The Stoke Resurrection?

March 1, 2014

Let’s start here – I hate Sparky and I hate Stoke. The two together are a match made in Hades but ….. and you may be surprised to read this I admire what they are trying to do this season. Hughes has taken the Orc mentality created by Pulis and attempted to teach these mutants to play football. As we saw at THOF to a certain extent he has succeeded.

Goals have been few and far between and as Stoke languish on 27 points and in 15 place the experiment could be said to be a work in progress but what about this?  …. Stoke are bottom of the Fair Play League with 58 yellows and 3 Reds and have conceded the most fouls in the PL. Their top scorer is the beanpole Crouch with just 6 (Ramsey has more and has missed most of the season). Most assists? Probably Begovic

Play football? Don’t be fooled Raddy, Stoke remain Orcs led by a man who is Beezlebub in a suit. Nasty players, nasty fans and nasty manager.



So, how will we do against these barbarians? Stoke haven’t lost at the Britannia since September which is cause for concern. They have recently drawn with Southampton and ….. Oh, I can’t be bothered with this ….. Stoke are always difficult opposition for us because they, their fans and their manager hate us – just as we detest them.

The reaction of the fans and now their chairman to the Ramsey injury shows just how awful they are. Coates ludicrous attempt to defuse the situation was crass and insulting. Sadly, Aaron is unable to punish them today as he surely would.

Stoke: Walters, Crouch, Adams, Odemwinge etc dull, dull, dull dull. Only player with any grace is Begovic who has a habit of wasting time until we go ahead. Shawcross’s partner in crime, Robert Huth, that fine upstanding behemoth who flattened Gnabry within seconds of his first PL appearance, is out with some sort of hardware malfunction. No doubt Hughes has another mutant to replace him.

Arsenal: Ozil returns but in place of whom? Can we afford to drop Rosicky given his excellent form? Dare we go into the game with only one striker (Giroud) and drop Podolski?

In my opinion, this is a game for Ozil to miss. It’s a game for players who can take a battering and give something back. Not sure Mesut is that type of player. I would be tempted to play the same team which destroyed Sunderland, (apart from the inclusion of Vermaelen).

My Team:


Sagna   BFG    TV   Monreal

Flamini    JW    Arteta   Rosicky

Cazorla      Giroud   Podolski

Not in that formation obviously, but doing their usual mix and match stuff. Pace will be important and I expect to see our speedsters on during the second half. Maybe give Sanogo a run out.

Stoke Upon Trent. Originally named Stoc, the name comes from Old English and means “place  with a church”, apparently so many villages and meadows were called Stoc that  the words Upon Trent were added to distinguish it from the primordial swampland in the Midlands – you know the place where Shawcross emerged from. The village developed because it was on the Roman road between Derby and Chesterton .

By the 13th century coal mining was the main industry but in the 17thC pottery became the main source of income. Wedgwood, Spode, Minton and Royal Doulton moved into the area as Stoke became the most famous pottery and china producer in the world. In later times Michelin tyres were centred in Stoke employing over 9,000 Orcs.

Can we win?  This is going to be a difficult game. No Hughes team leaves the field without bruising the opposition and today will be no exception. Stoke’s home record is good and despite their lowly league position they have taken points off the best and beat Man Utd at the Potteries just a few weeks ago. A return to the defensive parsimony, a fast start and some crisp passing interplay will do the job.

March is our toughest test, a win today would set the team up nicely for the more difficult games ahead, but I take nothing for granted – sometimes Orcs win battles but never the war.

Written by BigRaddy


From Orcs to Swans?

September 22, 2013

Stoke City, 9 letters . Mark Hughes, 9 letters. One would think a match made in heaven. What is the significance of the number 9? According to Chinese belief the number 9 represents attainment and success; on a personal level it signifies leadership.

Only …. as the eagle eyed geniuses who read AA will have spotted Mark Hughes has 10 letters and the number 10 signifies a cheating, spiteful, ignorant, charmless man (thank you, Morrissey)

Those who regularly read my posts will know my feeling towards both these entities – I have written many Stoke PM’s and all have the same theme. Why? Because whereas I dislike Tottenham due to an accident of geography, my dislike of Stoke has developed thanks to it being an execrable club and town.

My first visit to the Potteries scarred me for life – a 5-0 loss.  A horrible town, a horrible game and a depressing drive South.  All in all, enough to elevate Stoke into the heady realms of the Premier League of my most detested teams, where they have stayed ever since.

Eventually Pulis arrived and they became Orcs. Now, the marriage with the odious Sparky Hughes – it could only get worse.

