Stoke City Preview: Kill The Game Early For A Top Spot

Thirty seven years ago on this day, Arsenal’s first European campaign came unstuck with defeat in Liege condemning the club to a dismal Christmas in 1963. A number of people – a sizeable number – believe that this year will be no different, a European exit confirmed on paper with a re-run of last season’s quarter-final to take place in 2011.

No doubt about it, this was the toughest draw that Arsenal could have been given at present. Whether it is as Spring beckons remains to be seen; a lot of football is to be played between now and the first leg. Either side could crumble in form and the fickle hand of injury fate may yet intervene to burden the respective managers. Between now and the outcome of that tie, the Premier League, FA Cup and Carling Cup will all assume more importance.

Attention turns to this afternoon and the opportunity to return to the summit of the Premier League presents itself. Stoke City arrive  at The Emirates not having won at Arsenal since 1981. Their five subsequent visits have seen them concede sixteen goals and score just two. If the nadir of the 1997/98 season happened with defeat on 13th December 1997, the same can be said of the home defeat to Newcastle in 2001 on today’s date. That too sparked an unbeaten run that ended with the title being delivered. Perhaps this time around we could take today as being the start of the run, sort of foregoing the formalities if you like.

Of course, the fixture is overshadowed by last season’s encounter at The Britannia Stadium, fires fuelled by the news this week that Shawcross is to be given extra protection by minders, media fires unnecessarily fanned by the club especially as Arsene has sought to defuse the situation beforehand. Still, it merely serves to reinforce opinions about them in the same way that the Stoke fan shown on national television this week repeatedly kicking his own head does.

On the back of the defeat at Old Trafford, the Arsenal side needs to be refreshed. Rarely would I suggest change just for the sake of it but today is one of those occasions. With a ‘traditionally English’ outlook from their manager, Stoke’s approach will need rigorous attention from the defence. Djourou is better in the air than Squillaci and Koscielny, which ought to be enough of a reason for his inclusion. Whilst that may be harsh on the one who is dropped to make way for him, some of the clearances on Monday were woeful. Not that the central pairing were the only culprits in that respect but distribution needs to be excellent for Arsenal’s style of play to be completely effective.

Wenger admitted in his press conference that a win today can only be forged on the back of a solid defensive display. That applies throughout the team with forwards defending from the front, pressing their opponents quickly to force them to surrender possession cheaply. Equally, the midfield need to reassert themselves defensively, Alex Song working in tandem with his partners to ensure that when two push forward one stays back. All of these simple matters failed to materialise at Old Trafford. A lack of concentration, application, whatever you want to call it but they need to have been resolved before kick-off.

There is a nervousness surrounding Arsenal’s home league performances this Autumn; it gives hope to visiting teams, hope that can be crushed with one convincing victory. That may not be reflected in the scoreline as Stoke have yet to concede more than two goals in any one Premier League game this season. It is not the sign of an impregnable defence, simply one that makes opponents work for their goals rather than cheaply shipping them in matches.

With that in mind, Arsene will want a passing midfield in full flow. I would make just one change from Monday, bringing back Cesc to start, the hope being that an unassailable lead could be established by the hour whereupon he can be replaced. His inclusion at Rosicky’s expense would be no surprise. Equally, dropping Arshavin, switching Nasri to the left and bring Walcott on the right would present an opportunity to stretch the play to the wings more crisply than has happened recently.

Caution should be applied to that theory though. Too often in recent weeks, gaps have appeared between the midfield and defence where attack has been too prevalent on the minds of the players. It is all well and good pressing forward but minding the gap should not be the sole preserve of rail passengers.

Wenger is limited with other changes, numerically and keeping the team understandings going. Bendtner is unlikely to be involved with a child expected soon – perhaps already arrived by the time you read this – whilst goalkeeping duties might be continued by Szczesny with Fabianski’s hip injury not fully recovered. Crosses were dealt with comfortably by the younger Pole on Monday and a number of those can be expected from the flanks today, even before Delap gets a throw in opportunity.

