Saturday, 2 February 2013

Arsenal 1-0 Stoke: Beauty Slays The Beast

Arsenal played at home to Stoke yesterday afternoon in a Premier League game they simply had to win. It's never an easy task to get a result against a Stoke team that will do anything to stop the opposition. I expected them to be at their most negative and they certainly didn't disappoint.

Arsene Wenger made five changes from the team which came back to draw 2-2 at home to Liverpool on Wednesday night. Both Kieran Gibbs and Thomas Vermaelen missed out through injury with Aaron Ramsey, Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski all dropping to the bench. It meant Abou Diaby and Mikael Arteta came into the team in midfield and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain played in the wide left role.

Laurent Koscielny filled in for Vermaelen and in the big shock for me new boy Nacho Monreal played at left back. He was a very late purchase on transfer deadline day after the club learned Gibbs would be out for up to six weeks. His inclusion in the team can leave Santos with no doubt about his position in the pecking order at left back.

When Gibbs returns from injury the club will have three international left backs and somebody will have to make way. I would be surprised to see Santos at the club next season as he is surely going to be the one to miss out. Hopefully the club will be able to sell if he is surplus to requirements and he won't be left to rot like a few others.

Monreal had a solid debut and Gibbs is going to have a real battle on his hands when he returns. With Gibbs injury record Monreal has the chance to make that position all his own. It might be a bit harsh on Gibbs but the squad is certainly stronger with Monreal in it.

Stoke certainly didn't disappoint me in terms of how I thought they would play as they set their stall out to stop Arsenal by fair means or foul. They were helped by a referee who didn't seem willing to give free kicks to Arsenal players until they were properly kicked. Thankfully Andy Wilkinson kicked Theo Walcott hard enough for the referee to give the free kick that Arsenal scored from.

The goal was late in coming and I was very worried that it wouldn't come at all. The best chances Arsenal had before the goal were in the first half but a combination of poor finishing and good goalkeeping kept them out. Despite Stoke's huge defence Arsenal came closest to scoring from corners and crosses mainly.

Chamberlain really should have scored from four yards out but he hit it straight at Asmir Begovic in that first half. Begovic also made a good save from Chamberlain when he was clean through on the left. Olivier Giroud headed a corner down for nobody in particular when he really should have gone for goal and Koscielny had a good header well saved by Begovic.

It didn't look like a goal was ever going to come until substitute Podolski saw his free kick deflected past Begovic. There was more than s touch of luck about the goal but Arsenal deserved the luck on the day. It would have been s real shame if a team with no intention of actually playing football had got a point from the game.

Arsenal's goal celebrations were short lived at first when the linesman flagged for offside, but after consultation with the referee the goal was correctly allowed. With only 10 minutes left to play Stoke were unable to register any sort of response and Arsenal saw the game out with relative ease. It was far from a classic game but the three points were the important thing on the day.

The team started the new year badly but they have come back with seven points from their last three games and progressed to the last 16 of the FA Cup. Those three games were all at home and nine points would have been a better return, but the seven they took will have to do. Fourth place is still within their reach and other results went their way yesterday with Everton drawing and Chelsea losing.

Unfortunately the players will now go off with their respective countries for a round of pointless international friendlies. Most of them will probably play on Wednesday night and arrive back at the club only 48 hours before they are due to play away to Sunderland. It's not an easy task to play away from home so soon after international games but hopefully the players will be up to the task.

Things certainly look a lot better than they did a few weeks ago, but I am still concerned with huge lack of depth in attack. There are not enough real options in the attacking trio that Arsenal play and Chamberlain is the only player who can come in besides the first choice three of Podolski, Giroud and Walcott. An injury to Giroud would be a real blow to the team and he had to be given the chance to rest occasionally too. I don't see Walcott as a genuine alternative to him and Walcott is playing so well on his wide right role that he has to continue playing there.

It's a big risk for the team to try to compete on three different fronts with such limited options. Hopefully everyone can stay fit and the team can build on their recent results to put a real run of form together.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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