Or can it?

The rumours are that Stoke are playing football!! Can this possibly be true? Can a man whose football philosophy is entrenched in kick-the-man-not-the-ball really encourage the Beautiful Game? The stats suggest that this is so – an average of almost 400 passes per game, a massive reduction in crosses and long balls and a 79% passing accuracy . A footballing victory at WHU and a draw vs Man City show this is a team in form.

But are they really turning from ugly ducklings into swans? (source: Hans Christian Anderson 1861).  Is this the Shawcross Redemption? (too corny for a headline 🙂 )

A  positive stat is that The Odious One (henceforth TOO) has visited the Emirates as a manager of 5 different teams and has yet to win. Some record. How the hell does this bloke get a job? He has destroyed every team he has managed and been sacked on all but one occasion – the other being when he left a team in the lurch to go in search of “success” prior to being binned from City. TOO was sacked by relegated QPR last season and yet picked up another PL job!  And he has an OBE – certainly not for services to football!!

Arsenal:  Not much to write as the team almost picks itself. The injury list will ease over the next couple of weeks and we will finally see who Mr Wenger has in mind for his starting 11 –  I have no idea, but it is a luxury problem. We have quality throughout the squad.

My Team:

arse v orcs

How will TWOO (The Wizard of Ozil) cope with the kicking he will undoubtedly receive this afternoon? We have no Stevie Bould or TA6 to “remind” Stoke to behave. As such a strong referee is essential and today we have Mike Dean – not my favourite but highly experienced and fully aware of Stoke’s intimidating tactics. Let us hope he has a good game.

What I would like to see this afternoon is TWOO score his first Emirates goals (on his home debut)  and for TOO to spend the game cursing his players, cursing the referee, cursing Mr Wenger, cursing the very handsome Arsenal centre forward, cursing the gods and driving back on the coach cursing his own players. and in particular cursing the chief Orc, Ryan Shacwross.

Now that would go some way to redeeming Stoke City.


written by Big Raddy

A Baptism of Fire?

February 2, 2013

Last time we played Stoke was early in the season, a 0-0 draw at the Britannia. I remember being disappointed by the draw but  more so by our inability to score. How different it is today …

Note the Nil for Stoke. A Nil. This shows that our defence was not breached; that a team of giants could not score from a cross into our goal area. It is now 6 PL games since our last defensive Nil. In those 6 games we have conceded 11 goals – almost 2 a game.

Yet, our Back 5 looks so solid on paper. Rasp has been saying since season’s start that our defence is the root cause of our inconsistency, a point of view hard to disagree with. My early thoughts were that with Steve Bould to educate and train them our back 5 could become the best for many season. BR  had faith in the skills of Santos and was happy with our LB situation.

How wrong was I?

But no fear …. Nacho to the rescue. Rarely will a player start a game under so much scrutiny. Is he the saviour? We shall see, but let us not judge Monreal on this afternoon’s performance; he will need time to bed in and The Orcs are a baptism of fire.


Nacho Man

Stats: Stoke have only won one away game this season. They have scored 8 goals in 12 away games. They have not won for 5 games. Stoke have never won at THOF. They are Orcs.

Pulis (how I hate typing that word) has created the Volvo 760 of the football world. Big, ugly, efficient and does what other cars do but with far less panache. His brand of football takes the entertainment out of the game. And the supporters …… if they weren’t such a shower of  **** one would feel sorry for them. Not only having to live in a town which under any caring government would be demolished, but having to pay to watch a Volvo 760.

Unknown-1Stoke’s First Team Photo

An Arsenal stat: If the PL was based on halves, Arsenal would be 12th on first halves and 2nd to Man City on second halves. The solution is simple – give the lads some smelling salts prior to kick-off.

Todays team:  Arteta is close to a return but I wouldn’t risk him against The Orcs. Diaby or Ramsey? Ramsey for me – Chief Orc Shawcross is sure to receive his usual warm Emirates welcome.

Thinking about it, the pairing of Shawcross and Huth reminds me of this …


We have been missing Ox for a few games now. It hurt to see him as an unused sub  on Weds night. We had 20 minutes to finish off an on-the-ropes Liverpool but AW chose not to attack; mistakenly in my view. Ox needs game time and I hope he gets at least 20 minutes today.

