threw the ball away after fouling Wilshere, and the time-wasting would have ended there. And of course, once Stoke were a goal down, they suddenly started doing everything much more quickly. It was funny to see Ryan Shawcross complain in the 91st minute about the speed we were taking a free-kick. Well Sweet Little Ryan, if you hadn’t wasted so much time in the remainder of the game, you might have been able to get more attacks in when you were chasing the game.

7. As the pundit on Arsenal TV said (was it Stephen Hughes?), Stoke deserved nothing from the game and they got nothing. Playing ten men behind the ball the whole game is pathetic from any team, a real admission of weakness, but from a side that has spent tens of millions of pounds and has qualified for European football, it is even more ridiculous. Of course, it’s up to the opponent to deal with it and break it down, which Arsenal did – 1-0 was a pretty measly scoreline given that we carved open numerous good chances yesterday: as well as the goal, Ox, Kos, Giroud and Cazorla all had excellent chances to score. 3-0 would have been about right.

8. Any right thinking person of course hates Stoke and detests Pulis. So it was enjoyable to read that he’s been whining about unfair treatment, and tried to play the “we’re so poor, we can’t expect to win these games” card. It’s been a source of a lot of frustration for me that the journos lap this stuff up, saying in effect that it’s fine for Stoke to play the style they do, even when it verges on the violent, because they’re a poor, itsy bitsy club. The trouble with that theory is that Pulis has spent vast amounts of money. Stoke are about 6th in the list of spenders over the past five or six seasons, yet are allowed to say they are David to our Goliath. It was therefore good to see on newsnow that someone had done some sums and concluded that Pulis has spent £120m more than Wenger. Not a level playfield? On your bike, you prat, you’ve had an incredibly soft ride and, given the resources available compared with the likes of Swansea, Everton and West Brom, Stoke should be doing much better than they are.

9. In recent weeks, the prices sometimes charged for away fans at Arsenal have become a subject of controversy. Here’s a thought: perhaps the prices should be linked to a creativity index, so that the more creative or engaging the opponent, the cheaper the tickets for their fans. So Stoke would still be able to play their desperate version of the game, but their fans would be financially punished for it, while Swansea’s fans would be able to attend for about £3.50. I’m going to start writing to Ivan Gazidis now.

Some rough and ready ratings:

Szczesny: 7 – For staying awake.

Sagna: 6 – Did nothing wrong but didn’t show a lot when going forward either.

Mertesacker: 6 – Did fine.

Koscielny: 7 – Battled well, including pressing in midfield areas, and had a good effort on goal.

Monreal: 7 – It’s impossible to judge from one game but first impressions are good, especially given that he was playing against a side about as far from Spanish football as one can imagine. He was energetic, good with his passing, judicious about his overlapping runs and always seemed to track back. Of course, yesterday was hardly the most testing of attacking opponents, and we’ll have to see how Monreal goes in the coming weeks, but other than one terrible long-range shot he did well.

Arteta: 8 – Great to see him back, he makes such a difference. His tidy passing from deep in midfield is excellent.

Diaby: 6 – Was OK in the first half but tired early in the second.

Wilshere: 8 – Very sharp, often looked dangerous, his thinking was always ahead of his opponent. And lovely to see tomorrow’s England man tell yesterday’s England man, Michael Owen, where to go after the set-to with Arteta.

Walcott: 7 – Pretty dangerous at times, and managed to get behind the defence a few times. But then he was facing the weakest player Stoke have, Andy Wilkinson, so it would have been disappointing if he’d been completely played out of the game. Walcott clearly felt he wasn’t given enough protection by the referee – I’m not sure about that, we’ve seen worse, and it was a Wilkinson foul on Walcott that earned the free kick from which we scored.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 6 – Had some good moments, especially when he had a shot saved well by Begovic, but overall didn’t manage to make too many inroads on Stoke.

Giroud: 6 – As ever, worked hard, but he didn’t have the same impact in terms of lay-offs etc as he has done. Also made a poor choice to chest the ball for someone else when he had a clear chance to have a header on goal from close range.

Cazorla: 8 – Lifted the pace of the game at the perfect moment and found lots of awkward pockets of space. Should have scored when through on goal.

Podolski: 7 – Typically teutonic energy from Poldi. Got the goal of course, albeit via Cameron’s boot.

Ramsey: N/a

Written by 26may89


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