By Walter Broeckx
Sorry for not being able to do my usual match report for the match at Stoke. But I couldn’t have bettered the excellent report Tony put on line after the match.
I usually watch my matches with the sound as low as possible. Not completely muted but in such a way so that I can hear the name of an opponent when I need to write it down. I also sit alone most of the time so I am completely focussed on what I see.
But this time I was in the company of some other 40 Gooners from Belgium who had joined us for the New Year reception we had organised. And in the pub we watch with the sound on. But then I still try to cut out the sound in my head and ignore it. I will see what I see and base my judgement on that.
I will not go over the match again like I usually do but have some loose thoughts about it this time.
When I heard the first rumours about Özil and Alexis not being included I wasn’t surprised at all to be honest. In fact the idea entered my head when I found out Saturday evening that Leicester had dropped 2 points at Aston Villa. With that result in mind we knew that even a defeat at Stoke would keep us 1 point behind the leaders.
The last few years we haven’t had much success at Stoke. The way they were allowed to manhandle us last year with the help of a totally corrupt/biased/blind/ (take your pick or pick them all) referee was frightening. This year a relatively unknown referee and with Dean talking in to his ears it was waiting for disaster.
Yes probably Özil will have a bit of an inflammation on his foot. No wonder in fact as in the last weeks he has been kicked left, right, front, bottom by opponents without the referees really doing anything about it. “What does that fancy foreigner think he is doing on our fields?” seems to be the thought. “Playing skilful football like that? We can’t allow that to happen in the PL.”
But I wonder if Wenger thought about the violent atmosphere at Stoke, the usual brutality allowed against Arsenal players by the referees, thinking about needing Özil for the rest of the season? Hell I wouldn’t be surprised if Wenger invited Özil to feel something, no matter what in his foot.
The same goes for Alexis. A player who with his dribbles is always in danger of being kicked somewhere. Now there are not camera pits near the Stoke field but still Stoke players have kicked/shoved/pushed Arsenal in to lengthy injury periods over the years. So not an ideal match to come back after being out for almost two months.
I never expected Wenger to do this but I wouldn’t be surprised if he decided that he would not risk his expensive players at Stoke for this match. No matter the outcome even if we would have lost we would have been only one point behind the league leaders. And with Stoke beating all the other top teams at their ground this season and our record of late, a defeat wouldn’t have been so an outrageous event.
So in a way I was relieved to not see our two most expensive players in the team at all.
Of course this weakened our team. At the start of this match we had no Özil, Alexis, Santi, Coquelin. That is almost our complete creational part of the team and the lock on our defence. The whole spine ripped out of the team one could say.
But what I saw made me happy. I saw a team that was willing to fight and battle against the orcs from Stoke. Yes they now have a few ball players in their ranks but they still have enough kickers in the team and stranglers who try to rip heads off when needed.
If it hadn’t been for Butland we would have taken the lead in the first half but an amazing technical and brave way of spreading his body in front of Giroud prevented this. We could blame Giroud and say he had to score there but as a former keeper myself I can admire a good save when I see one. That was excellent goalkeeping. In fact the best chances in the first half and dangerous shots were all from Arsenal as far as I can remember. So a lead would have been deserved.
Giroud with, what was for me, a perfect header at the start of the second half was again denied by a superb save from the Stoke keeper. Put another keeper in the Stoke goal and we probably would have been 0-2 in front just after half time. But alas… it was Butland in the Stoke goal and it was 0-0.
Anything Butland can do, I can do better must have gone through Cech’s head after those saves. And for me the best save was the follow up save after pushing a ball from a shot out first. In fact if I can be critical that first pushing of the ball was not the best thing but the way he reacted and got up and threw himself for the rebound is what a good keeper turns in to a great keeper.
In the end I can live with the final score and the point that brings us back to the first place. The PL title race will be tight it seems. Teams win big and then stumble in the next match. Teams lose suddenly and then bounce back. Teams drop points where they aren’t expected to drop points.
But after 22 matches Arsenal is still top of the league. And that is what matters. In the next month or so we will have a lot of good players back in the team. Players who will be fresh then and will bring something extra to the team when other teams start to suffer from being tired. And not just squad players but players that can and will carry the team to a higher level. The only job the current players have to do is to keep us at or near the top. Remember one point took us from third to first, that is how close it is for the moment.
People might have expected Elneny at some stage in this match. But I think Wenger was wise to just have him sit on the bench. Just imagine he would have brought him on in the final minutes and Stoke had won the match. The aaa would have been on the player’s back in a split second even if he had nothing to do with the goal. They would declare him a bad buy and blame Wenger for having bought another unknown player. With the way the match was going it was probably a wise thing to not bring in a player that only knows his teammates for a few days.
We will see more of him in the next weeks of course. I expect him to start in the FA cup to be honest or if the match goes well he might get a few minutes against Chelsea. Let’s give him time to adapt to the rest of the team.
The anniversaries – more on untold-arsenal.com
- 18 January 1897: Henry Boyd, Arsenal’s most prolific goalscorer of all time sold to Newton Heath. He scored 32 goals in 41 games between September 1894 and December 1896.
- 18 January 1960 – Arsenal lost to Rotherham United 0-2 in 3rd round of cup in a match played at Hillsborough after two replays. Rotherham finished the season 8th in the second division that season.
Coming very soon indeed
- Arsenal: The Long Sleep 1953-1970. By John Sowman. Introduction by Bob Wilson. Available both as a Kindle book and in print format. Plus an article on Untold by Bob Wilson.