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October 2020

Stoke – Arsenal: not losing and keeping your best players fit was the task

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.

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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

  • 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.


28 comments to Stoke – Arsenal: not losing and keeping your best players fit was the task

  • Arthur

    I agree totally. I was so relieved that Ozil and Alexis stayed in London. I saw Barcelona play Espanyol last week and Messi was so lucky to survive that game without injury – he was targeted repeatedly. I could just imagine what the Stoke players would to do to Ozil and Alexis. If Messi played in England, he would be injured the whole time!

  • Pete

    Thanks Walter.

    One of the things I noticed when looking at the injury situation following Tony’s recent article was that our injury rate seems to halve after Christmas based on stats from the last few seasons.

    The issue yesterday was that most of our most technical and creative players were all out together: Ozil, Sanchez, Santi, Wilshere and Rosicky.

    With the likes of Welbeck also out it meant we were very thin on attacking options from the bench. The rather ignorant bloke in the pub was lambasting Wenger for not bringing on more attackers – until I pointed out that probably the most attacking option we had after Iwobi was brought on was Arteta! He shut up.

    So our upcoming schedule:

    Blank midweek
    Blank midweek

    should allow most of the walking wounded to get fully fit while giving some of the others some well-earned respite… before we head into a frantic 7 week period prior to the international break.

    A refreshed and revitalised Ozil and Sanchez, supported by Giroud and Campbell – with Walcott, Welbeck and the Ox to vary things as required gives us a very dangerous front four.

    We may then also have a DM choice of Coquelin, Flamini, Elneny and Arteta – with Wilshere and, hopefully, Santi able to share the box-to-box role between them. Licking my lips!

    My wish for next season: to play Stoke away sometime other than deepest midwinter.

    Since Stoke returned to pollute the Premier League in 2008 we have played them away in:

    Dec/Jan/Feb 4 times, and other months 5 times (incl 1 cup tie).

    The last three away games were in Jan, Dec and Mar(1st).

  • Tai

    Great article Walter…

    Totally agree.

    My only worry…who else will be injured between now and May …and for how long?

    1. Monreal has started all but one EPL match this season and hasn’t been subbed. If You ask me, I’d think of ways to rest him to avoid long lay off. Gibbs is not too far a step down.

    2. Koscielny and Per…with Gabriel in the squad, Wenger is not rotating the CBs enough. We’ve seen the Brazilian pair either of the first choice CBs without our team dropping in quality. It’s better to rotate healthy than have injury do that for us.

    3. Giroud…the amount of kicks that goes Giroud’s way each match gets me alarmed. Once they accumulate enouggh Ollie will certainly get done. He’s not made of iron. How long will it take Welbeck to come into the squad to afford Ollie a deserved rest? Fingers crossed.

    4. Bellerin. Whatever happens, he’s only 20! He gives so much in every game that I fear a hamstring any time he steps out. Why hasn’t Debuchy been given more chances? Now the French RB is almost gone to Villa. Who will blame him? Are we going to continue fighting for the title with just one specialist RB? Very risky!

    5. Ramsey. Ramsey runs all match and gives every thing from tackling to shooting at goal. If you ask me, Ramsey is still one more hamstring before May 15. Will Coq, Carzola and Wilshere be back before this inevitability? Hopefully.

    6. Flamini. How long will Flamstar hold before his customary injury steps in? Oh yes, there’s Elneny…but until we see him in action we can’t really say how reliable the Egyptian is, can we?

    On the positive front…Sanchez will come out blazing. Once he gets back he’ll take over the most reliable Gunner from Ozil. I know the Chilean well enough to believe he’ll lead us to the title if most other factors work our way. Gabriel is good enough to step in comfortably for any injured first choice CBs. Elneny is most likely to be very useful in that DM. And once Carzola, Rosicky, Wilshere are fit, we won’t miss too much of Ozil even if the assist master stays off for a month.

    In all…the cup is half-full.

