Tag Archives: Britannia

Shawcross and Mike Dean and Adam, oh my!

Ah, spring. The run-in. When evey Gooner’s thoughts turn to points. Yes, every Gooner, it seems, turns amateur accountant this time of year, frantically assessing how many points are needed to ensure that mythic, enchanted top-four finish: what’s our maximum? How likely is it that [detested rival] will drop points against [somewhat less-detested rival] to allow us to sneak in? So it goes. A victory over Man U gives us a chance to finish above them. That’s fifth, then. A midweek victory over Southampton puts pressure on Liverpool, but fourth is still just out of reach. Before counting any more eggs (or is it beans?), though, there’s the not-so-small matter of Stoke.

“But they’re comfortably mid-table”, you say. “They’re not the same without Pulis”, you say, and “they’ve only won once in their last nine.” Enough, I say. Stoke may not be quite the maulers and miscreants they were under Pulis, but Mark Hughes has enjoyed more than his fair share of inflicting misery on Arsène over the years. and their relationship is strained at best. Under Hughes, Stoke do continue to play their trademark physical “football”, and they seem to have ended their brief flirtation with more-positive play. Still, they are more likely to get forward, with Arnautovic, Allen, and Shaqiri comprising a more-creative midfield than one might associate with a Stoke squad. As such, we’d do well to not only mind our shins, ankles, and other extremities; we’ll also have to keep an eye on this other attacking threat those three represent.

Making matters potentially worse, the game will be “officiated” by Mike Dean, reviled, hated and detested—but far be it from me to dwell on his family’s dynamics. Suffice it to say that we could be in for a long outing, what with Stoke’s Orc-ishness and Dean’s apparently sadistic glee in seeing Arsenal suffer.

At our end, we know that our backs are up against it, and we can’t afford to drop points. Fortunately, the move to the 3-4-3 (or 3-4-2-1) have given us something of a stronger platform and an actual structure to our midfield. Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey in particular seem to have thrive, not only in shielding that back-three but also in linking defense to attack. Each has looked livelier yet also more composed. I’d add in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, but he picked up a knock against Southampton and may be unavailable. Still, the larger point holds: the transition to this new formation has gone remarkably well thus far, and we may just see Ramsey score his first goal of the campaign against the club whose style of play very nearly ended his career. If nothing else, we’ve seen goals from most if not all of the usual suspects in recent weeks.

Wherever they come from, we need a few goals. If we’re serious about reeling in Liverpool, we need to look past the points. We’ve each conceded 42, and Liverpool have scored 71 to our 68. Should we each end on 73 points (we draw and win twice, Liverpool win one and lose one), the tie-break is goal-difference. Should we both end on a goal difference of , say, 30, we might face a play-off at a neutral site to settle things. Given that we already have an FA Cup final to tend to, we would do well to win out. Adding just a bit of schadenfreude to the proceedings, we end with a visit from Everton. Would the Toffees roll over for us if it meant sinking their Merseyside rivals out of the top-four? I wouldn’t put it past them, but it’s still best that we put as many goals past Stoke as possible first.

Arsenal 3-1 Stoke (10.12.2016)
Stoke 0-0 Arsenal (17.01.2016)
Arsenal 2-0 Stoke (12.09.2015)

Arsenal have failed to score in two of our last three trips to Brittania Stadium.
Stoke have not lost at home to Arsenal in their last six matches.
The two clubs first clashed on 12 November 1904, a 2-1 win to Woolwich Arsenal.

Oxlade-Chamberlain and Koscielny face late fitness-tests; Cazorla remains out.

Čech; Holding, Mustafi, Monreal; Iwobi, Ramsey, Xhaka, Bellerín; Alexis, Özil, Giroud.

Stoke 1-2 Arsenal.

Arsenal seize a point from the graveyard of empires…

Zero. Manchester United. Manchester City. Chelsea (sorry, forgot my thesis). One: Leicester. Arsenal. Among the serious contenders for the Prem title, only Arsenal have faced a full-strength Stoke at the Brit and come away with a point. The Mancs combined to lose by a collective 4-0. Chelsea, for what they’re worth, also got blanked 1-0. Only Leicester, facing a Shawcross-less Stoke, had emerged relatively unscathed, earning a point after falling behind 2-0. Arsenall, playing without Alexis or Özil showed very little fluidity going forward but still bested our chief rivals by grabbing that point. It might not be inspiring stuff to celebrate a point, but it’s enough to keep us top of the table for at least another week.

