There are a few reasons why I dislike our trips to the Britannia more than to any other away ground: one can guarantee that any time they are in possession of the ball the standard of football will be utterly abysmal; one can guarantee that any time the ball goes off the pitch in our half one will have to watch a neanderthalian grotesque drying the ball with a glorified undershirt; one will frequently be forced to look at a 54 year old man wearing a baseball cap; and one will be constantly subjected to the both braying and jarring cries from the Stoke faithful any time Aaron Ramsey touches the ball.
At Ashburton Grove, if there is one event that I will rarely get off my seat for or gain any real sense of excitement and animation towards, it is a throw in. Yet at the Britannia it is met with 27,000 fans making more noise than cattle during corn distribution.
On to the football now, and I think for us it was a game which was crying out for an in-form big man to combat their defensive giants more effectively and provide us with our own aerial threat, not only from corners and free kicks but also from goal kicks and clearances in general. Unusually for him, Van Persie struggled to hold onto the ball on many occasions, being gently encouraged off the ball by their centre backs or, more commonly, blatantly fouled. When Wenger brought on Chamack, he won his first flick on from Szcz and successfully held onto the ball every time he received it. Unfortunately however, it is most blatant that he will never score a goal if he only ever plays with his back to goal as he is never looking to get on the end of any passes or crosses. I doubt he could name the colour of Begovic’s jersey such was his insistence on backing him.
I have written many times that I think Gervinho is most effective for us when he is given a starting position, rather than appearing off the bench in the dying moments. He seems to me to be a player who settles himself into the game, learning the defensive inefficiencies of his opposite number and reacting to it over the course of 90 minutes. Some may differ but I am of the sentiment that he played well against Stoke as he was consistently proactive, eliminating many of their players in their half. He has the ability to beat players with a drop of the shoulder and a burst of pace; something which I think Theo struggles with regularly. Many fans bemoan his wastefulness in certain situations and I comprehend fully where they’re coming from, yet I think he plays a very high risk game which is based upon regularly trying to eliminate the opposition. In approaching the game in this way he is more at risk of losing the ball, yet is a risk versus reward system which we do tend to benefit from. When considering that this is his first season in the premier league I am sure he will improve upon his 4 goals and 8 assists this year, especially if he takes a leaf out of Koscielny’s book.
The goal we conceded smacked a little of our previous sufferings, namely being dominated in the air and conceding from a fairly innocuous cross. Yet as a general rule, with Vermaelen, Koscielny and Sagna in the back line I’m rarely concerned that we will concede from each and every free kick or corner. Crouch is such a lanky specimen that he will win the vast majority of the accurate punts in his direction, whether it be from his keeper or from a cross; the vitally important way to counter this is to ensure that the crossing player is put under as much pressure as possible and cannot place the cross onto Crouch’s cranium. I don’t think we did this effectively enough on their goal, and what followed was a standard Crouch goal from standard Stoke tactics, and I guess we can’t be overly surprised. Against most teams Vermaelen would have won the ball, but against teams like Stoke it can come down to the small tactical points to secure the win.
As usual we are making things rather tricky for ourselves, but being a Gunner entails regular heart in mouth moments, so you should be used to it by now. With our opponents breathing down our necks it is vital that we continue to win games again having only picked up one win in our last four games.
If any of you made it this far, thanks for reading.
(halls_dja on twitter, ta very much)