Tag Archives: Stoke

Saintses and Orcses and Hugheses, oh my!

First and foremost, we have to admit to a certain degree of schadenfreude. There’s nothing wrong with it. In fact, we’re presented almost weekly with a chance to wallow in it. On Saturday, to cite just one example, we had a veritable smörgåsbord of schadenfreudian options as we watched the Manchester derby. Should we hope for Alexis and Mourinho to suffer the ignominy of defeat at the Etihad as they watch City celebrate, or should we hope for Guardiola and all of his mercenaries to be humiliated twice in one week? In a word, yes. Such is the live of the footballing fan. The enjoyment is roughly 40% support for one’s club, 60% spite and schadenfreude at the expense of various rivals.
Say what you will about this campaign, what with its ups and downs (okay, mostly the latter). We were humbled in the League Cup final, humiliated in the FA Cup’s Third Round, and we never had a hint of a chance at winning the Prem. Yes, we’re still alive in the Europa League and look likely to advance to the semi-final, but even there, we’re not yet favorites. Still, we battered Stoke last weekend, driving one more nail into the coffin that is their campaign. On Sunday, we (eventually) did the same to Southampton. ‘Twixt the two, you might struggle to find two minnows further apart in their footballing philosophies and at the same time so strangely successful against Arsenal. To see one or both sent down would almost be balm enough to the allergies and aggravations of an otherwise fruitless campaign. Throw in the second sacking of Mark Hughes, and, well, there’s enough almost lipstick to put on this pig.

Image result for mark hughes southampton and stokeAnd so it is with Stoke. They’ve long been a nemesis if not a rival ever since the Shawcross Revulsion. Under Pulis, they were the antithesis to Arsène’s Arsenal—physical, primordial, punishing. While it’s true that Pulis has moved on, and Mark Hughes has tried to redefine the club, the reputation (as well as many of the Orcs) remains. Defeating them last weekend moves them one step closer to relegation. Even if that’s something Pulis was infamous for avoiding, we can still relish the idea of relegating not just Stoke itself but Mark Hughes, who has made himself more than a nuisance over the years. Even if he had tried to reinvent Stoke for the better, he’s still the gaffer who’s bested Arsène’s Arsenal more of than he should have. Without delving too far into the details, he’s done quite well for a manager who’s moved around as often as he has. 

To see him end up at Southampton, a club that in and of itself has been bit of a bogey in recent years, seemed almost too much to bear, almost an “enemy of my enemy” kind of situation. After all, by contrast with Stoke, Southampton had made a name for itself as a club willing to play aggressive, creative football, rather than hacking and mauling opponents to bits just in case this led to a point or three While it’s true that, under Hughes, Stoke softened ever slightly, it does seem that the opposite seemed to infect Southampton, if only on this past weekend. Yes, our own Jack Wilshere was guilty of accosting Jack Stephens and then putting his face into Mr. Stephens’s forearm, it’s also true that Mohamed Elneny was guilty of being shoved off the ball by not one but two, um Saints. He was also rather rudely run into by a third would-be Saint.

All in all, it was starting to feel more than a bit Orc-ish. Throw in a few rash tackles in stoppage-time, and we’re a broken ankle short of a “classic” Arsenal-Stoke match. To have therefore plucked from our saddles not one but three burrs has to feel pretty good, if only spitefully so. Stoke and Southampton are each one step closer to relegation, and Mr. Hughes, OBE, is also one step closer to a sacking. All in all, that’s a none too bad for one week’s work. 

Oh, we also thrashed CSKA Moscow somewhere ‘twixt the two.

Arsenal 3:0 Stoke—Vote for Player-Ratings & MOTM!

It was a dull and dreary affair for the greater part of the match with Stoke stubborn as ever and Arsenal about as sloppy and careless as we’ve been all season, misplacing passes and gifting possession left and right. It wasn’t until the second half that we actually started to resemble a proper football squad, but our finishing was poor. Finally, in the 74th minute, Özil found his way into the box and was brought down by Martins Indi. It was a bit light but no real doubt about it. Aubameyang stepped up and coolly put it into the back of the net. We came to life after that and Aubameyang found a second from a corner. Late on, Lacazette was shoved in the box, and Pawson again pointed to the spot. The Frenchman sent it home. It might change much in the Prem, but anything that sends Stoke closer to relegation is always good. Well, let’s get down to the poll to rate the lads!

Stoke 1-0 Arsenal: Vote for Player Ratings and MOTM!