  • JohnW

    Saw the DM prediction today, how I wish we start on Sunday, to make them eat dirt. It was a good performance yesterday,we did not win, but at least we fought. Its what we will need in the next 16 games. For me I think we might lose 2 more games this season, DM says 4, but any way every one said we will be pushed out of the top four, that Spurs are title contenders!!!

  • EPL Referees hater

    Well said Mr Walter. God bless you.

  • Andy Mack

    Tai, the issue with rotation is that it’s less effective results-wise if the team isn’t already playing well or when you’re already having to change the team because of injuries.
    Even when we’re playing well AW doesn’t like to make more than a couple of changes game to game and because he’s missing his 1st choice DM I think he prefers to stick with the 2 CBs that know each other best, especially as they’re positions where instinct and partner understanding are so important.
    Similarly I think that if Alexis and Santi hadn’t been injured then Alexis and Ramsey would have played more on the wing and Theo and HFB would have spent more time sharing the CF role. The wing is a good place for Theo to regain fitness and he’s covered the role longer because we need him there, but he wants to be CF.

  • Gord

    Well, we don’t get Dean. He is off to Leicester. Instead, we get Mark Clattenburg.

    Saturday 23 January 2016
    K.O. _MATCHES _ _ _ _ REFEREE _ _ _ ASST. REF. 1 _ _ASST. REF. 2 _ _4TH OFFICIAL
    15:00 Crystal Palace – Spurs _ Martin Atkinson _M Mullarkey S Long _ _ J Linington
    15:00 Leicester – Stoke _ _ _ _Mike Dean _ _ _ _E Smart _ _ R West _ _ G Eltringham
    15:00 Man Utd – Southampton _ _Mike Jones _ _ _ A Garratt _ I Hussin _ T Harrington
    12:45 Norwich – Liverpool _ _ _Lee Mason _ _ _ _J Brooks _ _A Halliday K Friend
    15:00 Sunderland – Bournemouth Roger East _ _ _ S Burt _ _ _D Eaton _ _A Madley
    15:00 Watford – Newcastle _ _ _Andre Marriner _ P Kirkup _ _A Nunn _ _ G Scott
    15:00 West Brom – Aston Villa _Robert Madley _ _M McDonough M Perry _ _A Taylor
    17:30 West Ham – Man City _ _ _Craig Pawson _ _ S Child _ _ D Bryan _ _J Moss
    Sunday 24 January 2016
    K.O. _MATCHES _ _ _ _ REFEREE _ _ _ ASST. REF. 1 _ _ASST. REF. 2 _ _4TH OFFICIAL
    16:00 Arsenal – Chelsea _ _ _ _Mark Clattenburg J Collin _ _S Beck _ _ J Moss
    13:30 Everton – Swansea _ _ _ _Anthony Taylor _ L Betts _ _ G Beswick _A Marriner

    Oh, a heads-up for those of you keeping track of the few National Group people in these appointment lists. There is a Mark Haywood and a Mark Heywood.

  • Usama Zaka

    One thing I forgot to mention yesterday in the comments was about Stoke’s pitch. I am re-watching watch and these are some points I want to make.

    1. Both keepers slipped on 2-4 while taking goal kicks.
    2. Midfielders from both teams slipped every time they tried to stretch.
    3. The ball bounced way more higher than usual, even on low pitched long balls. (Helping Stoke with long balls even more)

    4. Straight grounded passes showed totally random movement. Campbell and Chamberlain made lots of through balls, some times there were little bounces on straight grounded passes and otherwise the ball would slow down sharply.

    5. The surrounding area of the pitch was covered heavily in snow. (Just look at manager’s touchline pic or clip)

    6. Even Arsene Wenger said that the pitch was not easy to play on.

    My thinking is that the pitch was frozen and Stoke either didn’t heat it properly or failed to unfreeze the pitch before the match.

    Thankfully we didn’t have any injuries from last night’s foul fiesta. Because frozen pitches can lead to bad injuries.

  • para

    Well said. Was thinking same thing during game.

