Stoke Preview: Arsène On Injuries & Tackling But Let’s Just Win
Stoke City arrive at The Emirates on a high with their throwback style of football taking them to the top of their Europa League group. If that were not enough in this curio of a season, an Arsenal win will take them above Stoke in the table, to within striking distance of a top four that was deemed to be entirely out of their reach by those who are more knowledgable than I.
The usual guffaws can be had if we want about Stoke’s style of play, its limitations but essentially, it works for them and is not going to be changed under the managerial guidance of Tony Pulis. With the paucity of some of the teams in this season’s Premier League, Stoke are unlikely to be threatened by the spectre of relegation. Unfortunately.
There is a good reason why Stoke are hated at Arsenal ground that is often retrodden in the build-up to this fixture. Arsène Wenger did not so much defend the 1950s team but lamented the lost art of tackling, something that his team have been on the wrong end of in the past with devastating impact,
Sometimes you feel now that tackling is punished too much. Tackling is a technique, and if it is done well, with the desire not to hurt but to win the ball, it is a fantastic technique. I am not sure if the referees always make the difference between what is the right intention behind the tackle.
Wenger drew parallels with Campbell and Adams, Keown & co, all capable of darker arts but like their peers, able to tackle properly. Fifa’s stance is gradually sanitising football into a non-contact sport, officials are not allowing legitimate tackles on as regular a basis that they miss foul play. The point he made regarding Diaby is not entirely evidenced by Eduardo, but certainly stands in the English game with ankle injuries finishing many a promising career.
The Frenchman is close to full fitness but in his head will be the bigger battle. Every season we hope that he will deliver on his promise; it has yet to materialise although gradually layers are peeled back and some more of the psychological battle he faces are laid bare. What punishment Dan Smith has wrought in his wrecklessness.
On Friday Wenger alluded to resting Robin van Persie, its Sunday, he must play. At this moment, Arsenal are in a run of five wins in six that becomes more stabilising to the club the longer it continues. He would not play against Bolton in this week’s Carling Cup tie, his rest will come then. Fears of injury with the Dutchman are not misplaced but it is the current psychological state of the manager which is laid a little more bare. That reliance upon van Persie is enhanced by Marouane Chamakh’s inability to impose his form on English football and Park’s yet to emerge adaptation to this country. Nicklas Bendtner’s form at Sunderland is forcing some reappraisal of his capabilities, perhaps heightening the sensititives about the two at the club.
Injury has forced a change in defence, Johan Djourou will play this afternoon in Jenkinson’s absence. That height and presence will help somewhat in set-pieces although I am sure Matthew Etherington is less concerned by facing a centre back playing out of position than he is a specialist full back. Peter Crouch against Per Mertesacker is an interesting clash, for the first time in living history Arsenal have a player who does not need a step ladder to look him in the eye.
The line-up I expect Wenger to go with is,
Szczesny, Djourou, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Santos, Ramsey, Song, Arteta, Walcott, van Persie, Gervinho
It has been forty years since Stoke have left Arsenal with maximum points in a League match, a run of nine straight wins since. The much-maligned Sebastian Squillaci scored the winner last season. A single goal victory for Arsenal would do nicely for me this afternoon.
Oh, and me? An irrational dislike of Terry Conroy fuels my antipathy toward the Potteries.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.