Second match of the new season, second draw of the new season. We are still level on the goal difference chart because we’ve neither scored any goal nor have we conceded any. Not so good for the first one but particularly pleasing for the second one. Our defensive best last season was also 2 consecutive without conceding, which happened on 4 separate occasions. If we keep another clean sheet away at Anfield next week, mathematically, we would already be better defensively than last season.
There were major worries over who would play keeper in yesterday’s game. When Vito Mannone’s name was announced to be in goal, fair to say, confidence were not sky high. The injured Wojciech Szczesny claimed that he suffered a lot during games against Stoke and that they battered and bruised him. Rightly, we were fearing that Mannone would crumble under such tactics but our fears were allayed. When called upon, Mannone did what was required of him. It was an assured and calm display in goal. Crosses were claim and he did not allow Stoke players to bully him.
However, the bulk of the praise has to go to the players in front of him. The defenders and midfielder, even the forwards who worked diligently to ensure the best protection to our keeper. In the games in the Premier League that we’ve played at Britannia Stadium, I can remember us always struggling defensively and with plenty of moments of hand in mouth. None of that happened yesterday. We were solid in the defence and looked composed throughout. Thomas Vermaelen curbed his adventurous side and focused to marshal our defence. Per Mertesacker was hardly seen throughout the game but only because he kept Peter Crouch quiet.
Kieran Gibbs had another marvellous game in which he imposed himself on the Jermaine Pennant and the Stoke winger did not get a look in. So was Carl Jenkinson on the other flank. Stuck to his man and did his job diligently. Abou Diaby also helped out, especially when the ball broke back out wide and he immediately went to close the player down and deny Stoke the chance to pick a cross properly. Once again Mikel Arteta played in the deeper midfield position and did not allow his lack of pace to be a hindrance, using his awareness and reading of the game superbly.
Perhaps it’s the focus on defending which robbed us of any attacking impetus. The full backs were rarely pushing beyond Gervinho or Lukas Podolski. A part of the game which is essential to our style of play, as proven when Bacary Sagna returned from his long term injury last season. The mindset of the players to protect Mannone and ensuring that we don’t struggle on this ground.
We did have our moments to open the scoring but failed. Olivier Giroud went for the spectacular bicycle kick from Santi Cazorla’s corner but didn’t connect properly. Later on, he selected the wrong option to shoot from distance when squaring the ball to the on-rushing Aaron Ramsey would have been the better option. The only attempt in the first half that I could remember is Cazorla’s freekick which hit the wall. It was well struck, an attempt he tried and scored in La Liga last season. Too bad this time around, the Stoke wall did not jump.
I though Giroud had a fantastic first full 90 minutes for us. He won a lot of headers. When was the last time we actually won headers direct from our own goal kicks? Probably when Marouane Chamakh was still in form. Giroud involves the others in the game and constantly looks to feed his team mates. Obviously, as I’ve mentioned above, is not shy of taking the shot either.
Podolski was much more involved this time around and was industrious but still looks like he lacks real match fitness. It was his run that gave Cazorla that free kick. The German looking far more comfortable in a roaming wide left role than a central attacking one which he took on against Sunderland. Meanwhile Gervinho cuts a very frustrating figure on the other side of Giroud. His dribbling was not up to mark and kept losing the ball. The pre season Gervinho still has not come to play yet.
There’s no doubt that attacking wise, we are lacking that final bit of creativity and incisiveness. My point is just this, those are new players we are trying to incorporate into the team and having only such short period of time, it would be too big of an ask to have them gel and have telepathic understanding of each other’s movements. However, with more time spent on the training ground, that side of our game will definitely improve.
Next up, Liverpool but before that, the transfer madness.