Funny old game football. A week ago we were facing sublime skill, at the weekend passion and unlikely hope, and tonight aggression and anti-football. It is a testament to the Beautiful game that all types of football can be encompassed inside 7 days.
We know what to expect from this Stoke team under the tutelage of Mr Pulis, it will be park the bus, long throw ins and long, long balls to test the aerial expertise of our defence. The midfield will be tigerish putting our skill players under intense physical pressure and yet trying to remain within the rules. Pulis will not be distraught if another Stoke player gets a red card because his defence for any loss will be that Arsenal are a team of foreign pouffs and divers…… “Same old Arsenal, Always cheating.” Mr Wenger doesn’t speak to Pulis which tells me all I need to know about the Stoke manager.
Lest we forget, Ryan Shawcross is a stalwart in the Stoke defence, an innocent according to his manager, a nice guy who doesn’t deserve the criticisms from fans according to the pandering British press, and an out and out thug according to Aaron Ramsey. I expect to hear a strong vocal “welcome” for young Ryan which will hopefully temper his tackling and remind him that he caused a brilliant young talent to lose a year of his career; though I doubt he has the sensitivity to understand our dislike.
It should be noted that Shawcross is not the only hardmen in the Stoke team – they are full of them. From Carew upfront, to Faye, Delap, Whitehead and Diao in midfield, to Collins and Robert Huth in defence, Stoke are packed with aggression. This will be no easy ride for our artists.
But we have developed the ability to fight fire with fire, and it is some time since we were bullied out of a game. Wilshere and Cesc may be delicate players but they can handle themselves in the heat of battle as can Song and our defenders. Plus we be without the finesse of Van Persie who will be replaced by the added bulk of Chamakh or Bendtner (I would pick Nik who is better defensively).
Sadly Koscielny is out for tonight, a big loss considering the style of Stoke’s attack. Szczesny will have to use his height and strength to counter the Delap effect; I imagine this will be a baptism of fire for him and that our young keeper will not have faced tonight’s type of bombardment, but having come through the Barca game, I expect him to take Stoke in his stride. The inclusion of Djourou and probably Nik B will assist the defence at set plays.
I expect Theo to score the first goal.
We are on a super run of League form. Apart from the 20 minute madness at Newcastle, Arsenal have been in great shape. Mr. Wenger will be looking for another 3 points tonight and hope that our rivals start to drop points.
Iron Maiden on Sunday and today it is the turn of another of Britain’s great Rock acts, Lemmy from Motorhead, who was born in Stoke in 1945 (can he really have made it to pensionable age?!). Though Stoke’s most famous son is of course Robbie Williams.