- In the last 4 meetings between these two teams at the Britannia stadium both teams have the same record: P4 W1 D2 L1
- In those same 4 meetings both teams have won 3-1 once, drawn 1-1 once, and drawn 0-0 once
- In the last meeting at the Britannia, Peter Crouch won 18/21 aerial duels and was only called for three fouls, all of which he complained about
- Thomas Vermaelen might start at left back and he won 6/13 aerial duels in that same game, leading Arsenal (Diaby won 6/17)
- Giroud won 5/12 aerial duels in that same game, none in the Stoke final 1/3, 1 in the Arsenal defensive 1/3
- In the last meeting Stoke only completed 150 passes
- In that same match both teams made 70 aerial duels, Stoke won 41 of them. Yes, 70 aerial duels in one game. Arsenal only averaged 17 aerial duels per game last season. Arsenal average 17 aerial duels per game this season as well.
- Peter Crouch is averaging 8 aerial duels per game this season, second in the League behind Christian Benteke
- Giroud leads Arsenal with 4 aerials per game
- Bacary Sagna is second at Arsenal this season with 3.8 aerials per game, just 17 fewer total aerials won than Giroud
- Sagna is 18 cm shorter than Giroud
- Vermaelen might start tomorrow at left back, he won 55% of his aerial duels last season. Crouch won 66%, and Koscielny wins 57% this season.
- Stoke will probably angle long passes in to Crouch against Koz and Vermaelen because Mertesacker has won 72% of his aerial duels
- Crouch has scored 7 goals against Arsenal, his second highest tally against any team (Opta stat that you’ve seen floating around)
- Over the last 10 years, Arsenal have only averaged 1.66 points per game away from home and Stoke have averaged 1.61 points per game at home
- This season, Arsenal are averaging 2 points per game away from home and Stoke are averaging 1.62 points per game at home
The “worst Manchester United team in a decade” meme
The joke that I’ve seen made 1000 times in the last two weeks is that Man U are “just a mid-table team” or a “fancy Fulham”. But is anyone seriously suggesting that Arsenal should have brushed Man U aside because they are in 7th place in the League? Not only is that a ridiculous idea but it’s even more so ludicrous when you look at the players they have on that team and the experience of those players.
Rooney: 300 appearances, 5 time League champion, Champions League winner, 1 goal every other game average.
Vidic: 200 apps, 5 League titles, Champions League winner
Evra: 262 apps, 15 total trophies at Man U (same really as most of the others)
Ferdinand: 300+ apps, 6 League titles, plus all the other trophies
Smalling: 2 League titles
De Gea: 2 League titles, and a Europa League trophy
Mata: Champions League, Europa League, FA Cup
Michael Carrick: 13 trophies with United
Van Persie: best striker in the country for two years running, League winner
Fancy Fulham? Mid-table team? You want me to believe that this team of champions is comparable to mid-table clubs like Swansea or Newcastle? I know that they have struggled at times this season, but they have also been very unlucky. And as much as I want to join in the Arsenal pity party I’m having a really hard time getting too upset about a 0-0 draw (which Arsenal nearly won) against a team stacked with that much talent. Even if we account for the enormous drag factor of David Moyes this is still a very talented Man U team which Arsenal bettered for the majority of both matches.
The tyranny of expectations
I also disagree with people who said that was a poor match. I’ve seen poor matches. Like the 0-0 against Sunderland at the Emirates, with Song and Denilson playing sideways balls all day and tubby Arshavin making his debut only to shoot one wide, the best moment of the day. That match against Man U wasn’t poor, there were plenty of moments on both the offensive and defensive ends to make it actually an exciting match.
If you were expecting a comfortable Arsenal win (see above) then I guess you could be disappointed with the result but if you were expecting to see an Arsenal team come out and put in a shift against the reigning League champions then you can’t. With few exceptions I thought Arsenal played their hearts out and provided more than a few moments to win the game on both ends of the pitch.