The line-up I would like Wenger to go with is:

Szczesny; Sagna, Djourou, Koscielny, Clichy; Fabregas, Song, Wilshere; Walcott, Chamakh, Nasri

van Persie might start instead of Walcott which would make the formation a more notional 4-1-3-2 but I suspect Arsene is still looking to bring him back in stages. The same could be said of Fabregas whose exclusion might bring about a reprieve for Arshavin but that seems unlikely. Had victory been achieved at Old Trafford, there would have been a strong case for an unchanged side. It was not and the lack of drive suggests changes are needed.

Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.

Posted on December 18, 2010, in Arsenal, Football, Premier League, Premiership, Soccer and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 94 Comments.

  1. If I was a feature writer for the Mail I would be saying that we will learn a lot about this Arsenal side this afternoon.

    As I’m not I will just say ‘Up the Arsenal!’

  2. I still believe that overall, Arsenal have a stronger squad than ManU & Chelski and can triumph if they can get it right mentally. I think the FA Cup will be strong focus for Arsenal this year.

  3. Or if you was AIC bob.

  4. On the cl front i think it is a great draw for us. We are up against it and no f*cker is putting us down for a win not even the Arsenal players. so they can just go out there and enjoy themselves and if/when we lose we can concentrate on ze league.

  5. I agree with usamaa!

  6. Hope we dont choke against stoke or we croke.

  7. To choke against stoke would be a joke and our league chances would go broke !

  8. Consols – reminiscing on your Fleet Street days? Daily Mail? I shudder to think you would even think it….

    btw – are you watching the cricket or hiding behind the sofa like some I know? After Englands woeful batting, 391 for a win seems a project in itself. At least it keeps the next 2 tests alive. I think England will shade it though.

    Just some thoughts on this supposed ‘mental’ block that this team is alleged to have. My sense is that if the team go on and win the league cup, have a strong show in the FA cup which I believe we’re also capable of winning, and sho some consistency in the league, then I think its not unreasonable that the supposed mental issues will take the back banner. Sometimes, you try and break down a wall, and sometimes, it’s easier to climb over or navigate around it.

    What isn’t in question is that our under-dog status in the game against Barcelona will work to our advantage. No one will see us coming. For now, there’s a small matter of Stoke City and their minders.

    It will be a good game for Szczesny to show how he can deal with anti-football. On Monday, he never seemed in danger of being flustered by anything thrown at him, and funny that whenever we conceded a set piece or corner, I was very relaxed about balls being thrown into our box with Tech 9 around.

  9. Bendtner had a baby-boy this thursday. He ougth to be able to play then, the kid sleeps most of the time anyway. We need his strength against the stribed cloggers.

  10. Well Darius, I told Ateeb a few months ago that when you have the Aussies down, you put your foot on their neck and keep kicking them in the head until they don’t move any more. Then you go on kicking them until the light goes and tread on thier goolies as you walk off the pitch.

    It just seems that they don’t teach these England boys proper cricket anymore. As for Pieterson, don’t even do there!

  11. The game is winnable, and so is the league but will Arsenal do it. I have seen enough to suggest that this team is very capable. I have also seen enough to to suggest that no one can guess what kind of performance Arsenal will serve on the day. It is high time that everyone, including the players and the manager, treat every fixture as a do or die, and stop choking unnecessarily. The formation should be tinkered with to allow both Van Persie and Chamakh to play together up front.

  12. Talking of babies, I blame all those ‘new men’ in the England set up who let Anderson fly back to England and back in the week before a crucial test just so he could pass out at the birth of his daughter. Bloody stupid, don’t they know that the Ashes is important?

    Oh, don’t let consolslel know that I posted this.

  13. Woolwichstilhere

    We gun down stoke and choke their troute wit a rope so they croked

  14. Arsenal have the talent and the means to do win anything they put their minds to. In my mind, they have only ever been beaten by injury (the loss of key players) or by their own efforts. I give credit to the teams that have beaten us and we have been fairly beaten this season but if collectively we have the right attitude on a more consistant basis it would matter not what others would do. With hope, anything is possible. Doomers and cynics just do not understand this. The romance of the game is the beauty we gain from hope and the feeling that some thing is good around the corner. For me Almunia’s performance against Barca last year makes him a legend. He really pulled the rabbit out of the bag with that performance. It was insanely good to watch one man stand firm against the might of Barca whilst all other lost their heads. A triumph of hope and effort.