    Theo seems a little distracted lately but against Stoke i can excuse him being his usual self, not wanting to get hurt, in fact the whole team played a sort of stand-off football, keeping the opposition away from them, which worked.

    Confidence will have taken a little fall and Chel$ will be a good place to regain it, (we know why Mou left now instead of end of season 🙂 )he did not want to lose this game.

    That said Chel$ will be a different beast now.

    Hope they have a good rest and we get some returning players before the match.

  • GoingGoingGooner

    I don’t think the team’s confidence would necessarily be adversely affected by the result. I believe they know that every team has to be respected and that every result has to be worked for and after all nil-nil is not a disaster; Stoke is not relegation fodder this year.

    The players have seen the PGMO at work their whole EPL careers and by and large just get on with it. The old heads on the team are keeping the team well grounded and we shall be ready for the visit of Chelsea.

  • Menace

    Pete – you are probably right about when we play Stoke, but I think we are capable of beating them any time if the PGMO do their jobs correctly. The ‘talking to’ bullshit that they employ is suited to a school boy match. This is the top level professional game & everything should be exacting standards.

    The off sides that were incorrectly ignored should be punished with fines of £250,000.00 to PGMO for incompetence. It will cost Everton that much or more. These are Professional Game Match Officials & should be punished adequately. Our match against Chelsea must be worth between £4 & £10 million because it robbed us of points & also robbed other teams of position. God forbid, but it may cost us the League.

  • Gord

    Categorizing things.

    If we look up a referee at the Premier League or Wikipedia, it affiliates him/her with a FA. And that affiliation is used to locate the referee (to assign a home to him/her).

    We are familiar with the idea that 😈 Mike Riley has criteria besides competence in finding new people to bring into his Select Group.

    If I go to The FA, there is a list of FAs that are part of their system. One of them is Hampshire. One of the National Group list of people that have done some EPL work this year, is listed as Isle of Wight as affiliation. Isle of Wight is not on the list of “subsidiaries” of The FA; instead it is a “division” of the Hampshire FA.

    Hold that thought.

    We do have 3 FAs that are English but not part of England: Jersey, Guernsey and Isle of Man. The Premier League is not just England, it is England and select parts of Wales (Swansea, Cardiff, and possibly others?).
    As near as I can tell, Swansea and Cardiff are part of the South Wales FA (or something like that).

    Hold another thought.

    Not all of the “subsidiaries” of The FA are counties. The Army, Navy and Air Force have FAs in this category, and then we have some others like English Schools.

    I don’t remember that National List having any referees who were from Wales, but I could be mistaken. Can the National List contain Welsh referees? In so far that getting on to the National List is a precondition to eventually becoming a Select Group referee, should it be possible for a Welsh referee to get on the list?

    What about Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey?

    Is there is a list of which County FAs have Divisions? Or do I have to just discover this as I go along?

  • proudkev

    Great report Walter.

    Wenger did the right thing with Ozil. He knows how important he is to the team and lets not forget he rested him recently and clearly did so again this week. He knows the Stoke players would have spent all game targetting him so he made the sensible call.

    I am impressed by the way Iwobi is coming along. Very strong technically. He is a lad Wenger clearly rates highly and he could have a big career at our club if he wants it.

    Regarding Clattenburg, I like him as a referee. A few years back he was wrongly accused of being a racist by Ramires and Chelsea FC, over the Obi Mikel incident. It all kicked off and Clattenburg was investigated by the FA and the Police but cleared. Chelsea handled the whole sage as one would expect from a club like them, disgracefully. Years later Chelsea admitted they handled it badly but they have never really apologised; choosing the word ‘regret’ instead, which is not the same. Meanwhile, Clattenburg regularly gets their games which can’t be easy. So I hope he remembers how they treated him and gives us something few other referees seem willing to do, a fair deal.

  • Usama Zaka


    About Clattenburg, he has had one match this season with us against West Brom. In that match we lost Arteta and Coquelin to injuries thanks to their countless fouling. He also allowed West Brom to score an illegal goal and denied us a penalty and a retake of Cazorla’s penalty.

