It’s that mystical time of year again. The days are getting shorter, the nights are slightly colder, the squirrels are starting to hoard nuts, and the Stokies are coming out of their caves after a long summer hibernation to descend on Arsenal blogs and tell those Arsenal supporters how to be better sports fans. I can hear them now, firing up the town’s 28k modem, logging on to AOL and brushing the bits of pie off the keyboard so that they can share their collective wisdom with us, people.
It’s been a hard summer for them, so we should have sympathy. First, the town suffered a huge setback in their plan to play football their own way when the Football Association forced them to increase the size of the pitch at the Brittania by 20 whole square meters. In practical terms, the pitch at the Brit is now 4 meters wider and a 5 whole meters longer. Most teams could easily cope with such standardization, but like a local bar which has always shortchanged the patron by serving beer in 10oz glasses that look like 12oz glasses they are all but falling apart.
This extra space has prompted some of them to declare that they are now going to have their horrible away form replicated at home. That relegation is certain. And their chieftain is already asking which of their “star” players are going to be sold. Some are trying to put a brave face on the change and declare that there will be more room for their “wingers” but they all know that to have true wingers, a team must actually, you know, pass the ball and not simply hoof it.
Oh and do they hoof it ever! In their first game away at Reading, Stoke won 46 aerial duels. And before you think that meant the team was under constant assault from Reading, only 24 of those aerial duels were won by defenders. Stoke’s keeper, Asmir Begovich, made 19 passes in that game, 9 of which were long balls.
Meanwhile, Stoke haven’t lost their clattering edge. Receiving three yellow cards and a red card in their very first game of the season. I’m sure that they will be back in for more “hard hitting action” egged on as they usually are by the crowd. Referee Lee Mason will have his work cut out for him and fourth official Howard Webb is sure to get an earful from Arsene Wenger. Lee Mason is the referee who called Arsenal’s 1-0 away win over Everton and yet missed this clear penalty for Arsenal when Drenthe took out Rosicky.
But as TP (Tony Pulis, he likes to put “TP” on his chest for match days, I think it’s a good luck thing) would say “Referees will make good decisions and bad ones but when they make decisions actually affecting a game of football, it’s disappointing.” So, I’m not expecting a hyperactive whistle from Lee Mason.
For Arsenal’s part fans are feeling it in the arm a bit after losing out on Nuri Sahin, but it was always unlikely that he would feature today anyway. Wenger was very blunt about the whole Sahin deal stating that the club didn’t really miss out, Liverpool paid foolish money for the kid and that if we had really wanted him, he would be an Arsenal player. As much as I understand this from a logical standpoint, the club can’t compete with Liverpool if they want to spend Pounds 35m on a player like Andy Carroll or irrational sums on Sahin, the emotional part of me feels like we missed out. I guess we’ll have to track his progress over the season and see if the club truly missed out on something.
Wenger, though, was optimistic and has earmarked ArtetaDiabyWilshere to take over the Sahin role. By which I mean “most defensive midfielder on a not at all defensively orientated team”. Diaby will get the nod tomorrow, should he be fit (TOUCHING WOOD) and his size will be handy on Stoke’s one or two set pieces that manage to steal. Key stats to watch for Diaby are the number of dribbles he attempts versus the number of times he is dispossessed. It would be refreshing to see him move the ball quickly but as I have said it’s a feature of our inexperienced midfielders that they all like to hang on to the ball too much. Ball dawdlers the lot of them.
Arteta will also be floating back in to that defensive midfield role and the key for both he and Diaby is not conceding cheap fouls in the Arsenal area. Stoke, for all their bluff and bluster about being big strong Englishmun, go down under a challenge quicker than almost any team in the Premier League. They have to, their entire game is predicated on drawing fouls in the opposition’s area (or really drawing a foul anywhere) so that one of their shit-kickers can lump it up to Peter Crouch or Ryan Shawcross or, hell anyone. Keep the ball in the air, is their mantra.
Arsenal, under the watchful eye of Steve Bould — who used to play for Stoke, it should be noted — have been working on set play defense and offense this summer so I expect that the team will be a little tighter at the back. I would love to see the paces that he’s put the boys through this week.
Up front I would love to see Olivier Giroud get the start and Podolski get moved to the left. I know that against a team like Stoke who will park the caravan you typically want to have at least one player who can beat his man on the dribble in a wide area and cause the opposition defense to lose their shape but I would use Arshavin to do that on the right and give Arsenal two targets up front. Cazorla can float in behind Podolski on the left and be that dribbler if need be. Yes, I know I’m describing a 4-4-2 with Cazorla on the left wing. Gah, I’m a muppet, we know Arsene won’t do that. Still, I don’t expect Arsene to start Gerv, Poldi and Theo again after such public criticism.
And finally, you will notice that in 1000 words I never once mentioned any of Stoke’s past barbarism. The crowd at the Brit will not be nearly as kind. I’m sure that if anyone steps on the pitch that they don’t feel apologized enough for having their body maimed or if they just don’t like them because they’re not from some magical catchment area the clowns in the stands will let them know in their own wonderful way. Meh, fuck em, the best answer is to beat their team on their home soil and to do it with dignity.
Tomorrow there will be no blog, you can see my By the Numbers piece on Arseblog News and I will be commenting here and on twitter. Let’s hope to see an incident free game, with wonderful free flowing football, and muted throw-ins owing to the two-extra meters on each side of the pitch.
Baring that, any old Arsenal win would be welcome.