Man of the Match honours might have to go to referee Craig Pawson, though, who thrice ignored legimitate penalty-shouts as Giroud was dragged down twice in the box and Walcott was clattered just outside it. For what it’s worth (relatively little, I acknowledge…), Stoke were lucky to finish the match at full-strength. Arnautovic scythed Campbell from behind without Pawson seeing fit to book or send Arnautovic off as he likely deserved. Moments later, Giroud would be whistled for a foul while fighting for a header but couldn’t earn a the same call despite being fouled in a much-worse fashion in the area. Say one thing for Pawson’s performance; he kept his whistle in his back-pocket for long stretches. In a match in which Stoke played much more physically than Arsenal did, you can guess who gained the advantage.

Stoke do deserve some unqualified credit, both for generating chances and for denying ours. They carved out a number of shots, forcing Petr Čech to prove that he was worth the money spent to secure him on numerous occasions—none more vital than in the waning seconds of the match—and the efforts of Jack Butland can’t go unnoticed. Whether he was tipping over the Ox’s swerving strike from distance or snuffing out Giroud’s close-range shot, the lad did everything asked and more to help Potters forget Begovic. He answered every single question put to him (not that there were many) by our attack.

To return to the original point, we went in without a fair few of our most-vital players—Alexis, Coquelin, and Özil, to name just three—and still came inches away from seizing all three points. In that first half, the Ox (playing centrally in a 4-3-3) tested Butland twice from 20 yards out, and Campbell threaded a perfectly weighted ball in for Giroud only for Butland to deny him. The inclusion of either Alexis or Özil might have tilted the advantage to us, but at what cost? Both players excel with the ball at their feet, of course, but that would have only exposed them to all sorts of mayhem and manglings. To have secured a point where so many others have dropped all three does count—even on a weekend when most everyone else secured three points. Leicester performed a minor miracle by drawing at Villa Park.

No, this was not Arsenal at its finest, but it was Arsenal at its “good enough”. It might suffer by contrast with Man City’s 4-0 blitzing of Crystal Palace or Man U’s 0-1 escape from Anfield, but the Prem is not won or lost on weekly results but on the season-long haul. Pit our result at the Brittania against Man City’s or Man U’s—a more-direct appples-to-apples comparison—and we come out smelling like a rose (apologies for mixing the metaphors). Champions have been built on less than that.

Stoke 0-0 Arsenal: Vote for Player Ratings/MotM!

As expected, Stoke set up a stubborn defensive display but did show flashes of flair, especally early on. Arsenal struggled to get any momentum going. The first half saw each side generate just one or two clear-cut chances each. Early in the second half, referee Craig Pawson ignored several penalty-shouts when Walcott and Giroud were each brought down in the area. Stoke had several chances snuffed out brilliantly by Čech, after which things seemed to settle into a tepid morass. Stoke had a bum-clenching sequence in the closing minutes, including a punch-out from Čech, a goal-line clearance from Ramsey, and a sprawling kick-away from Čech. Madness. Well, it’s a point taken, enough to get us top of the table again. Get down to the poll to give our players what they deserve…

Open Letter to the outcake eatin' Potters…

Here we go again, eh? Before getting too far into it, let’s bury at least one hatchet, eh? Shawcross’s scything of Ramsey is seen ’round these parts as horrific accident brought on by bad timing, not sinister intent. It was horrific to watch, and you can see how shaken Shawcross was in its aftermath. One other factor Gooners overlook is the help Glenn Whelan offered to Ramsey as he lay there on the pitch. To say that the incident only poured more fuel on an already burning fire is an understatement. Keep in mind, though, that by this point, we’d already witness two other similarly stomach-turning leg-breakings, those of Abou Diaby and of Eduardo da Silva. “Once bitten, twice shy” and all. Thrice broken? Well, you can see where we might get upset.

Neither one of us does ourselves any favours, though, do we? We at Arsenal continue to bang on about playing football the “right way,” with precious passes and delicate, balletic interplay set to music played by flutes and oboes and the occasional patter of applause just a whisker softer than that at a golfing event. You at Stoke continue to maul and maim, supposedly, while the ground shakes… the drums, drums in the deep.