  • Florian


    I would actually go one better and say that apart from the away match at the Totts, we can go unbeaten for the rest of the season. We have notable away matches at ManU, the Totts, Everton, West Ham and ManCity. Of these, I can expect us to win 1 (West Ham – I know, not guaranteed, but most likely), lose 1 as mentioned, and draw the rest. We win all matches at home, plus the 2 away matches left at Bournemouth and Sunderland, we come out with 84 points, which should be enough to win the title. I was hoping we’d win at Liverpool but alas it didn’t happen. Still, we’re on track, we’re the most consistent team of all, we’re mostly capable to fend off the attacks of the refs (;) so no reason to panic.

  • Jerry

    Good write up! I have to admit, the same thought crossed my mind when I heard Özil was being held out. Glad the team came out unscathed from Stoke especially considering this information: provides a list of all players that missed the last game for their clubs. We find that:

    England- had 97 players out injured (20 teams)
    Spain- 77 players out injured (20 teams)
    Italy- 72 players out (20 teams)
    Germany- 76 players out (18 teams)

    So the PL has about 20 more players out than the other top 4 leagues in the last match week
    (*The Brand is clearly not protected if you’re missing more players)
    (**Germany has only 18 teams in the top flight)

    Comparing total league disciple from

    England- 722 yellow cards, 13 second yellow cards, 22 red cards
    Spain- 1060 yellow cards, 32 second yellow cards, 22 red cards
    Italy- 978 yellow cards, 27 second yellow cards, 26 red cards
    Germany- 593 yellow cards, 8 second yellow cards, 9 red cards

    *The discipline stats are
    after 22 games for most teams in England
    ONLY 19 games in Italy and Spain
    ONLY 17 games in Germany

    The PL has played about 3 MORE games than the top divisions in Spain and Italy, but has given 250-300 LESS yellow cards!

    For those interested in a per match week yellow card breakdown:

    PL: 722 YCs/ 22 match weeks = 32.82 YCs/ match week
    Spain: 1060/19 = 55.79 YCs/ match week
    Italy= 978/19= 51.47 YCs/ match week
    Germany= 593/17= 34.88 (also 2 less teams so 1 less match per week)

    The PL needs to get the referees in shape, starting with getting rid of the general manager Mike Riley, if any England club is to be able to compete in Europe!

  • porter

    Crystal Palace – Spurs _ Martin Atkinson _M Mullarkey S Long _ _ J Linington

    Atkinson and Mullarkey , cue dodgy decisions for the Totts.

  • Gord

    No answers, hmm.

    Okay, over the season so far, I’ve noticed how much time Hayden has been spending on the bench at Hull. There was noise that he would be recalled, and lately the news is that Steve Bruce wants to sign him permanently.

    I don’t know where Hayden stands in terms of getting into the first team, but to me the idea that he spent all season on the bench and now Bruce wants to sign him is just so much B.S. Can someone explain the thinking behind this whorenalism? Just more clickbate?

  • goonersince72

    Great to have you back. Missed the miraculously fast match report. I’ve tried to do it for laughs, but didn’t have any. It’s hard. I agree with everything in your post.

  • Arvind

    Gord. No, I think there might well be truth in it. Its quite common for young players to not get games when they go out on loan, but just having to bide their time. But managers still noticing their potential etc etc.

    Or it could just be tactics to keep the boy’s confidence up 🙂

  • Zedsaunt

    A good article Walter, many thanks. Agree with all of your points.

    I was worried sick on Saturday and Sunday considering how likely it was that Ozil could be taken out, players going in dangerously knowing the refs would not act. Considering then what actions could be taken should it happen. I forced myself to watch the Villa Leicester game.

    With the teams announced Sunday afternoon simultaneously relieved that Ozil did not play/concerned that without him the team lacked a cutting edge. I was proven wrong.