A typically frustrating visit to Stoke came complete with rain, multiple blown calls against Arsenal, and a defensive breakdown that gave Stoke all the opening it needed. Jese’s goal just after halftime allowed Mark Hughes’s side to park the bus and dare us to get through. Jack Butland turned in an inspired performance, and we just couldn’t find a way past. When Lacazette scored, his goal was waved off because several molecules of his heel—at least three, I don’t want to understate how far off he was—were offside. It was a gutsy call by Marriner, I’m sure. He had an afternoon full of them. Well, the less said the better on this day. Let’s get down to the poll to rate the lads’ efforts…

We'll always have schadenfreude. Rob Holding, I'm looking at you!

Justice itself may not have been served, but something closely resembling it and offering something almost enjoyable was. For as satisfying as it was to thrash the Potters at their own ground on Saturday, the result still leaves us a bit stranded, hoping against hope that Liverpool will lose or draw at home to relegated Middlesbrough. There’s a long week to wait before knowing our fate. In the meantime, then, there’s some rather shameless schadenfreude to get to, so why dither when there are so many delectable delicacies on offer?

Of course, Chelsea won the Prem. Again. At first blush, it might be difficult to find the schadenfreude in that—until we consider that Jose Mourinho piloted this squad to a tenth-place finish. Yes, there were reinforcements. One doesn’t spend £113m on Kante, Batshuayi, Luiz, and Alonso without expecting some improvement. However, that pales in comparison to the £157m Mourinho spent to improve Man U—and that doesn’t include the free transfer of Zlatan Ibrahimović, a player who might otherwise command a transfer-fee of £30m, even at his age. Antonio Conte, you’ve embarrassed Mourinho on several scores. He outspent you, yes, but you out-managed him. A tip of the cap to you, then.

Speaking of embarrassing Mourinho, it’s entirely possible that Man U might finish one spot lower than they did in 2015-16, when they finished fifth. In other words, despite Leicester’s regression to means, Mourinho’s Man U are fated to finish a bit worse than they did £157m+Mourinho ago. Huh.

Let’s move on, then. Tottenham, despite their best season in England’s top tier, will finish in second place. Much as might wound our pride at this end of North London, one need only look as far away as Boleyn Ground to wonder whether Tottenham can sustain this admittedly admirable form. For what it’s worth, West Ham bid adieu to their historic ground in 2016 and finished seventh on 62 points—their best finish in a generation, if not more. They’re set to finish a full 20 points lower—a cautionary tale if ever there was one. How much of Tottenham’s ascendancy is attributable to bidding adieu to White Hart Lane? Wembley’s pitch is only marginally larger in terms of yards, but it’s miles larger in terms of environment. For a club that has brayed and bleated about Arsenal as an unwelcome intruder into “their” territory, it will be intriguing to say the leat to see how our erstwhile rivals adapt to their new environs. It’s worth noting that Arsène has done quite well at Wembley.

As long as we’re talking about doing well at other grounds, might I be so bold as to point that we’ve won the league title at White Hart Lane twice—

Last but certainly not least, let’s revisit the result against Stoke. I’m not talking about the scoreline. Yes, it was wonderful to win. It’s always preferable to the alternatives. Instead, I’d like to discuss the manner of the win. Yes, yes, each of our goals was sumptuous and sexy. However, that’s not what I’m on about. This little section is all about the ice-cold blood that flows through one Rob Holding’s veins. Before we get to him, though, let’s indulge a backstory. A Frenchman joins the Arsenal. There are high hopes for how he’ll solidify the back-line. Instead, an entirely unnecessary forearm-shiver to the back sends Debuchy into what amounts to early retirement. At the moment of impact, Debuchy and the ball were both well out of bounds. What was truly out of bounds was Arnautovic’s shove.

On Saturday, Rob Holding exacted a measure of justice. We’re not in the business of revenge, but this little rivalry is fraught with that sort of thing. Aaron Ramsey, were he the one to kiss and tell, might have some feelings to share, Ditto Debuchy. So it came down to a coming-together in the 78th minute, well within the boundaries of fair play. Arnautovic extended the same right fore-arm he used to injure Debuchy—but Holding, playing essentially the same position as the injured Frenchman, cold-cocked him. He landed awkwardly. Far be it from me to wish pain or injury on another, but when no less an anti-Arsenal authority as Mike Dean can only book Holding, well, I have to feel like there’s a certain degree of justice here. I wish Mr. Arnautovic just as speedy a recovery as he no doubts wishes the same for Mathieu Debuchy.

Hey, wait! We’re not quite done. It’s still well within the realm of reason that Liverpool do draw against Boro. I’m sure we’ll all eagerly await that one. Elsewhere, Man U have to face a very in-form Ajax in a must-win Europa League final on 24 May. Mourinho’s only path to relevance. In other words, this week’s serving of schadenfreude could still serve as an hors d’oeuvres. It may just be worth the wait…

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.