Saturday, 18 December 2010

Arsenal v Stoke RFC Preview.

It's been more or less 10 months since Aaron Ramsey had his leg virtually snapped in two by a disgraceful Ryan Shawcross challenge. I can't call it a tackle because a tackle would imply that there was a ball there to be won, which clearly wasn't the case. Ramsey is now at Nottingham Forest on a month long loan, as he continues his rehabilitation from that shocking day.

I could spend time going into how we were told that Shawcross isn't that type of player, and how he went home from the stadium in tears with his mother, after getting sent off. What has to be remembered is that Ramsey left the stadium in an ambulance, with the lower end of his leg facing in the wrong direction. Shawcross served his three game ban, but Ramsey is still hoping to put his career back together, and nobody can be sure if that will actually happen or not.

For the first time since that day the Arsenal fans will get the chance to let Shawcross know exactly how they feel about him, and I hope that the boos and jeers are deafening. He's an old fashioned centre back with that little bit of Tony Pulis aggression added. To be fair to him it was all really Ramsey's fault as his quick feet and excellent control were the real reason for the leg break, and it certainly wasn't because Shawcross knew he was beaten and made sure he stopped him.

Pulis has complained of the bigger clubs getting preferential treatment in the past, and he made sure that everybody knows which of the teams has a worse disciplinary record so far this season. He even went as far as to say that he thinks that the disciplinary records should be brought to the referee's attention. He has accused Arsene Wenger of attempting to influence referees in the past, and that's his own attempt to influence the referee.

The team themselves play a brand of kick and rush, as well as looking to get balls into the opposition box from set pieces. They have ex javelin thrower Rory Delap in their ranks, and the trajectory of his throw ins can be very difficult for the best goalkeepers. He has played almost every league game for them so far this season, but interestingly enough he hasn't got a single assist to his name just yet. I hope that sequence continues today, and whoever is in goal for Arsenal manages to deal with whatever Stoke RFC throw at him.
In team news Arsenal have no new players returning from injury, but there are no more players injured either.

Lukasz Fabianski was on the bench last week as he had a knock, and Wojciech Szczesny ably deputised for him. There is a possibility that Fabianski will still not be ready to play, and if that is the case I will be happy enough for Szczesny to again take the reins. He's confident enough to deal with whatever comes his way from Stoke RFC.

The big question marks will be whether the boss thinks Cesc Fabregas and Robin Van Persie are ready to play from the start. I think Cesc has a bit to do before he is ready to start a game again, and he may well sit this game out, unless his services are required to turn the game in Arsenal's favour.  With the next game against Chelsea in nine days, he should hopefully be able to play from the start then, against a team that Arsenal really need to beat.

I can't understand why RVP still hasn't started a game since his return from injury. The boss says he still isn't quite ready, but he started a game for Holland a month ago. There's taking things slowly, and then the pace that RVP's return is being dealt with. I think that Marouane Chamakh needs a rest, as he has started far more games than could have been expected of him in his first season in the Premier League. He has found the physicality difficult at times, and with four league games in 10 days coming up, he will need to recharge his batteries.

It can easily be forgotten how good Arsenal were at the start of last season when RVP led the line, and looked like the best striker in the Premier League until he got injured. If he can return in that form very soon it will be a huge boost for a team that has a very busy and tough schedule ahead of them. So far there have only been glimpses of what he can do over the last month, as he seems to be brought on to play off Chamakh. I would love to see him lead the line today, and bang in a couple of left foot specials.

As Arsenal have nine days before their next match I don't expect to see too many changes from the team that played on Monday night. I would like to see Andrey Arshavin on the bench, as he has been poor for the last two games, and maybe he needs a rest. I would love to see Samir Nasri play the Cesc role, if Cesc doesn't play, but the boss persists in playing him in a wide right role.

I think Theo Walcott can surely feel a little aggrieved that he isn't getting many starts at the moment. If the criteria to keep your place is that you have to play well in every game then there are a few players that have kept their place for too long. Walcott has proved very clinical in front of goal so far this season, and he has eight goals from a handful of starts. I think there is a very strong case for him playing from the start today. When you view his fantasy football statistics he has more points per minute played than any other Arsenal player.