    The team played for each other and there were passages where they showed they had learnt from playing with Ozil. It seemed to me that without Ozil, Alexis, Santi, Le Coq, the peerless Rosicky, not only were the team prepared to excel in all areas of determination and spirit, they were also prepared to lay out a deck showing their creative credentials. Butland denied the appropriate acknowledgement of this.

    A team that was supposed to collapse without its core is topping the Premiership.

  • Andy Mack

    Gord, Hayden is basically competing for a place in a mid-table PL midfield (yes they’re in the championship but they’ve a decent midfield and went down as they couldn’t score enough goals) and although he’s not getting loads of game time he’s still got 850+ minutes That’s better than he’d get with us and isn’t ‘shabby’ up against Meyler, Livermore and Huddlestone +.

    I think Bruce should want to buy him but hopefully we won’t sell him.

    Personally I hope we keep him in the 1st team for next year and only then decide if he stays or not.

  • finsbury

    Without doubt the pitch was and is a factor in every game no matter the level it is being played at.

    The delusional Hughes who has never recovered from the humiliation of his Blackburn side gritty Savage et al (his reputation hadn’t and won’t recover from his time spent, I mean time not wonga or maybe I don’t, promoting his special agents mates’ at Money City) has used the pitchforks before and it was expected and predictable that the surface yesterday would not be up to standard. Alexis and Ozil were “not risked” 😉

    The pitch was as predictable as the application of two different Codes for the opposing teams by the pgMOB official representative in a match involving AFC.

    We thought the panto season was over alas the officials performance was farcical.
    “He’s behind you! Using both hands to push. Remember to not do the same otherwise you’ll be called up for a most foul foul.”

    It is odd that some attempt and fail to deny what is easily observed or attempt and fail to deny others the space to remark upon the remarkable.

  • Pat

    Like Robert Pires when he watched his first Arsenal match from the sidelines, Elneny will have learned a lot from the bench about how some teams play against us and what they are allowed to get off with by the referees. He will be all the stronger for that knowledge. Hope he wasn’t too shocked!

  • Pete

    Gord – the FA has a fairly archaic structure. I think Oxford and Cambridge Universities may have some direct representation on the Council. Also the schools are, I think, the private schools. And the Military as you note. But the Council does not have a huge amount of power these days. Various other anomalies at the local level, many dating back to the origins of the game. A bit like places like Andorra, San Marino and Liechtenstein that never got properly absorbed into the new nation states of Europe?

    From the point of view of referees, Wikipedia I think usually has place of birth. May not be where they grew up or are now based – but that may be easiest? Don’t think you need to overengineer this!

    As for Hayden, I think his chance has gone now. Sadly for him he picked up an injury just as he was getting an opportunity last season. Elneny mean he is too far removed from the 1st team. Expect a sale with a sell-on clause. A real pity. But he has got to be getting in the Hull team to have a realistic prospect at Arsenal. He must be 21-22 now – Bellerin, Ox, Wilshere, Ramsey, Theo etc were all 1st team squad regulars long before then.

  • finsbury


    As far as I know (which I can say with assurance is not that far) Hayden has grown up copying CBs, in his own words players like T.Silva.

    His performances against PL opposition for the Arsenal first team have all been very good. Last season in the league cup defeat to Southampton both rookie CBs had good games against the then in form Mane, Pelle et al. (The goals can conceded were a pelanty and long range strike following a corner clearance)

    Hayden especially impressed upon the day. I hope he stays at the club.

    If it’s correct to understand that AW and most coaches prefer to ease young CBs into their roles (AW started of playing a Thuram at RB as with Chambers etc) then even another season on loan after this wouldn’t mean he is out of consideration.

  • finsbury

    Further thoughts on Hayden:

    I do think he’s one worth following. If like Chambers he earns himself an England cap he won’t disgrace himself, unlike say Ryan Shawcross’ humiliating debut after his bet365 agent had secured him a his sole cap to date.

  • Andy Mack

    I should point out that Haydens main position is DM with CB as a back-up position….