Number 1 is Wojciech Szczesny
What a save… that whole sequence against van Persie’s header was incredible. Wilshere turns the ball over and Rooney flights a perfect ball to Robin who is crafty about his run in behind Mertesacker and gets that inch of space to put in a bullet header. But Szcz saw the danger and got himself into the right position to make the save. Man U only took 7 shots and Szczesny kept his concentration levels high the entire time. He also cleared the backpasses well (with one exception) and got all his defending on corners right. Is Szczesny the best keeper in the League?
Nervy opening minutes, tired closing minutes
Arsenal did look scared to start the game and Szczesny’s pass to Arteta was picked off by van Persie when the Spaniard inexplicably turned directly into the Dutchman. Luckily, van Persie slipped on his shot or Man U would have had an early lead to park the bus round.
I think those nerves are normal. Arsenal are not experienced champions, yet, and are still a bit timid when facing players who have won 15-16 medals each. I know what the League table says but the reality is that Man U have beaten Arsenal 7 of the last 11 times they’ve played and that kind of record is intimidating. After the opening minutes, though, I thought Arsenal responded well, tackling high up the pitch and putting United under a lot of pressure, subsequently getting shots in dangerous areas which required some desperate defending from United.
All that rush of energy, though, took its toll and at the end of the day Wilshere and Giroud were so tired that they couldn’t even run any more. It was a bit hard to watch, those last few minutes, because I knew that Arsenal weren’t going to score with only 8 men moving on the pitch. I suspect that last impressions are first impressions here and that many complaining about the game being “dire” were really complaining that Arsenal looked tired at the end.
Can someone please tell Jack Wilshere that he has to play some defense?
Wilshere was good going forward: he drew several fouls (many weren’t called) and made a whopping 7 dribbles which helped get the ball into dangerous areas for Özil to exploit. No complaints about Jack and his desire to go forward.
But Wilshere has a disturbing habit of not engaging in the defensive phase and especially in the last 4 games where he has made just 2 tackles and 2 interceptions, total. Which is crazy when you consider the fact he’s playing in the double-pivot role. He’s supposed to be contributing both offensively and defensively but I’m only seeing one side from him right now. And with Ramsey out, Arsenal need both. Which probably seems weird to say after a 0-0 draw, the 10th clean sheet at home, etc. etc. but it needs to be said.
Why didn’t Arsenal buy buy buy (or at least use Podolski and/or Bendtner)?
Watching Giroud post up for 90 minutes and barely make any runs that would open up the defense left many wondering why didn’t the boss at least throw Podolski on in the last 20 minutes?
Maybe he’s saving Podolski for Saturday? Maybe he’s saving Podolski for the next team that he’ll be playing on? I don’t know.
As for squad depth, yes, it’s pretty clear that Arsenal are going to have a hard time scoring goals now that Giroud is tired, Walcottt is injured, Ramsey is injured, and Podolski is not going to play. So why didn’t Arsene Wenger buy? Again, I don’t know.
I do know that the “why didn’t he buy” thing is sounding about as stale as the “buying players isn’t like buying a loaf of bread” reply that inevitably follows.
Özil will only get better, much better
So, Özil created 7 shots yesterday. SEVEN. And that puts him at the top of the Premier League in terms of shots created for others this season, tied with David Silva. But here’s the thing: David Silva is playing with Kun Aguero, Edin Dzeko, Yaya Toure, and Negredo in his team. Özil, yesterday, literally had a static wall in front of him (Giroud) and a little guy buzzing around behind him (Cazorla). No one, and I mean no one, made the kinds of runs that Özil will exploit. So, I have no doubt that when Arsenal get Walcott back, get a forward this summer, or get some of the wide players to run in behind the defense once or twice, Özil will look like a genius again.
As it stands Özil was much better than Juan Mata and cost just a snip more.