    My greatest hope is that the Arsenal players find their mojo this christmas. 🙂

  15. Hopefully we will see a response from the boys today. 3-1 to us.

    I for one, am glad we got Barca. To be the best, you have to beat the best. To win would be a great shot in the arm at a crucial stage of the season for the team.

  16. Woolwichstilhere

    Eeeh! Thats the problem right? Jst like wenger, u see things go negative and pretend they r positive. Oh please we all care abt the club

  17. Consols….you did notice that I didn’t mention Pieterson, huh?!

    What England did after the first day’s play was nothing short of criminal negligence. It’s not even funny. Clearly, they’re not taught how to properly step on the opponents neck and kick their teeth when they’re down.

    The Johnson swing has unnecessarily become legendary for no good reason. The guy couldn’t even buy a wicket a week ago, and he hits England for 6 in 37 – scandalous….LOL!

    What I don’t get is the fact that the birth of any child is not a surprise. If it’s that important to the guy, he should have forfeited his place in the squad until the sprog was sprung – instead of doing a 36 hour round trip in a week, passing out anyway, and then hoping he would be match fit.

  18. Ponting was onto that new man stuff like a flash. He was dead and gone and we threw him a lifeline, dragged him out of the water, performed CPR and bought him a new kit. Just when you think we have got tough we show that lessons continue not to be learnt. No question that the impetus is with the Aussies now and a few days ago they were finished.

    Bloody criminal.

    ‘… and no, I’m not talking about Arsenal.

  19. ..oh, and I’ve just remembered, Anderson is an Arsenal fan.

  20. Woolwichstilhere

    Good, lets talk arsenal

  21. WSH – nobody stopped anyone from talking about Arsenal. Folks can chew gum and walk at the same time up in here.

    @Consols – Cook and Swan are the key – they need to pull their finger out. I think this test is lost, but the next test is crucial. Lazarus Ponting is desperate not to be the first Aussie captain to be tonked time and time again. Cook has been the most consistent player and he is the key.

  22. Bugger. Just had to abandon all hope of getting to London. Village life is fucking brillant.

  23. Let Arsenal lead by three goals near the end. In the last 10 minutes, rain or shine, let Arsenal players take all their throw-ins in the Delap way, coming from the other side of the field, tenderly caressing the ball with a towel… wasting all that time to show the obvious of what is so wrong.

  24. That’s a shame Yogi, the snow is falling in Edmonton, but I expect to get there as long as the game is not called off in the next hour.

  25. Time Stoke by more than one goal and Arsenal to set the trend. COYG!

  26. Why don’t you two set up a cricket blog together? Call it, A Vigorous Left Hand.

  27. Nothing less than a four goal margin win will do for me today. We need to start thrashing opponents.

    Barcelona. The perfect tie, the most ridiculous reactions by fans and pundits alike. We didn’t have our best players last season. I hope justice is served this time aorund, and they play without Xavi, Iniesta, and Messi. Then we’ll talk about the difference between the teams.

    I think our team is growing tremendously. The reaction to the loss at OT, shows that people believe that this team is good enough to take down the big teams, and the disappointment and anger that followed the defeat reinstate that point. Secondly, our superiority was even acknowledged by SAF, as he played his team 10 men behind the ball, on a pitch tampered to hamper fast flowing football. Excellent. The reactions however absurd are a sign of a growing belief in our squad.

    AIC,

    FUCK OFF.

  28. Passenal – do you think the game will still go ahead? I have not seen snow as heavy as this in a long time.

  29. Apparently the police and club are meeting now to decide if it goes ahead.

  30. ‘Why don’t you two set up a cricket blog together? Call it, A Vigorous Left Hand’.

    That tickled me 🙂

  31. Thank God he suggested the left hand – the right might get all sorts of unwanted attention…

  32. I would be very surprised if the game goes ahead. I’m in North London I saw people falling over everywhere yesterday, let alone today. It’s just too dangerous. Or maybe i’m just a doomer.

  33. Match has been postponed.

  34. I don’t think Pz had tickling in mind mattyboy.

    So, you’ve joined us ‘sticks’ dwellers have you Yogi. I don’t expect to drive anywhere for the next week at the moment.

