Happy Saturday to you, my fellow Gooners. I don’t know about you, but its first thing in the morning (had to drop the Management off at the airport – working in Dubai for a week ) and I’m starting this blog with a little bit of apprehension ahead of today’s game. Don’t get me wrong, I think we can win it and I hope that we will, but I have ‘the feeling’ back. I remember it well. It was the ‘feeling’ I got when we were fighting for the league against United in the first half of Arsene’s reign. It was the nervousness and apprehension ahead of every single match leading up to the last ten or 11 games in a season, knowing that we were still in the race for the title and knowing that we have our own destiny in our hands. Silverware is still most certainly in our sights.
We do have our own destiny in our own hands. If we win all remaining eleven games we will be Champions. That’s a fact. That we have a host of extremely difficult matches in order to do that, as well as the probability that we will unlikely actually be able to win all of those games, still doesn’t detract from the pure cold, hard, facts that we are masters of our own destiny.
But it starts with today’s game against Stoke. Lose or draw today and not only is it more than likely not going to be in our hands any more, but with the run of games we have coming up thereafter, it won’t exactly have Gooners shouting that ‘I believe’ from rooftops, will it? The margins when you get to this stage of the season are so fine that, if you’re going to lift that Premier League trophy at the end, you really do need to take advantage of every opportunity. Today is an opportunity to keep the pressure up on an away ground in which we’ve won once in six attempts. Stoke – aka The land of Mordor, birthplace of Orcs and Goblins – represent a very real and very difficult threat to our assault on the league. They have already dispatched United (admittedly less of a feat these days), as well as picked up draws against Chelski and Moneychester City and have always been difficult to beat. Indeed, the bookies reflect that in their assessment of the odds. Arsenal are of course seen as favorites, but I’d expect slightly shorter odds from a team that sit just three points off the relegation spaces, so clearly history has played its part in the thinking of the bookmakers.
Will history play a part in today’s game? It’s hard to tell actually. The local Stoke regional rag has certainly been doing its level best to try to mask the deficiencies of this current Stoke sides form this season. Nobody likes a Tony Pulis, but it’s hard to imagine that he would have a well-drilled Stoke side in the same position they currently occupy under Hughes. The need and requirement of the locals in Orcsville was for a more expansive style of football, which they have, but it looks at times as though that has been at the expense of what is at the core of this team – built up over a number of years – and I wonder if that straying away from what they know i.e. longer-balls, target men receiving and relying on set pieces, has been a cause for them not picking up as many points as they probably would have imagined. History too seems to have played its part in trying to rile up both Stoke and Arsenal fans, with Stoke chairman Peter Noakes talking yet again about the Ramsey incident, as well as a quite ludicrous article from Danny Higginbotham about how Arsenal have ‘no character’. I am pretty sure Arsene isn’t the type to stick up a copy of articles in the dressing room before the game, but I hope comments like that filter through to the Arsenal team, because we have character and we’ve shown it on numerous occasions this season.
Anyway, regardless of that, there’s a job that The Arsenal need to do today and if the team plays to its full potential, then we should be able to pick up the three points. The team have had a week to prepare and recharge their batteries in preparation for today’s game, so there can be no excuses on ‘tired legs’ and we have to see a pumped Arsenal team. I think we will. There might be questions about who plays at left back, but the rest of the defence should remain relatively settled. In midfield I wonder if Arsene will offer to reinforce the two anchored midfield roles with Flamini and Arteta, with a three sitting in front of them of Cazorla, Ozil and I hope Rosicky. If you read my pieces regularly, you might have come across my Rosicky ‘love-in’ during the week, so I’m advocating that we thrust our ‘Little Mozart’ into the front line and see if he can’t make music in amongst the snarling Stokies. Up top I’d expect a Giroud hopefully buoyed by his two goals against Sundrland, as well as a full week in which to recharge.
For Stoke they’ll most likely welcome back German clobbermeister Robert Huth, as well as Ireland and Etherington, but thankfully we’re spared that bloke Assaidi, who loves a wonder goal. I hate wonder goals scored against us. Not least because they get replayed in adds again and again, so I hope there is nobody in the Stoke team that pops up with one of those today.
Anyway, I shall be watching the game from a pub in Ware with my fingers crossed hoping that we don’t have to go through hell and back to collect the points we need to stay level with Chelski who, let’s face it, won’t drop points against a terrible Fulham team.
Catch y’all tomorrow.