Arsenal face a very tough trip to Stoke City on Sunday afternoon, and it will be a real test of their strength. Stoke play a brand of football that is more than unpleasant to the eye, but it works well for them, and they're entitled to play how they like within the rules. I can't say I enjoy watching them play, as I prefer to see football played on the ground instead of in the air.
On previous visits to Stoke, Arsenal have struggled from Rory Delap's long throw-ins, and I'm sure he will take every opportunity to launch the ball into the Arsenal box. His unique style apparently comes from his younger days when he was quite adept at javelin throwing. Arsenal will have to be very organized in defence to prevent Stoke taking advantage of their most unique tactic.
The Arsenal defence has had it's problems from set pieces this season, and Stoke will take every opportunity they can to put the ball in the area between Wojciech Szczesny and the Arsenal defence from their free kicks and corners. When Stoke launch the ball into their opponent's penalty area, there are so many bodies in there that it can be impossible to see what is happening. With players like Ryan Shawcross and Robert Huth in their line up, they know they have a height advantage over Arsenal, and they will look to exploit it at every opportunity.
Besides their ugly tactics Stoke also like to put the boot in at every opportunity, and they won't be afraid to do it against Arsenal either. In the corresponding fixture last season Shawcross gave a perfect example of how far they are prepared to go to stop the opposition, by shattering Aaron Ramsey's leg with what can only be described as a very bad challenge. He overhit the ball, and when Ramsey nipped in to take it, he made sure Ramsey didn't get past him.
I'm not suggesting he intentionally broke Ramsey's leg, but he made sure Ramsey wasn't getting past him when he was caught out of position. The force he put into the tackle was extreme, and the fact he had all of his weight behind him, rather than stretching for the ball was one of the main causes of the leg break. I'm sure Shawcross will be playing in this game, and the Stoke fans will do everything they can to get behind him.
In the aftermath of him breaking Ramsey's leg he was portrayed as a victim, and we were told "he wasn't that type of player". Plenty of evidence has emerged to prove that he is exactly that type of player, and if he's a victim then what is Ramsey? Shawcross left the stadium in tears that day with his mother consoling him, but Ramsey left in an ambulance with a supply of oxygen attached to him. Despite the fact that Shawcross got a three game ban, it's easy to see who came off the worst.
There are rumours abounding that a section of the Stoke fans will actually boo Ramsey in tomorrow's game. If that is the case it will only prove the theory they are a bunch of knuckle dragging neanderthals, and they will bring shame and disgrace on their club in my opinion. I really hope it doesn't happen, but unfortunately it wouldn't surprise me if it did. I long for the day Stoke retake their rightful place among the ranks of the teams in the lower leagues of English football.
Arsene Wenger had his pre game press conference yesterday, and he revealed that Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri, and Abu Diaby are all out of tomorrow's game. He also said Gael Clichy and Johan Djourou are doubts for the game, and they will undergo fitness tests before deciding if they will play or not. He revealed that Ramsey will again take Cesc's place in the team, and return to the scene of the worst day in his career so far.
Some Arsenal fans always see the worst in a situation, and they have put forward the theory Arsenal will play without Cesc for the final four games of the season to get used to playing without him next season. If Cesc were to leave Arsenal he would only join Barcelona, and I cannot see them matching Arsenal's valuation of him which means he will be going nowhere. He has been linked with Real Madrid in the media recently, but I simply cannot believe he would leave the Arsenal team he loves so much, to join any team other than Barcelona.
If the worst happened, and Cesc joined Barcelona, Arsenal would have to reinvest the money in a player or players of the very highest quality. Cesc is one of the very best players in the world, and cannot be replaced from within. There is no player to directly replace him, but the acquisition of the likes of Wesley Sneidjer would be an asset to the team in my opinion. I really hope he stays though, as I think he wants to win some trophies with this Arsenal team, and Arsenal need him to win those trophies.
He should get a very long rest this summer for the first time in four years, and I expect to see him in the Arsenal team next season, and back to his very best. He only turned 24 a few days ago, and he is still a few years away from his prime. It would not be a clever move by Arsenal to sell a player who will increase in value over the next few years, and especially to a club which refuses to recognise his true market value. I expect to see him in an Arsenal shirt next season, and it will really hurt me if I don't.
The Arsenal team tomorrow should be similar to last week with the obvious exception of Andrey Arshavin replacing the injured Nasri. If Clichy can't play it should mean Kieran Gibbs gets a chance to show what he can do in an Arsenal shirt. It's been a while since Gibbs played, and Stoke will be a very tough test for a young player who needs to get a few games under his belt. He looks to be a very good prospect, but he hasn't always excelled when the opportunities have come his way.
If Djourou does not recover in time to play the chances are he will be replaced by a man called Thomas Vermaelen. You may remember him as the player who last played for Arsenal in late August, and picked up an injury on international duty in early September. At the time he was scheduled to be out for a week or 10 days at the most, but eight months later he finally looks set to take his place in the team. I'm not sure Sebastien Squillaci will be overly happy if he's on the bench yet again, but he is fourth choice in the Arsenal central defence, and there's no two ways about it.
I expect to see Arsenal play their usual brand of attractive football, and have an awful lot of possession, but their real test will come when Stoke have the ball. Last week Arsenal fought very hard to regain possession from Man Utd, but they will have some very different problems against Stoke. Once they are in possession they will look to hit their strikers as early as possible, and put the Arsenal defenders under pressure to conceded throw ins and corners as often as possible.
I hope Arsenal can go out and impose their game on Stoke for the full 90 minutes, and give them a real lesson in football. They will need a strong referee to make sure Stoke can't stop them with their dirty tactics, and that's something which just cannot be guaranteed. I'm predicting a 2-1 for Arsenal with Robin Van Persie scoring away from home for the eighth game in a row. He has 15 goals in 16 starts in the Premier League this season, and only Carlos Tevez, and Dimitar Berbatov have scored more goals than him this season.
After Arsenal's game there will be the title decider between Man Utd and Chelsea, and I'm sure everybody will be glued to that game. It hurts, as an Arsenal fan, to see those two teams fighting for a title which Arsenal could and should have won in my opinion. The post mortem on Arsenal's season will begin once the season is over, but I hope they can win their remaining three games to get as close to the eventual winners as possible. It will be a case of what might have been when the season ends, but as long as Arsenal strengthen for next season I think they have a real chance of finally ending the current trophy drought.
That's it for today.
Here's a look at exactly how good Cesc is.
See You Tomorrow.
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