    Passenal, thanks for that link yesterday. I also enjoyed the post written by a purported defender! Hilarious.

    They were coasting Darius. Thought they were winners already.

  35. Bollocks 😦

  36. Thanks for the info YW, I guess you are somewhat relieved. Where did you find out?

  37. Tha game is off.

  38. Thanks for that Yogi – I’ve been checking the official website before I got ready to go out and it has not been updated yet.

  39. It’s official. The game this afternoon has been cancelled – the snow has overwhelmed the grounds and the access roads.

    Sorry Passenal and YW.

  40. They tell me inevitability is an absolute, not a comparative. I’m not so sure. How do you rank the inevitability of Arsenal being drawn against Barca against the inevitability of ManU being given a penalty on Monday night?

  41. “They were coasting Darius. Thought they were winners already.”

    Now where have I heard that before?

  42. Twitter but it has just been announced on football focus

  43. Mattyboy @ 12.03 pm I was expecting heavy snow based on yesterday’s weather reports, but I checked the BBC weather online this morning and it was suggesting ‘light’ snow. This stuff that is currently falling and settling is definitely not light!

    Maybe the enforced mid season break will allow the team a rest and time for the walking wounded to make further recovery for the battles ahead. Of course the bad side is the inevitable fixture pile up to come because the powers that be will not consider extending the end of the season.

  44. Consols – the village life surely has its advantages, but being cut off from civilization is not one of them. My only regret is that I can’t get to the pub – and the taxis are only doing jobs where life is under threat. One offered to take me too and from the pub for 3 times the price – and I told him he can stick his taxi where the sun don’t shine.

  45. Passenal – that coasting thing gives me nightmares…LOL!

    Maybe a 2 week enforced break is not a bad thing at all, though I wouldn’t be surprised if they tried the game for midweek.

  46. Bob

    Still only 35 miles from The Emirates so still close to civilisation.

    Can’t really grumble about the postponement, Arsenal have only won 5 fixtures played on 18th December, losing nine and drawing one. We haven’t won a game on this date since 1976, losing four since then and drawing the other. A number of those have been at home to ‘lesser’ sides as well.

    YW

  47. I can’t believe the postponement has still not been announced on the official website! That is shoddy.

  48. But entirely in keeping with the slovenliness in announcing news normally.

  49. The fixture pile up, If the ‘bad’ weather continues, will give us an opportunity to show off the full potential of our squad. None of the other teams around us has the same strength in depth in my opinion.

  50. Yogi, I had a little fear about this game going ahead so close to the CL draw. I don’t remember off the top of my head who we played after the announcement last season, but I seem to recall a somewhat disappointing and distracted performance, which I put down to players minds being elsewhere. A few more days to re-group and re-focus might be a blessing in disguise. I am a great believer in everything happening for a reason, even though that reason may not always be immediately apparent!

  51. I have been foolishly checking the Premier League website for postponement news.

    Just goes to show that the ACLF community are always one step ahead, even in tricky conditions such as these.

  52. On the website announcement thing, I’ve always got the sense that though a decision is made to make an announcement, it’s a project in itself finding someone in the office as and when they need one to get the story up. Highbury house is probably on a very ‘go slow’.

    Richard Clarke – the edotor on the footballing side is quite clued up and quick in putting up match reports and stuff, but I’m not sure he’s even on duty yet.

    But the team at the Emirates are obviously quickly in notifying the folks in the press lounge.

  53. They’ve done it finally! I think they wait to find the perfect photo and compose the perfect words to go with it rather than just put out a bald statement, which they can embellish later with an update if they wish!

  54. Game off – WENGER OUT !

  55. adrian durham- what a cantakerous nazi SOB. Talk sport has been laughing at us for days now. all these fucking loosers think they know better. I hope we can shove it down all their throats come end of the season.

  56. Goonerwife – TalkSpite is the most xenophobic, racist and vile radio station that is allowed to operate with the impunity of a banana republic with no sanctions from broadcasting regulators.

    Stop giving yourself high blood pressure for the sake of the scum.

