Stoke Preview: If Arsenal Try, They Will Convert Effort Into Points
On the day that Fletcher Christian ledThe Mutiny On The Bounty, Arsenal travel to the Potteries with The Britannia Stadium witnessing some of the club’s most horrible away performances against a meritless style of football. The parallels are not lost; Bligh’s unnecessary bullying and overly aggressive approach manifested in football terms by Pullis’ artless and brutal long ball philosophy. Arguments will rage about whether the rules are stretched, misshapen or just plain ignored; there is little argument that the Welshman is out-of-touch with modern footballing theory and it is almost inconceivable that under his current theories that they will progress. If the supporters of that club are happy with that, so be it; mediocrity rules indeed in the midlands that time forgot.
With Pep Guardiola ending his managerial career at the Camp Nou will lead to unedifying speculation over the manager’s future plans; no doubt they still involve seeing out his contract. Hints this morning that despite his previously stated preference to remain at the club’s Academy, Steve Bould is Arsène’s Assistant once Pat Rice retires. If it isn’t Bould, Lehmann (unlikely) or Adams (possible) are mentioned; the Dream Candidate of Dennis Bergkamp is nowhere to be seen, in print at least.
I have said on numerous occasions before, I just do not understand the disrespect shown for the Irishman. Actually I do; those who denigrate Rice’s contribution to the club actually want to abuse Wenger but knowing that they will be derided themselves, they turn their attentions to an easier target. Often it is held up that Ferguson’s sustained success is due to frequently changing his right-hand man; it’s an urban legend. Ferguson routinely loses his Assistants due to their own managerial ambitions; I cannot think off-hand of any whom he has released from their contracts.
The current “staleness” is often blamed on Rice, ignoring the fact that he is the only Assistant Wenger has had at his time at Arsenal. If he is to blame for the trophyless period, by that logic it follows that he should be credited with the years 1997 – 2005. What has Arsène done for the club? Quite simply, the blame game is too simplistic and misguided to play in these circumstances.
Bould’s promotion ought to offer Stoke a contrast to their own predicament, proof that aspirations to the top can be realised. Having learned his trade at The Victoria Ground, George Graham’s astute purchase was a lynchpin for the fabled defence. He was criminally under-rated at the time, not winning enough international honours for my liking. History is more appreciative of his contribution, a stablising influence in the centre of the defence. I find it hard to see any of the current Stoke defence making such a step and winning recognition for their efforts. At least for their defensive work rather than the physical assaults perpetrated on their peers.
Unsurprisingly, injuries are preying on the mind of the manager. Theo Walcott is out for the remainder of the season and the brakes applied to any hopes of Jack Wilshere‘s returrn to fitness. Thankfully. In those circumstances – and despite being different players – Yann M’Vila and Javi Martinez are linked with moves to the club although at a combined fee of somewhere near £50m it seems highly unlikely that both will arrive in the summer. I mean, honestly, why bother when fees in excess of £20m are mentioned? “In excess of £10m” is much more realistic.
Abou Diaby is a doubt through illness which is a shame, not just for his continued bad luck on injuries, etc. The Frenchman would thrive in the physical arena of this afternoon, his dynamic running game would stretch the play. Yet the fragility of his fitness can be stifling; confidence is all and playing him when not fully fit may be more a question of confidence than anything else.
The return of Yossi Benayoun compensates for Walcott, allowing Oxlade-Chamberlain to stretch the Stoke defence on the right with the Israeli occupying the left. Ramsey in the centre with Rosicky and Song offers stability of personnel. I do not think that the Welshman will be fazed by the match, the venue or evenpoor, ickle Ryan Shawcross.
The line-up will be:
Szczesny; Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs; Rosicky, Song, Ramsey; Oxlade-Chamberlain, van Persie, Benayoun
Chamakh were he in better form might have started with van Persie on the left but I do not think that Wenger will take the risk. Much is made of the aerial ball but to be honest, it is unlikely Arsenal will win anything aimed at Crouch if the delivery is good; the defence and midfield need to make sure they are alive to the path of the knockdown and runners arriving to benefit from this. Even so, I personally do not think Crouch is that good in the air and a robust approach from Vermaelen or Koscielny is effective in unsettling the player.
All that matters this afternoon is Arsenal emerging with three points. Events elsewhere are out of their control but for third place to be guaranteed, Arsenal must win their matches first and foremost, taking advantage of any slips by others.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.