Stoke City Preview: Arsenal Must Rule Britannia
Arsenal return to the scene of the crime this afternoon, DCI Arsene Wenger must use the evidence of the recent FA Cup defeat to provide the answers that will bring about a victory for the first time in the Britannia Stadium. The match may not be as intense, the outcome no less important to the eventual winners as Arsenal will know whether or not it is an opportunity to close the gap on Chelsea, by the time kick-off comes.
Wenger has key players missing but the line-up this afternoon will be stronger than that which took the pitch in January’s encounter. Diaby, Gallas and Arshavin are missing, failing to recover from their injuries, set to return next weekend. Stoke had a tough FA Cup replay in midweek but any fatigue will be compensated by the victory, comfortable as it unfolded. They will hold few surprises for Arsenal, their style of play does not alter, it is up to the visitors to counter this.
A performance which replicates the win at The Reebok ought to do the trick. Battling with their opponents, imposing the passing game on them and retaining possession. Stoke are not one-dimensional, merely capitalising on their strengths. If they changed their style to that of Arsenal, they would be buried before half-time.
The Arsenal back four will be crucial this afternoon. They must cut the width that allows Stoke to put crosses into the box and hold a steady line if it does happen, not get dragged out of position, permitting space for wide players or central strikers. Almunia has to ‘own’ his penalty area, be assertive in coming for crosses or set plays, Vermaelen and Campbell must attack the ball rather than waiting for it, hesitancy which led to Stoke opening the scoring in the FA Cup.
Equally, the midfield must be aware of the challenges for winning the ball if it is not cleared in the first instance. As much as Stoke capitalise on Delap’s throws, their goals come in equal measure from a failure of defenders to clear the ball properly.
For that reason, I think it will be a surprise if Eboue does not start this afternoon ahead of Walcott. Theo’s saving grace for this fixture will be as a pacey outlet to stretch Stoke on the counter-attack although Eboue is capable of providing that. If the Ivorian plays, it allows Cesc more attacking licence; Denilson, Song and Eboue provides a solid cover for the back four but they must concentrate in this aspect, tracking back diligently, a folly of youth on the Brazilian’s part at times.
That side of their game should not overshadow how they contribute to the side in attack, Denilson’s passing is good, like Song happy to play a simple ball to retain possession rather than cheaply ceding it. Perhaps he should score more goals; his shooting from range is better than his goal return suggests, Everton will attest to that. No doubt this will bring forth a spew of complaints that Denilson is not good enough for Arsenal; get over it, he is.
The line-up I suspect will start is:
Almunia; Sagna, Campbell, Vermaelen, Clichy; Eboue, Song, Denilson; Fabregas, Nasri, Bendtner
With a bench of:
Fabianski, Silvestre, Ramsey, Rosicky, Eduardo, Walcott, Traore
The club’s half-year results were released against a backdrop of Portsmouth’s administration and UEFA reporting on debt levels in football. There were some stunningly ill-informed comments about the state of the finances, concepts which were dubious in their rationale and focussing too much on the fact that £100m was in the bank on 30th November, leading to more criticism – some of which was just for the sake of it – over the fact that Wenger did not spend half of that on players in the January transfer window.
Uefa makes no bones about the fact that clubs are going to be heavily scrutinised over their finances and licences refused, meaning participation in the Champions and Europa Leagues will not happen. Arsenal has to ensure the longevity of the club and is following a path that ensures that whilst competing for trophies.
Few questioning the debt pay down are probably even aware that Abramovich recently enhanced Chelsea’s balance sheet by converting some of his debt to equity, a sign that clubs are acutely aware of the intent of Uefa to enforce their rules for once. If they were aware of it and still felt the need to make crass observations, shame on them for their irresponsibility and thank God they have no say in running Arsenal.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.
Posted on February 27, 2010, in Arsenal, Champions League, FA Cup, Football, Premier League, Premiership, Soccer and tagged Arsenal, Football, Football Finances, Premier League, Soccer, Stoke City, UEFA. Bookmark the permalink. 548 Comments.