Sunday, August 26, 2012

Reasons for Optimism; Reasons for Concern: 11 Thoughts on Stoke 0 Arsenal 0

Note to self - don't stay up until 3 AM the night before an Arsenal game, if said AFC game starts at 8.30 AM. Thank you Motorola, and your ridiculously aggressive phone alarm. Anyway, thoughts as follows:

* If there was one name that stuck out on the team sheet, it was Mannone. I feared the worst, but we actually defended pretty well, leaving Vito with relatively little to do. When he was called upon, he acted fairly decisively. Luckily, Stoke's attacking ambitions were very limited. Hopefully Szczesny will have recovered by next week, because whoever is in goal will have much more to do at Anfield, and I don't think Mannone is up to the task.

* Mertesacker had a quietly efficient performance, once again. I really like him as a player - just a pure defender who reads the game, and gets shit done. He's a defender that prevents attacks as much as he reacts to them, which has been rare to see in the Wenger years. Vermaelen will always pick up more of the plaudits owing to his all-action style, but it's hard to say that he's a fundamentally better defender than Mertesacker. Indeed, this raises a problem. When Koscielny returns, logically Mertesacker will have to be dropped, as Vermaelen is captain. But I think our strongest defensive pairing in defence includes Mertesacker, whether it's with Koz or Vermaelen. This is why I was opposed to the Vermaelen captaincy - I don't think he should be a guaranteed starter in the side. You could call this a "nice headache," and I'm sure injuries will soon limit our options. But I worry that Arsene sees a Koscielny-Vermaelen partnership as our strongest pairing, and I don't want Per to be dropped.

* It's also why I'm a bit surprised we're supposedly in the market for another defender. We are actually very well stocked in terms of defence at the moment. Santos has already been reduced to cryptically passive-aggresive tweets about a lack of playing time, and Jenkinson had deputised ably for Sagna so far (who is supposedly close to a return himself). The best aspect of our opening two games has been our defence - a real reason for optimism after so many disasters in this area in recent years. It's why I don't totally buy reports that we are interested in Yanga-Mbiwa, unless, maybe, Djourou is on his way out.

* To get back to the actual game, we probably should have scored one goal via a penalty. I was unsure at the time, but multiple viewings seem to pretty conclusively show that Wilkinson deliberately handled in the box early on in the game. To almost add injury to insult, he also almost crippled Vermaelen in the second half, with an outrageous foul on the edge of the area. What a dick.

* If there was ever a fanbase that deserved their team, it's Stoke. Apparently, if someone breaks your leg and almost ends your career through a horrendous, needless, absurdly dangerous tackle, this is but a minor crime. To not accept the apology of your assailant - well, this is much worse. The booing of Aaron Ramsey was sadly predictable today. This isn't banter, it isn't even mass stupidity. It's simply vicious cruelty from thugs. Since moving to the US, I've found myself sticking up for the UK and England a lot - I think it's a common reflex action among ex-pats. But large sections of the Stoke fanbase are the utter dregs of British society, the part of my country for which I can find no excuse. One day they will be relegated, Pulis will get fired, and they'll return to the hovel from whence they came. One day.  

* Anyway, Stoke are such an admirable, brave side that they shut up shop and played for a 0-0 draw from about the 10th minute of the game. What heroes. This helped our defensive effort, yet frustrated our attacks. We had a lot of the ball (67% possession) but lacked sufficient guile and inventiveness to break through the massed ranks of Orcs. Indeed, despite our dominance, Begovic only had to make one save all afternoon, which is always disappointing.

* This hints at a recurring problem. Selling top players each summer, whether they are replaced or not, means we have to wait for a new set of players to gel. And when you've sold your top scorer, and your top provider of assists, it's no surprise that we struggled offensively. This is a side of the "don't sell your top players all the time" issue that people often miss. Even if we do replace said players, football is a team game, and you can't directly replace the team that they were part of - you have to build a new one, and drop points while this happens. I'm quietly confident that our new players will come good, but it's frustrating that we now seem to treat the August fixtures as part of an extended preseason. We used to thrash teams in August - now we stagger through until the end of the transfer market, and fail to put points on the board in the process.

* As already noted, I thought all three of our new signings played well. Giroud is clearly a cut above the dross that we are trying to shift, even if I wish he would have played Ramsey in at the end, rather than going for the spectacular. Cazorla looked good again, although it is a little worrying that he seemingly wants to play relatively deep. I was hoping that he might drive into the box more than he has - maybe this side of his game is still to come. Podolski looked powerful and dangerous - a goal would have been nice, though.

