The fight continues, probably none the more apt word to be used considering who we are up against today. Stoke City, have made quite a name for themselves (in our minds at least) since their promotion to the Premier League. They’ve managed to make themselves the scourge of Arsenal fans. First for breaking Aaron Ramsey’s leg then for booing Ramsey on his return to Britannia Stadium. Sorry, but no matter how long ago, that would not die down for me.
Ramsey is less likely to start this time around and there’s been a growing idea that Stoke are beginning to change their type of game by preferring to keep the football on the ground more. Doubtless to me that all would go out the window tonight. Tony Pulis knows that he has to alter his team’s style of play in their 3rd or 4th season in the top flight but to retain that style against Arsenal would be a fool’s errand. Even Manchester United alter their game when they come up against us. If Pulis goes for the ball on the ground stuff, we would slaughter them with our game.
So, it would probably be all about the tactics that we have suffered so much in these trips. The long throws, the free kicks, the corner kicks and not allowing us time on the ball to settle. If all these are known beforehand, if all tactics of the opposition are known beforehand, it would be strange if we do not end up taking all 3 points home. However, the game is not played on papers or blackboards. The players have to ensure that all the training throughout the week are carried out during the match.
The big worry for tonight is the probably absence of Wojciech Szczesny. The picture that Andre Santos tweeted yesterday which showed Damien Martinez on the train to Stoke is as telling as it can be. Martinez would not be part of the travelling party should Szczesny be fit to feature. Although, the Argentinian could just be a precaution move as we try to give Szczesny right up to team submission time to recover. Losing the Pole would be a big loss.
If the game pans out as we expected, then we need our keeper to be in charge of the penalty box. To be commanding during crosses and not allowed the opposition to bully him. Szczesny has his detractors (sometimes, that includes me) but to be commanding in his area is not one of his weakness. It is for the other 2 senior keepers in Lukasz Fabianski and Vito Mannone. With the second Pole also possibly out with an injury of his own, we could be set to start Mannone (this is where we start to shake with fear).
Let’s be honest here. Mannone had a stormer against Fulham 2 seasons ago. But that was pretty much it. He did not kick on from there and in the few games that we’ve seen him since, he has been a bundle of nerves. The one that stood out is of course the match at Olympiakos. Deciding to kick the ball instead of just catching it because he doesn’t realise that he’s inside his penalty box is just bad goalkeeping.
If Mannone do end up starting, the bigger responsibility will fall on the rest of the team. They have to ensure that they protect Mannone the best they can. They have to make sure that they don’t let Stoke players crowd him out during set pieces. Someone needs to take charge and none more so than captain and centre back, Thomas Vermaelen. The Belgian will need to weave his ventriloquist hand and makes sure everyone is in the right position when defending.
Further up the pitch, I think we’ll retain the same midfield trio. A trio who worked well in parts last weekend and will get another chance to improve on that. The only big change that I’m predicting is Theo Walcott’s demotion from the starting line-up to the bench. Probably not the best thing to do especially considering the fact that we’re in contract negotiations with him but it’s a move that is necessary.
Necessary because it allows Olivier Giroud to be on the pitch. Without Alex Song, we’ve lost one player of respectable height who can be aerially quite good. We can utilise Giroud’ qualities up front but we also need to make full use of it when defending. At 1.92m, there’s no doubt that he can help us out against those set piece. Though with Abou Diaby in the side, that could be enough to persuade Arsene Wenger to persist with Walcott on the right.
No real surprise that I’m looking at Santi Cazorla to be the main man for us tonight. I do believe that he will be very very good in the first couple of months before some drop of form before picking it up against towards the back end of the season. The reasoning is simple. He’s the new kid that no one knows quite what he can do and by that I mean that opposition are not clear yet on how to defend against him. The lull in form will be when the opposition finds a loophole and start to understand his style of play. That is before the quality in Cazorla burst out to overcome the shackles and shine through (that it sounded epic wasn’t really my intention).
We need to start utilising that new weapon. This time around, he didn’t have to fly halfway across the world in midweek. Be afraid Stoke.
Up The Arsenal!!!