Koscielny and Gibbs bossed it
The moment that sums up Laurent Koscielny was when he gave the ball away to Rooney and then tracked back to make an inch-perfect tackle on the edge of the box. Either that or his header that was cleared off the line by Valencia. Wait… why choose? I pick both moments. Koscielny is clearly one of the best center backs in the League and I fully expect that this summer we will hear non-stop speculation about his departure.
Meanwhile, Gibbs really showed us his entire tool kit. He was third on the team in passes, first in ball recoveries, made 1/4 dribbles (in the United corner, btw), put in two tackles in the United final 1/3, had 4 interceptions (tied for best on Arsenal), was second on Arsenal with 7 clearances, won 4/8 aerial duels, created a shot (could have been more) and even had a shot saved. I’ll say that probably earned him a starting spot over Nacho.
I made it this whole way without mentioning…
Arsenal should have had a nailed on penalty.
I know that I’m going to get a lot of stick for this but it needs to be said, I hate to see a woman in public, shopping at the Safeway, hanging out at a bar, do anything but doing actual yoga, whilst wearing a pair of yoga pants. The form-fitting yoga pant, the biker shorts of the new millennium, may appeal to some men’s more prurient interests but whenever I see a woman wearing yoga pants in public I kind of figure she’s just gone ahead and given up on life.
And before you accuse me of being sexist, I also feel the same way about seeing a man in a pair of yoga pants, ever. Or a man, shuffling along this mortal coil in a pair of sweats. Wear the yoga pants to and from the gym. Wear the sweats to and from the gym. But wearing a pair of sweats to a craft fair or out shopping? No. They are disrespecting themselves by not wearing actual clothing in public.*
This is about self respect. You take a bath. You comb your hair. You brush your teeth. You get dressed. Life requires you to put a little effort into it, you can’t fake life. You do not just roll up off the couch in a pair of yoga pants and think for a moment that you’re going to impress anyone just because they are tight and hide all your imperfections.
And just to make this point perfectly clear, when I was in Munich I saw zero women wearing yoga pants in public and as soon as I landed in Seattle, yoga pants as far as the eye can see. See, the women in Munich had self respect, the women in Seattle, had yoga pants. Munich is a bustling city full of beautiful, intelligent people, who all speak multiple languages and Seattle is full of people who think they look great wearing their give up on life pants.
And yesterday, as I sat there re-watching Arsenal v. Liverpool**, I was overwhelmed with the thought that Arsenal had put on their give up on life pants. Arsenal weren’t just beaten, they looked like a team that lacked cohesion, that lacked a plan, and that lacked self-respect. And that last bit, about self-respect, that’s the hardest part to swallow.
Let’s get this out of the way; the first goal was offiside. And not only that, but it was an insanely soft foul. And the second goal, I don’t think Squirtle could hit that shot again in his lifetime. So, down 2-0 in the opening minutes of the game and what did Arsenal do? They pulled on their give up on life pants.
I lost count of how many times Özil was surrounded by three Liverpool players. Or how many times he was left on an island and had to bail himself out. Opta gave Özil two “error that led to a goal” marks on the day, making that easily his worst ever performance as a professional footballer. But for me, placing the blame for those turnovers all on Özil is harsh. If Özil has three Liverpool players on him, there should have been an open man to play the ball to, but each and every time he was dispossessed, Özil was left going it all alone. That is not a failure on Özil’s part, that is a failure on the whole team’s part.
Time and again, you saw the team not pulling together, not helping each other, and let’s just say it, there were a lot of players hiding. It was as if no one wanted to be seen in public wearing their sweat pants, so they refused to make eye contact.
Wilshere and Cazorla in particular left Özil and Arteta out to dry on numerous occasions. I made light of this in the ArseAmerica Podcast last week, but Özil often seems to be playing behind Sagna, and against Liverpool, Sagna’s positioning — well in advance of everyone it seemed — was exploited easily by Sterling and Suarez. That third goal for Sterling was entirely down to terrible team defense. Did you notice that Jack looked over and saw Sterling was wide open? Twice he looked, yet, he still covered the middle because he had a man in the middle as well. Not only that but I doubt Jack could have won that footrace, Sterling is just much faster and already had a jump on him. But someone should have been covering Sterling, or at least someone should have been in the right back spot, or a right wing spot, something, anything. And after Sterling scored, Sagna finished his jog back, looked at Jack and shrugged his shoulders. Give up on life pants.
