Match day two for The Arsenal and it’s that usually most feared of trips to Stoke that we have to intend with later on this evening. I think I speak for everyone when I say that this is one of those games that you just don’t look forward to.
I think it’s because there’s always a bit of a media narrative around this game and it obviously has been ingrained in to the national football psyche for some time. We all know what it is: Arsenal don’t ‘like it up em’, ‘they’re all pretty football and no grit about them’, ‘the English game is about strength and Arsenal don’t like it’, as well as that old cliche of ‘can they do it on a wet night in Stoke.
Well as far as I’m aware it’ll be a balmy and slightly cloudy evening tonight, so hopefully that’s one element that can be shuffled in to the corner and told to face the wall. The rest is all about the teams and as Mark Hughes has alluded to already once or twice since he’s become manager, Stoke aren’t a team that play the ‘gritty up and at em’ style of play and haven’t done so for a while. They play football these days and the time of people being Shawcrossed down by the corner flag is long gone, even if the man himself still makes the Stoke line up these days.
But that doesn’t mean that Stoke aren’t always weirdly up for it. They will be today. They love scoring points off Wenger and Arsenal and today will be no different, especially as everyone seems to be writing them off this season as possible relegation candidates, which I don’t really get. They’ve got an established Premier League team, they’ve signed a decent looking player in the shape of Jese, they have creative flair in the shape of Shaquiri and Bojan, who will sit just behind Berahino and the striker will surely want to open his account and show the side of him that used to be present in his early West Brom days. Stoke have started the season playing the familiar and now in fashion 3-4-3 with wing backs and it’ll be Zouma, Shawcross and Cameron who will most likely start. That is a powerful front line and so I suspect we’ll see Lacazette again just because of the added movement he provides. Gird scored last season at Stoke and by all accounts had a good game, but I’d be surprised if Arsene chooses a less mobile forward against that back three. What it does mean though is that the support behind our new signing needs to be fluid and move the ball quickly. I expect that when we have the ball the Stoke back there will compact itself on to the edge of the box and look to make the game about small, confined spaces, with Diouf and Pieters tucking in, but their aim will be to use the pace of Diouf to test our left hand side of defence.
The threat from Stoke I think will come from letting us having the ball and then looking to spread wide in between our lines to break up our blocks of defenders and midfielders. That’s why the fullbacks having a good game is so important to us tonight. For that I’d be playing Bellerin and Kolasinac. I would normally choose the Ox given his better form, but Bellerin is quicker and you can imagine Stoe breaking quickly and that defensive cover being needed, whilst on the other flank Kolasinac will prove to be our strength that will be in place to effectively ‘Stoke up’ their pace and tricky right wing back. I’d love to see a bit of treatment on their players for a change. That would be sweet. Providing we’re winning, of course.
In these sort of games though, when you’re playing with these formations against each other, wing backs are key, but there will be a midfield battle to be won too and I really hope we have Ramsey available today, because seeing him marauding might be a delightful tonic today. Stoke’s midfielders are likely to be Fletcher and Joe Allen and Fletcher will be the graft with Allen the passing craft. Chaka will be our craft so Ramsey will need to be the graft, but his ability getting forward can hopefully also cause the Stoke midfield to sit deeper. If that’s the case – and i really hope it is – their counter-attack will be limited to a couple of pacey bodies and with Big Per and Mustafi back, you’d hope that we have enough in the back three to cover.
I’ve seen plenty of people talking up Arsenal and downplaying Stoke today, not really factoring in our record at that ground, so I’m not expecting anything like as easy as we had it last season. Stoke will want to respond, their fans will add a partisan nature to proceedings and their players will be a lot more blood and guts than last season when we played them and they were just counting down the days until the end of the season, whilst sitting comfortably in mid table. This is a fresh new season and so they have more of an incentive to go at us, so if by chance we do win this game, I have a feeling it will only be by one goal.
Hopefully I’m wrong though. I’d like a nice easy 4-0 win with two early goals and one just after halftime, before an icing on the cake style goal in the last five minutes, but I can’t see it. For one thing I’m not sure we remember what a clean sheet looks like and after last weekend teams will know that we do concede silly goal sometimes. Let’s just hope we outscore our opponents in today’s encounter.
Up the Arsenal.