* Two players who did not play well, by contrast, were Gervinho and Theo. People keep on mentioning the slow starts of former greats, but I really can't see the same happening with Gervinho. There are only so many times he can fail to produce an end-product before you wonder whether he is capable of doing so at this level. Theo was abject again, and I will go on record as saying that I am happy to sell him this week if a decent bid comes in. He is not worth whatever he is asking for in a new contract. Maybe when the window is shut, and he realizes that he's not going anywhere, his form will pick up. But at the moment, he has produced two very poor performances thus far this season.

* Diaby completed 90 minutes! Wow. If he could get a shot on target from six yards, then I really would be optimistic. In all seriousness, apart from his dreadful miss, he produced a few decent moments during the game. I just wish he could drive forward through midfield more often. It's a strong point in his game that he doesn't seem to exploit enough.

* Overall, this would usually be a fairly decent result. Returning from Mordor with a point and our players' limbs intact is no bad thing. But that's four points dropped from two games that we dominated. When it comes to the end of the season, those four points might be the difference between fifth and fourth, or even better. I know almost all clubs try and get last minute deals done, but we seem to make it club policy, and it means we have started the last two seasons notably underprepared. Might we have won today with the additional inventiveness of Sahin on the pitch? Maybe - and I'm a bit pissed off that we yet again refused to speculate and bring in a player who was the best in Germany just two years ago, whatever the exact details of his loan agreement.

You can't help but feel that this is going to be a frantic week at the club, and I know that more deals will be attempted than will be completed. I think the team needs a little bit more attacking spark, given the departures. It might also be nice to make a "statement of intent" signing, rather than just looking around for whoever we can get on the cheap. I guess we'll just have to wait and see. But I'm fairly certain the transfer activity of this week will define the rest of our season. Let's hope we're all happy on Saturday morning.


Anonymous said...

Nice write-up!

DavetheGooner said...

At last someone has come out with some sensible comments regarding our CB options. Vermaelen gets all of the plaudits because of his all action style but quite often it's because he out of position in the first place. Mertesaker has no pace but he reads the game very well and anticipates danger. I'm a huge Vermaelen fan but actually think that Koscielny and Mertesaker is our best parnership. However, we are blessed with 3 quality CBs.

Anonymous said...

Sad Arsenal fan. Shawcross tackle was not intentional and it was only because Ramsay's boot was planted in the ground that it led to a broken leg. It was very unfortunate but this is a contact sport and these things do happen. Shawcross has apologised and we all must move on.
It's the likes of you lot that like to revisit this incident that stir up the incident again and again.
Ramsay should have accepted the apology and got on with things. No point harbouring such grudges that are accidents in football. He was very unfortunate but he has made a great recovery and I applaud him - but it is sad that he can't be a man.

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous,

so it isn't sad for Stoke Fans to boo a player that had his leg broken in the first place? Be sensible man, whether or not it is intentional; the players know better, it is not for us to judge. And who even in the name of who says Ramsey has to accept an apology, he believes is intentional, end of conclusion. But what are the purposes of boo-ing Ramsey, absolute childish and pointless

Anonymous said...

The stoke fan who came on here what a idiot. Shawcross may have been an accident as you put it or may not only he knows whether he went to do him. Likewise wilkinson today on vermaelen on the edge of your box. I could do likewise all day when it comes to stoke football club. Your objective is to go out amd kick us whether or not you get the ball it seem. You must really enjoy watching these coincedences happen week in week out which is why you boo the victims of them.....mindless animals or should I say stoke

Anonymous said...

With players like Gervinho, Giroud, Poldoski, Walcott Wenger is delusional if he thinks his team will win anything. It is these type of games we must win.
All these world class players Wenger talks about having bought or about to purchase have done nothing for the last 7 years. They don't have bottle. V P had only one good year for Arsenal and he picked the one where hs contract was coming up for renewal!!!!!!!!!
Michael Laudrup seems to have the right idea. 2m pound for Michu from Rayo Vallecano. Great player with bottle, 3 goals in 2 games.
Food for thought at least.

Anonymous said...

What immature drivel. Give it up dear boy.

klaus.pj said...

Well, both Giroud and Poldi are still looking slightly rusty. Give them few more games, they will come good. That we have no time to wait for based on next 3-4 fixtures is another point, but the season is long. Parking the bus makes it difficult for any team, not only us.
I would have loved the OX playing from the start though on the left, and Cazorla should be positioned 20 mtr in average further up the field as a true AM behind the striker.

Anonymous said...

I thought Stoke were well worth the point - didnt have possession but they did what they are good at.

Arsenal will not win anything playing like that.

When Stoke fans sung 'Robin Van Persie would have scored that' - it was true. He probably would have done.

And Stoke could have won it at the end.

No 0-0 was fair score.