Runners & Riders:

arse v orcs

Todays Explorer: George Mallory (1886-1924). Another great Englishmen who deserves further investigation. Huge doubts arise about who was the first man to ascend Everest but recent theory suggest it was Mallory and not some New Zealander. One of the world’s foremost mountaineers he made a number of explorations of the Himalayas before attempting to climb it’s highest peak. When asked why he wanted to climb Everest he responded with 3 classic words, “Because it’s There”.

Mallory died on the ascent, but perhaps it was during the descent and herein lies the mystery – we will never know. Mallory’s body was found 75 years later.

Such was Mallory’s esteem that King George V,  the Prime Minister Ramsey Macdonald and all his cabinet  attended his memorial at St. Paul’s Cathedral.


May have been one of Britain’s finest but … No Facial Hair, no Knighthood

February is traditionally a good month for The Arsenal. A win today would set up us nicely.


Written by Big Raddy

Season Low Points Pt.1 Off-Pitch

May 29, 2012

Recently, we were treated to a fine post from Chas filled with vids of the highlights of the season. but what were the low points? I am not talking about on-pitch stuff (was Ewood worse than OT?), No, I mean the off-pitch drama – those things in football which are not the result of the bounce of a ball.

Fans:  One of Chas’s vids showed the superb support of the Dortmund fans, perhaps the best I have seen. Fervent, happy, funny, enjoying their day out at The Home of Football. Compare them to the Stoke fans. In all my years of football fanaticism I cannot recall being so disgusted by the actions a group of fans as when the whole of  the Britannia booed Ramsey’s every touch. Can you?

Yes, we joke about their team of Orcs and we actively dislike both the Orc Leader and his henchmen,they deserve it,  but for their fans to boo a young man who has been seriously damaged in front of them is beyond ignorant. These people deserved National castigation, instead on MOTD the fool Lineker imitated their aping of Wenger ( fairplay to Hansen who condemned their behavior).

Did the Head Orc (Pulis) say anything …. No, of course not. Did anyone at Stoke? No. They silently condone the booing. Have the FA said anything? No, of course not.  Redknapp or Rednose (SAF) get abuse and the media are up in arms – yet  there was nothing was in the press about the behavior of the Orcs, apart from laughing at Wenger.

Fans:  Over the years, my dislike of  The N15 Neanderthals has lessened due to their comedic ability to grab tiny seeds of hope and blow them into successes (“We’re going to win the the League, or Bale is World Class” ).  West Ham and then Chelsea became my most disliked opposition (thanks to their racist and fascist fans), but when T-Shirts are made with “MInd the Gap” on them and they are then displayed at THOF, things have gone too far….. HaHaHaHaHaHa.

Club Action: Can anything be less enlightened than a Club and manager supporting a player who has been judged to make a racist remark? And then to wear t-shirts in support of said player? Liverpool shamed their great tradition and for that alone Dalglish deserved his dismissal. For a club who are rightly so sensitive about their history, this wasn’t just  misjudged, it was an act of madness.  Whether Suareze is a racist or not was not the issue –  he was found guilty of making a racist remark not of being a racist. How could the management of Liverpool get it so wrong?

Management Action:  Capello and England. I come from a generation of fans to whom being Captain of England is the very pinnacle of achievement. To Captain your country at Cricket or Football was not just a job given to the most experienced player, it was a mark of the respect the sport had for the incumbent. The idea that love-cheat, bribe taker and now racist John Terry has worn the same armband as Bobby Moore and Billy Wright is just sad.  That it took the Ferdinand affair to remove him of the Captaincy speaks volumes for The FA’s lack of understanding of our footballing heritage. As to the CL Final appearance – words fail me.

What are your off-pitch low-points? How do you think the Press write about Arsenal, are they even-handed? Do we get worse press than any other club? Do you think the Board of Directors are finally getting their act together or are they ruining our club? And what of the fitness regime’s? How is it that our players were in the Red and Wigan’s weren’t?

Written by Big Raddy

If the Kid’s are United: Stoke Preview

April 28, 2012

Some time ago I made a decision to stop belittling our opponents. This was due to a rash of defeats to lesser team following an abusive prematch (yes, I have that much power). But sometimes needs must, plus I have to be realistic and accept my  posts have no impact whatsoever of the result of the game.

So let’s get down to business.

Stoke: If there is a more miserable, wearisome, beetle-headed bunch of bum-baileys walking the planet then my name is Luther Blisset. Managed by a man who in the words of Oscar Wilde “has no enemies but is intensely disliked by his friends.” Stoke are the reason why the PL has slipped behind La Liga and the Bundesliga in world football. You do not find teams in La Liga who cannot play the ball on the ground or rely on set pieces in order to score.