There are rivalries, and there are rivalries. Some of them are borne of history or of geography, but this one is borne of sociology. Are there any two Prem clubs further apart in their identities than Stoke and Arsenal? The contrast between our clubs and followers would make The Hunger Games pale by comparison. Stoke inhabit one of the far-flung, backwater districts whose labor and toil supply the capital, in this case Arsenal, full of effete snobs who sneer down on those who dare to dirty their fingers for a living, preferring instead a manicure and Malbec to manual labor or manufacturing. These are the caricatures of ourselves we each endure, accept, or embrace.

The departure of Pulis might have dampened these caricatures but for the hiring of Mark Hughes, perhaps the only manager who might infuriate Gooners more than José Mourinho. Arsène has been high-handed with Hughes in the past, but the man has brought some interesting changes to Stoke’s set-up. Players life Bojan, Shaqiri, and Afellay, to name just three, indicate that these Potters are not content to rely on the old hoof-‘n-hope; indeed, they mght even prove that a squad can play some pretty-damned pretty football. If anyone can graft Pulis’s pure physicality with Arsène’s arrogant artistry, maybe Hughes can. He’s engineered a few upsets over Arsène in the past, if memory serves.

I’ve only met one Potter in person, and he was far more posh than I’ll ever be. We chatted a bit. His mountain bike cost more than I’ll earn in several months. The car to which that bike was strapped cost more than I’ll earn all year. There are caricatures and stereotypes, and there are actual people.

Feh. I’m gettin’ right preachy, ain’t I?

Long story short, let’s move past the complicated socioeconomics. Let’s kick a ball around the pitch and see who wins.

One does not simply walk into Mordor: Arsenal will waltz in and lay waste to Stoke!

Mordor. Orcs. Brittania. Potters. Our effete, wine-sipping dilettantes will flit and flutter about while being bashed, battered, and bruised. At least, those are the stereotypes that come to mind whenever Stoke face Arsenal. These days, however, it’s closer to the truth to admit that Stoke under Mark Hughes have been playing some incisive, creative football—not that they have turned over a new leaf. They can still bring the physicality that can do so much damage, be it literal or figurative, to our squad. Players like Bojan, Shaqiri and Afellay have brought a new dimension to a Stoke side still accused of playing something closer to Gaelic rules than to footy.

After conceding a stoppage-time equaliser at Anfield to a hamstrung squad, we might welcome news that Shaqiri and Arnautovic have suffered some hamstring-issues of their own. Whether they’ve available or not, we know what to expect from to trip to face Stoke. The fans will be in full-throat, whether it be outrage at Ramsey or at the more-general sense that Gooners sneer at Potters. Mark Hughes, it must be noted, has a knack for outfoxing Arsène, and the two have an icy relationship that dates back even further than the Shawcross debacle. Stoke have been in fine form, sitting seventh just two points off of Man U, whom they blanked a few weeks back. For all of the intimidation that they try to inspire at home, though, Stoke are little better there than they are on the road.

At our end of things, we have to summon determination not disappointment from the result at Anfield. Most everyone dropped points this past week, but two consecutive draws, even on the road, could come back to haunt us later. I don’t care much about being top of the table on 17 January, but three points on Sunday could go a long way towards being top in 15 May. We could see the return of Alexis or the debut of Elneny, but I’d be surprised in such a heated fixture. The increasingly confident Joel Campbell has earned a starting nod, even if that’s default from the indifferent play of Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain. Campbell is a poor-man’s Alexis and is being dubbed this year’s Coquelin. It’s too early to pin high hopes to him, but he has made himself indispensable if not yet invaluable. We’ll need his work-rate and spirit as we go into the hostile environs.

Stoke have been a bit leaky of late, conceding six goals in their last three. Even if they’ve been stingier at home, we should see be able to carve out enough chances to test Butland and even put a few past him.

Arsenal 2-0 Stoke (12.09.2015)
Arsenal 3-0 Stoke (11.01.2015)
Stoke 3-2 Arsenal (06.12.2014)
Arsenal has failed to win in five trips to the Britannia Stadium, losing the last two.
Stoke seek a third consecutive Prem win at home.
Jonathan Walters has scored in three of his last home matches against Arsenal.

Wilshere is out. Although Welbeck, Rosický, Coquelin, and Cazorla have returned to training, none are fit or availabe. 

Čech; Monreal, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Bellerín; Flamini, Ramsey; Walcott, Özil, Campbell; Giroud.

There’s more tenacity and grit in us than our stereotype suggests, and we houls put this one out of reach early.

PREDICTION Stoke 0-2 Arsenal