Oh thank the lord it is back. The Premier League and in particular our beloved Arsenal return to the pitch this weekend. No more mindless friendlies or international finger twisting hoping players don’t get hurt. Real football is back and it’s just in time.
The last fortnight has been tedious. Relentless droning on about whether Wenger lied or not regarding the injury to Welbeck or people tweeting each other down about their opinions whether this Arsenal squad is good enough or not – it was all a bit insane.
But that changes when the club takes the pitch against Stoke at the Emirates. For at least 90 minutes the focus returns to where it really needs to be – on the pitch. Most will leave the pitchforks and banter under the tables or at home while we focus on the players on the pitch (hopefully supporting their efforts.)
Regardless of what people speculate the team is still in very good shape. It’s not all doom and gloom as many would like to have us believe. Should Wenger have signed a striker? We’ll see soon enough won’t we. The fact remains this squad was stellar from December through the end of last season. There is no reason to believe that they can’t be again.
It remains to be seen though if they the players themselves believe it. My biggest worry this season is that with the increased expectations placed upon them we might see our players become shrinking violets. Hard to believe one can say that about professional footballers but think about this – all those shots we’ve had – hardly any on target. Maybe, just maybe we’re trying to hard rather than relax and play with creativity.
This weekend would be a good time to come back and realize that they are actually that good. They’ll be going up a historically difficult opponent in Stoke. But Stoke have yet to win a league game this season, are riddled with injuries and lineup doubts, and they haven’t won at Arsenal since Prince Charles got married – to Princess Diana – in 1981.
Forgetting that last fact, Stoke have improved their overall attacking quality. However, much of it is out with injury or suspension. Additionally, some of the bench players are also injury doubts. So when you look at it, Arsenal should have little excuse for have their way with Mark Hughes’ charges.
As we know however, Arsenal don’t need no stinking excuses to cock it up. They have this nasty habit of seriously underestimating teams and then displaying the kind of lackluster performance that makes paint drying seem exciting. It’s a recipe for disaster that’s all too familiar.
However, as we stated earlier, this season isn’t lost in August like it seemed last year. 4 games in we are only 5 points behind City and a win could catapult Arsenal as high as 2nd place. The key is for them to start scoring.
Wenger said it in his pre-match presser:
“We have created the chances and that’s what we want to continue to do,” said Wenger.
“I believe that the finishing is a bit cyclical, up and down, and we are the team who has created the most chances since the start of the season, so let’s just continue to focus on the quality of our game.
“It is about the efficiency and the quality of our game, we can score goals and I am not worried about that. We have Alexis, we have Giroud and we have Walcott. It is a massive opportunity for them of course.”
The chances have been there – it’s just the finishing. We know that Giroud will go through a purple patch. I still figure him to be around the 20-25 goal mark when the season is all said and done (yes you can save that.) I also suspect that as Sanchez gets more fit, he will start to get back to his terrorizing self.
It’s the others that have to step up as well. A healthy Walcott should be banging in double digit goals – regardless whether he is used as sub or starter. Oxlade-Chamberlain needs to deliver with consistency as well. He still loses the ball far too often for my liking to warrant a starting spot but he has the quality to make things happen from the bench.
Throw in conversions from the likes of Özil, Ramsey and Cazorla and you have goals galore. They just have to bloody convert them.
I am always the optimist – even when I am pessimistic, but I am not moving off my bullish prediction with this team – they will challenge for the title. Even with how we’ve stuttered, I’ve seen nothing that says we can’t and won’t.
Finally, with a long time in between we can really start the season with a match set up for us perfectly. Now it’s time to deliver.
Players to Watch:
Arsenal. Mesut Özil. This is supposed to be a break out year for him – he needs to continue the upward trend we’ve seen in the first 4 matches.
Stoke. Xherdan Shaquiri. A name I’d never expect to see at Stoke. Coming via Bayern after a loan at Inter – he’s a creative attacking type that can cause us problems if we don’t watch it.
While many want Walcott and/or Oxlade-Chamberlain to start, neither offers the defensive cover Wenger apparently wants. To us that means Ramsey out wide again. Similarly, with the physicality and strength of Stoke, look for Giroud to start up top to battle that. Everyone else pretty much is as you would expect.
Injuries and Suspensions:
Arsenal: Wilshere (leg), Welbeck (knee), Rosicky (knee)
Stoke: Shawcross (back), Odemwingie (hamstring), Diouf (doubt – groin), Arnautovic (doubt – ankle), Johnson (doubt – hamstring), Adam (suspended 1/3), Affelay (suspended 1/2)
Referee: Jonathon Moss (3M, 7Y, 2R)
Assistants: H Lennard, A Holmes
Fourth Official: J Linington
UK: BBC MOTD 1 (highlights)
US: USA Network and NBC Sports Extra: 10:00AM
Arsenal 2 – 0 Stoke Stoke are always the bogey team – the seem toothless when they come to the Emirates. Look for that to continue
Match Facts: (Courtesy FourFourTwo.com via Opta Sports)
- The Gunners have won each of their seven home PL games against the Potters, their best 100% home record against any side in the Premier League.
- Stoke are without a win in their last seven PL games on the road (D4 L3), a current winless streak on the road only Newcastle and Southampton (both 9) can better.
- Arsenal have lost two of their last three Premier League meetings with Stoke.
- Arsenal have averaged 2.4 goals in those seven home PL games against Stoke (17 goals in total), with the visitors managing only three in total.
- In all competitions, the north Londoners have now won 13 home games in a row against Stoke (dating back to 1983), their longest such winning streak against any side in the club’s history.
- Aaron Ramsey has netted three Premier League goals against the Potters, his joint-highest tally against any side (Also 3 vs Sunderland).
- The Gunners have posted a league-high 65.3% average possession figure this season (Man Utd are second with 59.5%).
- Under Mark Hughes, Stoke have completed 77.7% of their passes and averaged a 48.6% possession figure compared to a 66.5% passing accuracy and 39.4% possession figure under Tony Pulis.
- Arsenal have put away only 5.6% of their PL shots, with that chance conversion rate superior only to Liverpool (5.4%) this season.
- Spanish schemer Santi Cazorla leads the way this season with 16 PL chances created, while since 12/13 (when he joined the PL), he’s racked up a league-high 30 assists