Orcs in their natural habitat

Then there are their fans. Amplified to make the armchair viewer believe they can create an atmosphere, they reflect their team. Aggressive and hard to like. And, they hate us. Pulis thinks Wenger is impolite (!), their fans think Gooners are soft southern pansies and delight in calling our team wimps and cheats. We are the positive to their negative.

But can we beat them in what is an important game for us? One thing is certain, Stoke will give 100% and we will have to be at the top of our game to win. I think patience will be vital. Add in the Ramsey/Shawcross factor and there will be some genuine needle at the Britannia. We cannot respond to Stoke’s provocation – the early season stupidity of Gervinho and Song will cost us dear if they retaliate in what is sure to be a physical game; the Orcs (Huth, Whelan ,Whitehead, Shawcross + +)  will ensure it.  A strong referee is essential because it isn’t the stupid rash tackle that Stoke employ, it is the constant physical battle.

Crouch has scored his wonder goal for the season (and a brilliant goal it was), he has a good record against us  as have Stoke. They have won 3 out of our previous 4 visits to the Britannia. Pulis believes he knows how to beat Wenger and our games are never less than highly competitive.  Should we win, it will not be an easy ride – it never is up there.

My Team:

You may look at my team and say “Chamakh?  You’re having a Turkish” but I think we have to try something different. I would play RvP behind Chamakh, give Bennie the run of the left wing and swamp the midfield. The defence picks itself, as does the midfield (in light of the fragility of Diaby), though Coquelin is likely to get some pitch-time, if fit.

The obvious solution is to play O-C or Gervinho on the wing but given the loss of our speedster and Arteta, we could start the above team which would allow some flexibility.  That said, we are most likely to start with a forward line of O-C, RvP and Bennie.

Stoke Inventor? There are a few as you would expect in any industrial area. Oliver Lodge invented the wireless telegraph, the electric spark plug and moving coil loudspeakers (according to Wiki). Whether he did or not is lost in the mists of time.

Surely, we have more than the long throw in?

Against opposition whose main ethic is unrelenting industry and teamwork, Arsenal have to respond in kind. We have yet to win in the PL without Arteta and today is the day to remedy this. Arsenal can win but it will be through endeavor, inspiration, unity  and harmony.


Written by Big Raddy

From Messi to Shawcross.

February 23, 2011

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.

My team:

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.


Give a warm Emirates welcome to Mr. Ryan Shawcross

December 18, 2010

Firstly, I would like to thank all those who wrote such kind words regarding my piece in  the Arsenal in the Community book. Secondly, I would like to thank Peaches and Rasp for establishing such a hotbed of creative activity.

Which has nothing whatsoever to do with Stoke, particularly the “hotbed of creative activity!!” 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. This is what the super-intelligent contributors to Arsenal Arsenal think:

Gunnern 5  “I hope that Shawcross gets the worst, and most sustained, barracking that any player has ever received from an Arsenal crowd.”

Rocky Lives “I hope our home support is loud and sustained and drowns out any noise from those Stoke tw*ts who sang abusive songs at Aaron Ramsey as he lay on the deck with half his leg hanging off”.

As you can see, there is not much love lost between Stoke and the Arsenal fans. Unlike WBA, Stoke will not come and try beat us playing stylish attacking football – Stoke will come to be efficient with the hope they can create an upset and return to the Potteries with a point. We must stop them.

At last we are getting back to a full squad. There are rumours of Diaby’s return to fitness, though he will need some pitch time to regain his sharpness. I know he is not to everyone’s taste but I believe he has all the qualities to be a valuable squad member. Theo, Nik, and RvP are vying for a start. For me the experiment of playing RvP as a deep lying forward in the DB10 mode is not working and needs to be abandoned. I want to see Robin leading the line and as such would give Chamakh a 70 minute rest.

My team:

Bench.  Chesney, Nik, Kos, Cesc, Chamakh, Arshavin, Gibbs

I believe the height of Djourou will be important as will the strength of Squillaci and Song. If Diaby really is fit, I would give him the first hour, but am expecting Wilshere to start. I really hope Fabregas will be given more time to recover, my personal choice would be that he takes a week off in the Maldives and comes back full of vim and vigour, but as Club Captain I guess he will be desperate to start.

CL draw. Barcelona. I would have preferred to meet them in the Semi’s but we are going to have to beat them to win the thing, so let’s get them out the way in 8 weeks. If TV and Cesc are fit, we will win and win comfortably. 3-0 at home and a draw away.

Today we can bounce back from Monday’s disappointment and return to the top. 4 goals would be nice…..