Sagna shrugging his shoulders and Jack screaming at his teammates was exactly the problem. The team was disjointed and looked like they didn’t know what to do, offensively and defensively. As Todd so rightly pointed out in the comments yesterday, Arsenal didn’t defend as a unit and didn’t create as a unit. And worse, they played loose and free with the ball when they were 2-0 down, 3-0 down, and 4-0 down, so much so that I felt Liverpool were unlucky not to have beaten Arsenal 8-0.
And that’s really incredible when you think of how much work Arsenal have put in to perfecting team defense. Incredible when you think about Arsenal’s well earned reputation for slick team passing. Incredible when you remember that Jack Wilshere goal earlier in the season, or the swarming way that Arsenal attacked Napoli earlier in the season, and the way that Arsenal played defense for most of this season as a unit, defending set plays well and forcing the opposition into long shots rather than the tap-ins that Liverpool earned as we trundled around, 11 lost souls on a sea of despair.
It’s also incredible that this Arsenal team, who built their top of the table form by hitting the opposition quickly, jumping out to an early lead, and then parking le autobus, has now reverted to a team which boils slowly and has to play catch up. It’s not a perception, either, it’s real: Arsenal used to score early but have only score in the first half of games twice in the last 11.
It’s no coincidence that our tough run of form directly coincides with Ramsey’s injury. The Welshman is the man in the middle of the park. People asking for a defensive midfielder forget that Ramsey makes 6 tackles a game on average (winning the ball 3.7 times). Wilshere, gods bless his thunder thighs, didn’t attempt a single tackle against Liverpool. Zero. And he only attempts 2.2 a game on average anyway. Meanwhile Arteta, in the main holding role, is trying 5.3 tackles a game but he’s obviously not got the stamina and speed that Ramsey has and is far too easily bypassed by younger players.
In fact, Ramsey’s contributions all over the pitch are being missed right now. Remember last year when everyone lauded him for “not hiding” and were given a lot of stick? We could have used a player like Ramsey against Liverpool, since Cazorla and Wilshere were absent. We could have used his runs from midfield, which overloaded opposition defenses opening things for everyone else. We could use him next to Özil, helping to take some of the pressure off the German, providing that outlet, and getting his own great passes in to split the defense. Goals, assists, key passes, tackles, interceptions, ball recoveries, you name it, Ramsey does it. Arsenal, the team which relies so heavily on midfield to win games, needs our midfield maestro back.
But until we get him back, and fully fit, and 100%, Arsenal need to adjust. We need to look at how we lost that game, how they beat us by pressing, how we didn’t defend as a unit, and we need to get back to basics. Wednesday’s match is absolutely critical now. Man Untied will have watched all the tapes and will be prepared to copy what Liverpool, Man City, and Southampton did.
Everyone has a bad day and on that bad day you might be seen in public wearing yoga pants. Arsenal have had a few bad days. But there can be no more yoga pants. No more room for feeling sorry for ourselves. We are the Arsenal and we need to pull on our big-boy pants and show the world we have some dignity left.
*And don’t even get me started on this scam: somehow the folks at BetaBrand are marketing $100 “dress sweatpants.” Pants for the person who has no self respect, but doesn’t want anyone to know.
**Because I’m a masochist.
PS: I want to thank everyone who made yesterday’s blog a roaring success. I hope you all used it the way I did, as a tool for catharsis.
PPS: The Goonersphere Podcast is offering up an Anfield 1989 #4 Thomas shirt. You should really get in on that.
— Goonersphere Podcast (@GoonerspherePod) February 10, 2014