    If Arsenal were as bad as they say we are, why are both Chelsea and Manure desperate to emulate our ‘successful’ and sustainable youth development program. Why is Abramovich following the advice of his good friend Guus Hiddink who told him in no uncertain terms that the only way forward is to follow the Arsenal way – and whether they want to accept it or not, Abramovich is doing that by actions – they say actions speak louder than words.

    The way to look at it is that if they hate – and they really do hate Arsenal – us this much, we must be doing something right.

  57. Durham is a knob. For some reason Talk Shite are obsessed with Arsenal. Every week there is some sensationalist condemnation of Wenger for some reason or the other. Last week Wenger had to go after the 1-0 defeat. In October we were condemned by Durham for applauding Eduardo. In his October rant he said Eduardo was “Average at best” – er, no he fucking wasn’t you ginger tosser – he was one of the deadliest strikers in europe, until he was scythed down by some birmingham f*ck.

    Then there was the call to boo Arshavin after his appearance for the russia world cup bid. This was along with the call to not let him back in. So if he is not here, how can he be booed ?

    The guy is a complete moron. He started out a celebrity hack and he knows fuck all about football. How any ex footballer pundit can talk to him is beyond me.

  58. They have to be contraversial to get listeners and callers. Don’t give them the satisfation. It’s a comic on the radio. I can find morons in my local pub but I don’t talk or listen to them.

  59. I like the sound of Poliziano’s cricket blog.

  60. shame the game was off, was looking forward to it. just had to clean my sky dish with a mop to get the sunderland game!

    sorry for going back to the cricket again, but does anyone think there is a coincidence between the change in performance and the arrival of the wives and families? I must say that up to now england looked a lot more focussed and up for it than usual..think it was alastair cook who said in the metro that the dynamic has changed for the better with the arrival of the families..i couldnt help but think at the time that it might change it for the worse

  61. I just had a great idea for an ‘A cultured left foot’ pirate radio station. The name is neutral so it doesn’t have to be biased towards Arsenal (well not obiously so :)) YW can do the breakfast show, Darius is on drivetime and CB can do late night, Alex love songs. All the regular ACLFooters can fill in, in between.

  62. Mattyboy – in case you didn’t know, ACLF already has it’s very own radio show host – none other than Steww – and I think his show goes on Wednesday nights in Somerset.

    But now that you mention it, there’s absolutely no reason why an Arsenal fan run radio station accessible online to cover pre and post match punditry shouldn’t be a viable proposition. 2 hours before and after the game, and during the game, the feed can be handed to ATVO (there’s no point in reinventing the wheel).

    I think if properly done, it will give us less pressure from having to listen to the Sly Sports and TalkShite ckin of punditry. I’m sure folks like Ray Parlour and Nigel Winterburn would be happy to join the show for some punditry.

    It’s one way fans can take back the air waves from these nutters.

  63. Maybe they should reduce the size of the league to 18 teams and introduce a winter break!

  64. And of course, the internet allows you to have a radio station that doesn’t need to be pirate. I’m sure ACLF software developers can agree to dpu together I-phone and android aps so that folks can listen in on their mobile phones.

    What say you the powers to be at ACLF Towers – how about ACLF radio?

  65. LOL Kenyan Gunner my friend.

    You’re asking turkeys to vote for Christmas.

  66. We have signed an 18 year old japanese forward – Ryo Miyaichi, who joins in January.

    http://www.arsenal.com/news/news-archive/ryo-miyaichi-to-join-arsenal-in-january

  67. Darius – I think thats a great idea – I would definately tune in for 2 hours pre match build up and 2 hours post match analysis on my way to and from the game. It’s a shame I currently have to rely on such a sub-standard quality of broadcasting. Most of the time I turn off as soon as the results are announced.

    Steww is an obvious candidate for a presenter given his experience. YW obviously works double hard to keep this blog going, and a great job he does too. Not sure he would have the time or resources to make it happen,but it would be fantasic if it did.

    ‘What say you the powers to be at ACLF Towers – how about ACLF radio’?

  68. Spare a thought for the away fans, who were probably already on their way to Ashburton Grove when news broke that the game was to be postponed. And then realisation hit that they would have to go back home to Stoke.

