Stoke visited the Emirates in a game which marked the home debut of Mesut Ozil. While there was a buzz about Ozil, all eyes were on in-form Aaron Ramsey as many felt a strong showing by Ramsey would in many ways bring his return from injury full circle.
New signings take ‘Center’ stage
This was a game where both of our new midfield signings shined. Mesut Ozil while not having the most influential game in open play provided all three set-piece assists (two assists for those of you that don’t count Ramsey’s rebound an assist). There has been a lot of debate on if set-piece assist count for much but considering how often we get undone by set-pieces while also not producing anything ourselves, having someone that take on the mantle of being a set-piece specialist whose delivery can make a difference adds another dimension to our game. Case in point, Chelsea who beat Arsenal 2-1 at the Emirates last season scored both goals through Mata set-pieces. As a whole, Chelsea created nothing much of note but still managed to take home all three points so discounting the value of threatening set-pieces is unfair.
Additionally what a sensational signing has Flamini proved to be so far? Sitting in front of the back four, Flamini has kept things simple. He has played the part of the midfield enforcer to perfection so far and he finished the game with an average position of just in front of Per and Kos. Flamini is exactly what this Arsenal team has been missing over the last two seasons, a no-nonsense tackler who is more than happy to sit in midfield while allowing the midfielders in front to dictate play. Flamini gave Adams and Wilson a lot of trouble throughout the game with only N’Zonzi having some success in midfield for Stoke City. Flamini in the end finished with a very impressive three tacklers and a team leading three interceptions and three clearances and has his best game of the season. Not bad for a player that was free especially when compared to how much United had to cough up for Fellaini.
While Arsenal played a very Arsenal-like game in the first half, the second half saw a strange role reversal where Stoke started to play a very Arsenal-like passing game and dominate possession. In the second half (with the addition of Ireland) Stoke had ball playing midfielders in N’Zonzi, Ireland and later Palacios and Stoek passed the ball around looking for an opening while Arsenal remained happy to sit back and look for the counter with Giroud once again acting as the outlet. Stoke’s passing effort while might have been pleasing on the eye but it did not result in much. Furthermore in an ironic twist, Arsenal scored all three of its goals through set-pieces which has historically ranked as number 1 on the guide to winning at football by Tony Pulis. While the second half showed that Hughes is looking to adapt a different approach to football, it spoke a lot about Arsenal’s character and how the team has evolved over the last two seasons. While lacking possession, the team remained compact, patient and most importantly composed and all the players did what was required to see the game through.
Aaron Ramsey scored again (what’s new?). Looking at Aaron’s trajectory this season (fine form that has carried over from the latter half of the previous season) it is clear that the injury forced Ramsey to work on the weaker aspects of his game like tackling and playing in space. All Action Ramsey finished the game with a team leading 6 tackles in addition to his well taken goal. However what has been most impressive so far is that Ramsey has been either the most or second most influential player in all four of Arsenal’s wins in the PL so far.
Gibbs is quietly becoming one of the best left backs in the EPL. Already saddled with the pressure of playing in front of no natural left winger, he handled both his defensive and offensive duties well. While it should come as no surprise that Arsenal has the least amount of attacks down the left channel (only 22% of Arsenal’s total attacks came from the left side) Gibbs’ performances over the last 3-4 games means our left back position is no more a liability.
Arteta is back! It’s a shame that Flamini’s performance has been so impressive that the excitement over Arteta coming back was considerably muted. But this should not take away from the fact that we now have one of our key midfield clogs back. While I don’t necessarily view Arteta as a guaranteed starter anymore, having Vermaelen and him back bolsters our defensive/central midfield options considerably.
Serge Gnabry also made an impressive debut on the right for Arsenal in place of a last minute scratch Theo Walcott and while he did not provide some of the same width that Theo often does, Gnabry looked a player that would thrive in the PL. A stocky winger (similar to The Ox) Gnabry constantly took Pieters on. The only negative from Gnabry’s game was his early insistence on cutting in from the right. With already playing with no natural left winger, Gnabry cutting in resulted in Arsenal having an extremely congested midfield, one that Stoke inexplicably never took advantage of on the flanks.
In the end, Arsenal came through 3-1 winners against Stoke City in a game that further displayed Arsenal’s new found ability to grind results and find themselves in a good position leading into a fairly congested few weeks.
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