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By Phil Gregory
After forays in first the European and more recently the FA Cup, it’s back to the grind of the Premier League. Stoke City are the visitors, a team few Arsenal fans liked even before Aaron Ramsey got his leg smashed by Ryan Shawcross.
I was in the stands at the Britannia that day, and had a bit of a plonker sitting near me in the away end. After we fell behind early on, he thought it wise to give the plastic seats a good belting, which I pointed out wouldn’t make the blindest bit of difference to the scoreline. Needless to say after Shawcross went through Ramsey I was feeling decidedly less charitable towards Stoke (but did refrain from mindless chair-smashing) instead being contented that our football had done the talking in the end.
Anyway, that’s all history and what matters is the here and now, and our title push today. The Orient result wasn’t the best but these things can happen when you make a lot of changes. The team can be unfamiliar with each other, and that feeds into their play. Tony made a great point that it won’t actually add to our fixture congestion as it was a reserve side out, and a reserve side that will play the replay at the Emirates. The first eleven will barely be touched, bar a little extra bench duty one evening.
There was a little bit of a mystery in the run-up to this game, with both Arsenal and Stoke cancelling their pre-match press conferences. At the time of writing (l11pm Tuesday) there is still nothing on Arsenal.com about a press conference, so it doesn’t see that there is going to be one, which is peculiar. Anyway, we have the most important news via good old Arsenal TV and unfortunately it’s not good news on the injury front.
Robin Van Persie and Koscielny are out injured with short term problems, though fortunately the y should be fit for the Carling Cup final. There may be an element of hush-hush around the Van Persie injury: if you recall, he wasn’t even included on the bench for the Leyton Orient match as you would have expected with the other big guns being on there, and no mention was made of an injury to the Dutchman in the pre-match briefing whatsoever. Hopefully it’s nothing too serious, but with the Dutchman’s recent level of performance he’ll have a big say in where the Carling Cup ends up this season, so let’s all wish him a speedy recovery.
On a more positive note, Djourou has been passed fit. Diaby serves the final match of his suspension and will be available for selection after this match if fit.
Sagna Djourou Squillaci Clichy
Walcott Bendtner Nasri
It’s very much a case of as you were with the Arsenal line-up. With small changes made for injuries, the team should largely resemble the side that beat Barcelona. Szcznesy returns in goal, Sagna and Clichy start at full back and our two surviving centrebacks complete the back four.
Song and Wilshere take up the deeper midfield roles, with Fabregas pulling the strings further forward. Walcott and Nasri take up the wide roles, with the choice for Van Persie’s stand-in a straight choice between Chamakh and Bendtner. Chamakh got the nod in that respect in the cup but looks increasingly shorn of confidence in front of goals so I plumped for Bendtner. The choice might not be that straight forward for Wenger: if Chamakh is seen as Van Persie’s deputy and gets overlooked for this game it won’t do any good for his confidence. A home game against Stoke promises goals, so he might get a start and the opportunity to break his recent duck though I’m not convinced.
As for the game in general, we know what we’re going to get with Stoke: long balls, long throws and an emphasis on set pieces. It’s a rudimentary approach but as long as we have the ball they will struggle to pump it forward, and Djourou is capable in the air so will have a big role to play here.
They’ve got players who are powerful in the air in Jones and Carew and they will seek them our with speculative punts forward. With our high line these “first balls” aren’t too dangerous even if they win them, seeing as we’ll be quite far from goal. Neither do they have the quickest attack to exploit the space left in behind, so our high line works quite well against the route one approach.
The emphasis then is ensuring they don’t win the first ball and then use it as a bridgehead so to speak, claiming the knock-down then attacking from there. Even if we lose most of the first balls it won’t matter if we efficiently press whoever receives the knock-down and crowd them out. The net result is the same whether we win the first or the second ball: we get possession.
Stoke have lost nine of thirteen away games, it is unthinkable that we drop points in this sort of game. With a decent referee keeping control of the game (we can but hope…) there is no reason whatsoever we won’t go on to win this game by three or four goals. Szcznesy and Djourou at the back reassure me in regards to set pieces, so we might even see a clean sheet. 4-0 to the Arsenal.
It’s been a while since the home fans saw a real drubbing, and after the racket they produced against Barcelona I think they deserve to see one. Maybe I should be a little more cautious given the absence of Robin but Bendtner can get goals.
Title watch: We play Stoke in the knowledge that United aren’t in action until the weekend. With them playing away and facing a mounting injury list with Anderson’s latest knee injury, we could see an upset here. Wigan by no means tops a list of fixtures to have United fans concerned, but with a mere three games out of twelve won on the road, every away tie is a reasonable opportunity for dropped points. Even taking into account United’s injuries I wouldn’t expect Wigan to win the game but with games at Anfield and Stamford Bridge looming they can’t really afford for the gap to narrow.
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