I was a young football mad Gooner in 1970, a home and away supporter, overcoming the vagaries of British Rail and the highly unpleasant attacks of Northern football hooligans to watch my heroes. Stoke away was one such journey and will remain with me for a long time.
Most people think of the season 70/71 as a stroll to the Double (the first after the ’61 Spuds wonder team), but I can assure you it wasn’t. The drama went right to the wire and Stoke played a major role. The lowpoint of our season was a 5-0 drubbing for the lads at the Potteries, resulting in a severe dressing down of the team by McLintock, Howe and Mee, which set us on the road to Silverware.
In addition it was Stoke with the great Gordon Banks who would oppose us in the FAC Semi Final. We drew the first game at Hillsborough with Peter Storey scoring a 90th minute penalty against Banks. I stood there praying that he would score but convinced Banks would save it. Banksy failed and we went onto the replay which we won 2-0 at a canter, sending us to Wembley and the historic double winning victory over the Dippers.
To bring us up to date, last November we smashed Stoke (2-0!) at the Emirates with Sorensen playing his usual inspired game, and Fab missing a penalty. Stoke go into the game on the back of an 11 game unbeaten run and unbeaten in 2010. They have just beaten City in the Cup, and Arsenal have yet to beat them at the Britannia. That said, we are learning to play the more physical teams and have a decent record ‘Up North’ this season. One advantage could be the referee, Peter Walton, Stoke have never won with him officiating! Surprisingly (at least to me) Stoke have garnered 12 points from their last 6 games and will go into the match very confident of continuing their fine run.
Tactically it will be the same old same old with Stoke. Big men trying to kick lumps out of our frail, waspy wonders. The Towel and Delap. A highly charged and aggressive midfield. Fuller on the breakaway, and lots of long ball over our midfield. The fact that Robert Huth is Stoke’s top goalscorer tells us all we need to know about Stoke’s tactics!
I dismiss our 3-1 defeat in the FAC. We played with half a team which was reflected in our performance.
We are missing Diaby, Gallas and Arshavin, but welcome back Eduardo. I believe Bendtner will have a big game, though he will be up against Shawcross and Huth, both very tough CB’s. This is Theo’s type of game IF we can entice Stoke to get forward and leave spaces for him to run into. Please Arsene play Sol in place of Silvestre at CB, he is such a strong presence in the box, and will be vital against the long throw. I prefer Eboue to Ramsey or Denilson, purely for his height and pace, but we will need a disciplined performance from him.
My team would be:
Sagna Campbell TV Clichy
Eboue Song Cesc Nasri
Subs Gk, Ramsey, Rosicky, Vela, Silvestre, Eduardo
Nigel Winterburn says, “You know what you are going to get at Stoke, there will be no time to get the ball down and play as Arsenal like to do. But they HAVE to get that passing game going”. I agree with him, if we can hold onto possession and play pass and run, we will exhaust a team that went 120 minutes at full throttle on Wednesday night. This is a very important game for us, perhaps not a must-win, but very close to it. It would be wonderful to see us score early, a gambit we seem to have lost the ability to perform. I go for a hard won 3 points.
Stoke, is famous for it’s potteries – Wedgwood, Spode, Royal Doulton and Minton. Wedgwood was the favourite china of Elvis Presley, who as we all know was a renowned Gooner 😉