Arsenal will travel to Stoke City on Sunday afternoon, for a fixture that hasn't been a particularly good one for them in the recent years. Last week's disappointing, yet encouraging performance creates a mixed atmosphere, and divided opinions before the clash.
Britannia Stadium - not a happy place:
The last time Arsenal went to Stoke, they came away with the solitary point. Peter Crouch scored early on, and
Robin van Persie The Dutch Traitor equalized shortly after. It was again one of those performances where we deserved more than a point, but poor finishing was the order of the day. Stoke had 2 shots on target out of 5, while the Gunners had 5 out of 17. Here's a summary of Arsenal's typical dominance on the day:
Passes: Stoke (198/290), Arsenal (411/515)
Possession: Stoke (37%), Arsenal (63%)
Territory: Stoke (50%), Arsenal (50%)
Despite the difference in possession, the ball remained for the same amount of time in each half - a huge talking point. The pass success in the attacking third was not bad at 66%, but the alarming feature of Arsenal's passing was the number of sideways and backward passes. It just wasn't quick enough to break down the home defence and the Stoke strikers' pressing tactics. Moreover, Arsenal won just 10 out of 28 aerial duels, showing their vulnerability when it comes to defending the looping long balls and crosses.
And the thing is - that's what was expected. That's what's expected when anyone goes to Stoke. If we're technical and apparently beautiful, they're physical and evidently powerful.
Our long range passes had a success rate of about 40%, while the forward passes were about 69%. The most influential players, according to the stats were Wilson and Sagna. Left back and right back, cancelling each other's efforts out on the same side of the pitch - maybe that explains the stalemate for a majority of the game. In midfield, Song and Whitehead were at it too. This has been a recurring feature at Stoke, it's no one-off. Two seasons ago, Arsenal had 75% possession, and lost 3-1. The 16 most common passing combinations were Arsenal's. The 17th was between Asmir BEgovic and Kenwyne Jones, a stat that speaks volumes about the two.
So what do we change?
1. Cazorla and Podolski need to be utilized more efficiently: Yes, Santi Cazorla was brilliant on his debut, created as many as 7 chances, and having a passing success rate of over 90%, yet he was not in his ideal position. For most of the game, he was in a deep midfield position, and from a relatively central position, found it hard to link up with Podolski. The latter too, seemed lost in the central position. Most of his better performances have come from a position out wide - and I wouldn't be surprised if he is played on either wing on Sunday. Unless of course Wenger plans to change him like he changed RvP and Thierry Henry.
2. Diaby has to start: He showed last week that he can be that strong, well-built, penetrating midfielder that we've missed for so long. And against Stoke? He has to play.Now that there's no Song to battle it out with the Stoke midfield, he could be the man along with Arteta.
3. A change in mentality, surely: Well, there's nothing you can do the team to make it win more aerial duels, maybe put Mertesacker in if given a choice, and clone him a couple of times..on second thought that's not such a good idea. We are almost bound to concede from a set piece or a throw in (how many times do we say that? Thanks, Rory Delap.), and unless Steve Bould has worked his magic on the back line, the word should be 'attack' from the go. Remember the Milan game? 3-0 at the Emirates? This is quite different, but the mentality should be similar. And this goes, not only for this game, but the season in general.
Now, against Sunderland, one of the changed things was the defensive mentality of the wing backs. With the current system, this might increase our strength at the back while the opposition is counter attacking, but it surely has a negative effect in the attacking third. There was barely any support for Gervinho and Walcott, which is one of the reasons why the former was seen cutting in and taking the defence on individually so many times. The effect is doubled when your central attack consists of two new signings, making their debuts not only for the club, but also in the league.
A system where the wing backs' restrain themselves and perform their defensive duties predominantly, while Cazorla and Podolski, along with Gervinho, who was brilliant the other day, take over the wings should work well. Giroud missed a chance, his first in English football, and he can be excused on his debut. It's just a matter of time and experience, and he might as well get it on Sunday. Giroud in the center, flanked by Gervinho and Podolski. Behind the trio, Cazorla tending to the wing, while Arteta and Diaby would fit into a deeper defensive role.
Something like this. You can visualize the back 4 as a protective wall while facing counters - Bould's wing back strategy gives the formation numerous other options, and might just work out well for the team.
So, if this works out, I'd still not fancy a clean sheet, as this doesn't solve the set piece problem. I think there'll be goals in this, from both sides.
-> Stoke 2-2 Arsenal
-> Gervinho to score
-> Diaby to start
-> Podolski to get at least an assist
Meanwhile, here are the reactions from Twitter:
@Neil1307:Neil thinks that Stoke might be a bit too physical in the penalty area.
@ArsenaliansCom 2-1 arsenal and one of them from a penalty
@ArsenaliansCom Giroud has already proved he can move into space, santi cazorla no doubt will show his presence. arsenal to win 2nil
While he believes that Cazorla will be up to the physical challenge on Sunday.
@Gaurav_sondhi: My predictions vs Stoke this sunday, 0-4 Arsenal!!! I'm telling u, I can feel it!! Store this msg n remind me post 3pm, sunday!Gaurav is going for an Arsenal rout. Really unlikely.
To get your predictions on here, tweet us @ArsenaliansCom!
Live Streaming Links:
Update: Links added.