Happy Monday to you my kindred spirit in the world of football. In the UK it’s a bank holiday but more importantly than that it’s an Arsenal day. The second game of the season begins for the Arsenal players at 2pm UK side against a Stoke side that practically lives by the motto “come on lads, this lot don’t like it up ‘em”.
Led by the ever-irritating Tony ‘caveman’ Pulis, Stoke applied and succeeded, in being granted the ‘new Bolton’ tag when Sam Allardyce departed the Trotters. Unfortunately for The Arsenal, it’s not just in football that they have taken the mantle from the Lancashire-based club. they have also succeeded in picking up points against us at home on the majority of occasions.
Since 2008 Stoke have, in all competitions, beaten us at home three times, drawn once and lost once. It doesn’t make for great reading from an Arsenal fans perspective. I think what really irks us more than a nothing else is what Stoke have traditionally represented that has made it so hard to swallow. Historically we have been the beautiful blushing bridesmaids that have made everyone’s head turn on the dance floor with our passing game of technically gifted but sometimes lightweight players, whilst Stoke have been the chubby, hairy, a little unkempt bridesmaid that not many people want to take home. Yet when they entertain us at The Brittannia, it is the chunky bridesmaid that goes home with the handsome usher whilst we are left, sometimes literally, licking our wounds over yet another missed opportunity to pick up points.
So it is for that reason that I’m very nervous about today’s game and in no way taking it for granted that we’ve got three points sewn up. Stoke drew away from home last weekend to Reading an. In front of their home fans they will want to get their season up and running in earnest today. Last year there were not many sides that managed to pick up three points on Stokes home turf, only Newcastle managing it from some of the top teams that played, so expecting anything less than a 100% commitment from their squad would be naive. Arsenal need to be ready for a rough ride with plenty of physical challenges and set piece shenanigans to boot. The good thing is that big aper has already alluded to some extra work on the training ground this week, so let’s hope that this pays off and we see an Arsenal side ady to match physicality and raise the Stoke team by playing our own ace – slick passing and high pressing.
Arsenal are at their best when we less from the opposition defence and that is what I want to see today. The team itself, whilst probably similar to last weeks, might change up top with the manager possibly looking at Giroud to spearhead the attack. Podolski was quiet last weekend and so it wouldn’t surprise me to see Giroud come in, but equally it wouldn’t surprise me if both started, with Podolski having an obviously more robust game from the slender frame of someone like Gervhino.
I think the attacking side of our team will be the one which has the most permutations. The keeper picks himself, as does the back four, with Kos and Sagna still out injured, so I’d expect to see Jenkinson and Mertesacker to start again. There are lots of gooners out there that are not convinced with the young right back, but he was solid enough last week to suggest to me that he’ll get his chance again from Le Boss today. He’s also got a bit more physical presence about him so hopefully that will stand us in good stead. I’ve had a couple of debates on Twitter about Coquelin playing that role, but he’s a square peg for that round hole so it’s not something I see happening unless we are down through injury – something that hasn’t exactly been a rarity against Stoke.
The midfield will probably remain the same as last week. Arteta and Cazorla looked like they’d played together for years last week, whilst Diaby will probably be favoured today alongside the two Spaniards.
I know that Whitehead will not play today after being sent off last week against Reading, but apart from that, naming the Stoke team will be a challenge in itself. Huth and Shawcross will lead the thuggery at the heart of the defence, and we might see Tom Waddlestone in the midfield, with Peter Crouch and Per Mertesacker playing the ‘who looks more like the beanstalk Jack climbed’ up top for Stoke. Apart from that, it will be a series of Orcs reading to rake the legs of any Arsenal player that dares to play their own game. The Ox is back but I expect him to be an impact player, along with Ramsey, who has less than happy memories about this ground.
Lets hope for three points and no broken bones.