  69. Late night spot mattyboy? Well, I suppose, as long as I can be in bed by 10.

  70. Well for some reason CB, I imagine you to have the sort of dulcet tones one would find particularly soothing after a nerve wracking, but ultimately enjoyable day over at the Grove. 10 is late for me too these days.

  71. I thought it was only me. Not so long ago, I could do all nighters hanging out partying and socializing until the cows start coming back home.

    Now – I struggle to get past 10 or 11 pm down the local pub. My much younger colleagues have tried on occasion to keep me out longer, but I think they’re getting used to the idea that my wife stopped issueing exit visas as I’m normally in bed by bed time these days.

  72. Matty

    Me? Do a breakfast radio show? What time do you eat breakfast? I find it hard enough to get a post up before noon, let alone getting out of bed to talk shite on the radio – wait, what a great name for a station…

    YW

  73. I see Lee Mason has explained why he called the match off. Seems to be it of a long interview just to say, “It’s snowing”.

  74. YW – lol, by the sounds of it I eat breakfast at the same time as you then, just before lunch!

  75. I didn’t know steww did a radio programme. Can you access it on the net?

  76. The game being off means that Cesc gets a few more days to rest the hamstring.

    Interesting tid bit for the doomers. MU hasn’t won at Chelsea since Van Nistelrooy was in their team.

  77. And they say Wenger doesn’t sign any one. The good news is that Ryo Miyaichi is joining our club in January. Great isn’t it?

    And no, I don’t know who he is either but…

  78. what baffles me is Ryo Miyachi is eligible for a permit but Wellington Silva isn’t? These home office idiots just don’t know how to do their jobs. Both players are class acts by the way.

  79. Yeah doesn’t quite make any sense except to say that Ryo is an exceptional talent in Japan and Wellington is one of thousands of exceptional talents coming out of Brazil.

  80. If you want to start an online radio station (for free) try:

    http://listen2myradio.com/index.php

  81. California Gooner

    Does anyone have an idea of when the game might be played? Would it be this week (Tuesday?), or will they push it back until March?

  82. knowing how well they FA despise us i wouldn’t be surprised if this game was scheduled in-between the CL tie.

  83. For those of you who don’t know who Ryo Miyaichi is, this is actually really exciting news. He trialled with us a while back an looked AWESOME. He’s creative, and a fantastic dribbler. He’s fairly lightweight right now, but he’s a tall lad so has every chance to develop a more imposing physique over the next few years. There are some optimistic comparisons being made to Cristiano Ronaldo and, although you never know how a player will develop, there are certainly similarities both in terms of build and style of play.

    And for those of us who actually understand how football works and don’t moan the moment there is a hint that Arsenal is being run ‘like a business’ [god I really hate it then multi-million pound operations are run in a sensible and business-like manner, don’t you?] there is also the fact that he is very likely to be a superstar in the far east before long, with all the benefits that that will bring to AFC…

  84. Delia---Block 112

    Just got in after my abortive trip to Kings X . The Gooners on the trains were in great form, so the long and what can be a tedious trip home (WBA, N’Castle & Spuds games particularly ) , was bearable ,even though the whole episode took 5 hours ! Incidently, there is not a drop of snow outside my house in Norfolk.

  85. Unlike Ipswich then Delia!

  86. Delia---Block 112

    Consol
    Sven looks really jolly on the bench, must be mad playing and watching in those conditions. Just tuned into the Barca derby game, giving them the once over, looks like a fiesty encounter.

  87. According to YoungGuns we signed Ryo Miyachi months ago.

  88. YW
    Seeing your Clint Eastwood avatar reminded me that in the film, ‘2 Mules for Sister Sara’, there was a certain Mr. Manolo Fabregas on the cast. ( I know that because I only watched it recently). Seen the film loads of times but we never had our own Fabregas then so it never registered.

    What a boring comment that was.

  89. From the Guardian ” And in St James’ Park Ethan Leder was building a snowman with his son, Matt. They were making the best of a bad job, having flown in from Washington DC to see Arsenal play, only for the game to be postponed. Matt, the fan, was wrapped up in his Gunners scarf, his first trip to London a disappointment.”

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