Thug Shawcross Happy to Keep On Breaking Legs

October 11, 2010

I was staggered to read Ryan Shawcross’s contribution to the discussion about dangerous tackling. In the week in which Bobby Zamora and Hatem ben Arfa both suffered very serious injuries caused by so-called ‘full blooded’ tackles, Shawcross had this to say:

“The likes of Henry and de Jong, I’m sure, didn’t go out to injure another player on purpose. It’s part and parcel of football. They are tough-tackling central midfielders whose games are based on making tackles, winning the ball and then giving it to the ball-players. Sometimes injuries are caused.

“You have just got to accept in these times, with the ball moving so fast and the player moving so fast, you are going to mis-time tackles. That is when injuries can happen.”

Essentially this arrogant buffoon, this poltroonish ignoramus is saying that he has no intention of changing the way he plays.

Despite having watched Aaron Ramsey carried off with his leg snapped in four (tibia – two parts, fibula – two parts), despite putting Francis Jeffers out for three months with ligament damage, despite putting Emmanuel Adebayor out for weeks with a malicious foul that wasn’t even on the field of play, Shawcross sees no reason to do things differently. Which will mean more ligaments damaged and more legs broken in the future.

Don’t you love his use of the impersonal voice?:  “Sometimes injuries are caused.” Caused by whom Ryan? Some mysterious third force? An act of God? The Hoof Fairies?

No, you festering noodledick, they are caused by YOU and the rest of your brave fellows from the British Donkey Society (motto: Not Good, Not Fast, But We Kick Like Mules).

Then there’s the admission that he’s going to carry on hurting people because he’s too slow: “…with the player moving so fast, you are going to mis-time tackles. That is when injuries can happen.” Again he uses the impersonal voice to distance himself from the unfortunate outcome of being too slow: “injuries can happen” – when what he should be saying is: “that is when I, and cloggers like me, are likely to injure someone.”

We all know that the likes of Shawcross think that intimidating the opposition by ‘going in hard’ is a legitimate part of the game.  And spare me the comparisons with Arsene Wenger’s ‘red period’ when we were top of the sendings off league: I don’t recall an Arsenal player snapping someone’s leg in two during that time.

In fact, while the hard men of 10-15 years ago (the likes of Vieira, Keane, Batty) would undoubtedly try to impose themselves on the opposition, it was in a controlled way without risking career-threatening injuries (I know, I know, Keane on Haaland was appalling  but it was a crazy personal vendetta). What seems to have changed is the sheer recklessness with which agricultural midfielders and defenders hurl themselves into challenges.

Being ‘taught a lesson’ by Roy Keane meant you’d be bruised for a week, not sidelined for a year.

The reason for the rise in crazy, career-threatening challenges – a trend I call ‘malicious recklessness’ – appears to be a combination of several factors: the financial stakes involved in Premier League survival for unfashionable clubs, which causes some managers to advocate an ‘anything goes’ policy in games against more skilful opposition; a rise in the technical level of the EPL (thanks largely to the foreign influx) resulting in players who are faster and have better control than previously, making it more difficult for cloggers like Shawcross to compete fairly; the physical condition of today’s players – they are stronger and faster than in previous years, so if they tackle in an uncontrolled manner they are more likely to cause serious harm; a laissez-faire attitude among footballing authorities to the consequences of dangerous play.

Today’s Reckless Ryans and Careless Karls can always say afterwards “I didn’t mean to hurt him” but their recklessness makes the hurting inevitable and they should not be allowed to shirk responsibility for it. If you drive your car at 80mph down a suburban street, you may not intend to kill the little kid who runs out in the road, but try telling that to the judge.

In today’s EPL there are plenty of physical teams who stay within the bounds of legality and common human decency: within the last few weeks Chelsea, West Brom and Sunderland have all played a physical game against Arsenal without resorting to malicious recklessness. Arsene Wenger made no complaints about physicality in any of those games. He is just incredibly consistent about highlighting dangerous play when it occurs.

So what to do?

Well, there is one group of people who, I believe, can really make a difference in the battle to take dangerous rash play out of the game. It’s not the players, it’s not the managers and it’s certainly not the ineffectual stuffed shirts at the FA and FIFA. Tomorrow I’ll explain who they are and what they need to do.


Gunners MUST Rule Brittania …. or throw in the towel!

February 27, 2010

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:

A Goalkeeper

Sagna Campbell TV Clichy

Eboue Song Cesc Nasri

Walcott Bendtner

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  😉