Evening all. Cloid’s history and the real stuff returns. We’ll be hoping to make it third time lucky, in terms of scoring a goal and winning a game at Emirates Stadium this season, when we host a Stoke City side missing key players tomorrow afternoon.
Mark Hughes’ men, thankfully now trying to emulate the Gunners by playing good football as opposed to bad rugby, will have to make do without long-term injury absentee and club captain Ryan ‘not a malicious bone in his body’ Shawcross, as well as the suspended Ibrahim ‘one-time Arsenal target’ Afellay and Charlie ‘decent left peg but what a prolifically-stampy, choke-holding c*nt’ Adam.
In addition, they have doubts over the involvement of Glen Johnson, Mame Diouf and Marko Arnautovic. Which is all excellent to hear, given the fact Stoke have been somewhat of a pain in the arse for us since they were promoted to the Premier League at the start of the 2008-09 campaign.
Since then, we’ve played them 14 times in the league; winning eight, drawing two and losing four. We also faced them once in the FA Cup in that period, losing 3-1 (although in fairness, our starting 11 that day was very inexperienced, as we fielded the likes of Armand Traore, Craig Eastmond and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas). But all our defeats have been at the Britannia Stadium and so i’m fully expecting us to make it eight wins out of eight on home turf, when we play them tomorrow.
Arsene Wenger chose his words very carefully when asked what he thought of Stoke at his press conference yesterday and I think the boss deserves a lot of credit for not acting on what must have been an over-whelming urge to call them the ghastly, leg-breaking Wimbledon-wannabees they were for so long under former boss Tony Pulis:
They are a team with a good culture of the Premier League, they know how to behave and they have experience. They have been here a long time in the Premier League and they have improved their technical quality. They have Afellay, Bojan, Shaqiri, Diouf up front and Charlie Adam in midfield. They have a lot of technical players that can give you problems. What we want is to focus on our own performance as we want to take off at home now. We had two good away games with positive results in difficult places and we know at home we can be efficient against anybody.
The Potters’ transformation from their Pulis days is pretty remarkable to be fair, and was facilitated by the ability to attract a swathe of quality players like Bojan Krkić and Xherdan Shaqiri – names you would never have thought remotely likely to sign for them a few years ago. But as we all know, money talks and they’ve certainly had some great conversations in the transfer market under Hughes.
Speaking of which, although suffering a bad slump in his development since his breakthrough at Barcelona, would you take Bojan as a central striker for us right now? Something to ponder if Giroud and Walcott keep missing from three yards, as if they’re allergic to the sound of the ball hitting the back of the net.
But despite their new-found fondness of passing a football along the ground, there have been 18 yellow cards issued in the last five meetings between the two teams and Arsene says that’s down to a ‘special motivation’ on their part and he prefers to focus on his own side’s performance:
They have always had good teams and overall when we go to Stoke they are always specially motivated against us. There is a little bit of history because of what happened and overall it was always very difficult for us. For me there was never bad blood, it was just a game that was always very difficult for us to play. But I always focus on playing football and trying to get my team to play as well as we can.
In terms of our selection for tomorrow, you’d imagine Mesut Ozil will come straight back into the side after missing the win at Newcastle with a slight knee injury. I’m guessing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will be the man to make way, as Aaron Ramsey starts from the right and Ozil resumes the role of number 10. At the back, Per Mertesacker should return to partner Laurent Koscielny at the expense of Gabriel and the only other change to our line-up would perhaps see Olivier Giroud afforded a start instead of Theo Walcott up top.
That said, Theo bagged a brace for England during Cloid, whereas Giroud got booed off the pitch by his own fans so that might play a part in the manager’s thinking. I mean, does he allow Theo to capitalize on any boost in confidence he got from his San Marino-slaying, or let Giroud regain some belief by giving him the nod? Who knows?
Personally, I still think a midfield of Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin in the middle, with Sanchez, Ozil and Ramsey lining up left to right in front of them is our best bet. Maybe at times the Ox or Theo would come in for Ramsey but I’d keep the Coquelin-Cazorla combo in the middle for sure. In terms of whether I’d pick Giroud or Walcott to lead the line, that would be based on the specific opponents in question and I haven’t watched any Stoke games so far this season so can’t decide. Let’s see what Arsene goes with.
Back post-match tomorrow.