Sunday, 26 August 2012

Arsenal draw 0-0 Away To Stoke

Arsenal went into their Premier League trip away to Stoke having taken one point from their opening game at home to Sunderland. They had failed to score in that game, but there were promising signs that the team was moving forward. With so many changes in the summer months the new players needed some time to gel.

Arsene Wenger picked the same team which started against Sunderland with two exceptions. Oliver Giroud came in to play as the central striker which meant Lukas Podilski moved to the left hand side of the attacking trio. It also meant Gervinho moved to the right, and Theo Walcott was the player to lose out.

Walcott finds it difficult against defensive teams, as he needs space to operate in. His exclusion may have given him something to think about, as his contract negotiations with the club continue. There are only a few days left before the transfer window closes, and Walcott's future needs to be sorted out very soon.

The other exception was the inclusion of Vito Mannone in goal, as Wojciech Szczesny was injured. It was a big game for Mannone, and he did everything that was required of him on the day. With Lukasz Fabianski also unavailable it meant Damien Martinez was Arsenal's substitute keeper on the day.

Arsenal looked very solid at the back yet again, and the influence of Steve Bould was there for all to see. His coaching influence has only been in effect since pre season began, but already the Arsenal defence looks a lot more solid. That solidity has been helped by the rest of the team also taking more defensive responsibility.

Arsenal had a few chances during the game, but never really looked like scoring. Giroud probably came closest with a scuffed shot in the second half, and an attempted long range chip late on. The later attempt was very close, but cleared the crossbar.

Arsenal dominated the possession yet again, but they lacked a real cutting edge. There wasn't enough pace to their attacking game, and the quality of the crossing just wasn't good enough. There is an awful lot of work to be done to get the players playing together at the right tempo.

It would seem that not enough work has been done in pre season for the second season in a row. The trip to Asia seems to really upset Wenger's usual routine, and the team are only starting to gel during the opening Premier League games. When the game in Nigeria was cancelled it meant the new players only had the game against Cologne to play with their new team mates.

The defence has benefitted from the influence of Bould, but Arsenal have an awful lot to do in their attacking game. They are far too slow in the final third, and far too many passes are going astray in that area. There is another week of training before the next game, but nothing beats playing real games.

There is a lot of work to be done from set pieces too, and that can be worked on in training. Arsenal had 11 corners yesterday, but very rarely threatened to do anything from them. They also had a few free kicks from very good positions, but failed to trouble the Stoke keeper from any of them. Arsenal scored the lowest percentage of their goals in the Premier League from set pieces last season, and it's something that has to be worked on.

Arsenal got exactly what they expected from Stoke yesterday with their style of play. Besides lumping the ball forward at every opportunity they also knew exactly when to put the boot in. It would seem their instructions were to step in and take their man out on any occasion they were beaten in a dangerous position.

Robert Huth took a yellow card for doing so to Podolski early on, and the foul on Santi Cazorla late in the first half deserved a yellow card too. The Stoke player responsible saw a slightly short ball to Cazorla as an ideal opportunity to put the boot in, and Cazorla's influence on the game faded after that moment.

The reaction of the Stoke fans to the free kicks awarded against their players is a stark reminder of their mentality. They jeer opponents who are kicked and accuse their opponents of cheating for having the cheek to be on the end of quite deliberate foul play from their own players. They pride themselves on being underdogs, and justify their style of football on their underdog status.

They constantly jeered Arsenal for playing what they see as boring football. It's their management who are fooling them with their style of football in my opinion. Teams like Swansea have shown what underdogs with a small budget can do if they have the nerve to play real football.

The Premier League would be a better and safer place without Stoke, and their relegation would be a real source of joy for any right minded football fan.

Arsenal also had a good shout for a penalty in the first half when Andy Wilkinson blocked Posolski's shot with his arm. He was falling to the ground at the time and it can't have been easy for the referee to spot. When things aren't going your way you seldom get those breaks in a game.

This time last season Arsenal had only one point and they hadn't scored any goals either. It's slightly better this time with one point more, but next weeks game is a tough task for the team. Liverpool won't sit back like both Sunderland and Stoke did, but they will put the Arsenal defence under a lot more pressure too.

It's a game Arsenal can go there and take all three points from, but they will have to find their ruthless streak to do so. Liverpool played quite well against City yesterday, but they showed some frailties too. A win in that game could be just the confidence boost the team need to kick start their season.

Between now and then there's the small matter of the transfer window closing. Wenger has said he might still bring in some players, but he will only bring in special players. A couple of real quality additions to the squad would also be a huge boost for the club.

There might be a few players leaving too, and not before their time. Hopefully Nicklas Bendtner, Andrey Arshavin, Marouane Chamakh and Park Ju Young can find a new home to display their varying levels of skill. It would seem none of them have anything much left to offer Arsenal, and a new challenge would suit them and the club.

As always the last days of the window will be awash with rumours, and promise to be very interesting. Last season Arsenal went mad as the window closed and signed five players. The biggest success of those players was Mikael Arteta, but Per Merresacjer, Andre Santos and Yossi Benayoun were not bad deals either. Let's hope another gem or two like Arteta can be found this week.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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