There is a very strong case for Johan Djourou playing as well, as he is Arsenal's tallest defender. Stoke RFC will look to pose an aerial threat, and Djourou is probably the defender that is most capable of dealing with that. Besides his strength in the air he has also played very well in recent games, and I think he deserves a place in the team. If I had to choose I think that Laurent Koscielny would be a better partner for him, as I think they would play together better as a unit.

The rest of the team shouldn't vary too much from Monday night, but I do think it would be great to see Jay Emmanuel Thomas get a chance to play today. I'm fairly sure he isn't even in the squad, but I would love to see how he performs against a team like Stoke RFC. He deserves a good 30 minute run from the bench in a game, rather than the five or six minutes he gets any time he is used. It's unfair to expect a player to make an impact from the bench in such a brief cameo.

No matter what team the boss decides to play it will have far more class than any team that Stoke RFC put out. Arsenal need to match that class with work rate and commitment from the very start, and the game will be there for the taking. In the last home game against Fulham, Arsenal started really well and got a goal in the first 15 minutes. They missed a few very good chances before Fulham equalised with their first attempt on target in the game. That took the wind out of Arsenal's sails, and it took them more than half an hour to get their game going again. Without Nasri that day, I think Arsenal probably would have lost, as he scored two exceptional goals.

I am sick of seeing the opposition score with their first attempt on target at The Emirates. If only Arsenal could be that clinical at home they would find themselves in a stronger position in the league. There can be no let up in today's game, even if Arsenal go a few goals ahead. The Arsenal performances seem to drop off after 30 minutes at home, and that lethargy often seems to continue straight after half time.

The Arsenal players surely only need to think of their team mate Aaron Ramsey, and what Stoke RFC did to him just 10 months ago if they need inspiration at any stage. In my opinion Arsenal need to give Stoke RFC the beating they deserve, and dedicate the result to Aaron Ramsey. A win will put them temporarily on top of the league yet again, and if Chelsea beat "Manure" tomorrow they will keep that position. I think I would prefer a draw in that game though, as I don't want to have to face a Chelsea team next week that have just beaten "Manure".

I'm predicting a 3-1 win for Arsenal with Nasri scoring again, and hopefully RVP getting a goal too. If Walcott manages to get a game I have a funny feeling that he will get a goal as well. I would love to think that Arsenal will keep a clean sheet, and if Szczesny is playing I think that they might just do it, but it's a bit of a rarity this season with only four clean sheets in 17 league games.

There's a possibility that Nicklas Bendtner won't play any part in today's game, as his partner is about to drop a sprog have a baby. Bendtner has a very high opinion of himself and his footballing abilities, and the fact that he is having a kid with a member of the Danish royal family, who is worth approximately £400 million is hardly going to make him think any less of himself.

Finally for today Arsenal drew Barcelona in the last 16 of the Champions League yesterday. The first leg will be played at home 60 days from now on Wednesday March 16th, with the away leg on Tuesday March 8th. It's as good as two months away, and there's a lot of football to be played between now and then. I would love to see Barcelona facing the same sort of injury crisis for those games, as Arsenal had in the quarter final games last season. If they can beat Arsenal with more than half of their preferred starting 11 missing they will definitely deserve their tag as favourites for the trophy.

Arsenal went into that game missing what I would consider to be six of their starting, but when they were well beaten that was quickly forgotten by the media. They were said to be not up to the task, and they will hopefully be looking to show that it's a task that's not beyond them this season. I'll leave those games until nearer the time, as there's possibly 14 games to play for Arsenal between now and then.

I'm sitting on my sofa as I write this with a nail falling off my big toe, bruised ribs and a very sore left elbow. That's what I get for choosing to play in goals on astro turf, but I enjoyed the game, and it always helps when you win. I'm hoping to go to the supporters club to watch the game today as it's live on TV in Ireland, and they're having their Christmas party. However, with Christmas only a week away I have a lot to do, and I may just end up watching the game at home. If that's the case I'll be on Twitter for the duration, as I look to swap opinions of Arsenal's performance with other Arsenal fans.

That's it for today.

Here's a little bit of Samir Nasri at his best.

See You Tomorrow.

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