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Stoke Preview + Lineups, Talking Points!

02 Feb

Welcome to another busy Premier League weekend. It is the bloodthirsty savages from the North who come visiting to the Emirates today, and in the larger scheme of things, it is another important game in the context of the season.

I cannot recall the last time we played 3 home games on the bounce. West Ham, Liverpool and now Stoke. We have already won one, and drawn the other, though, ideally we should have won the game against Liverpool.

There has been the criticism about Arsenal actually making a match of the match, in the second half of the matches. Why not make a match of the match, in the first half of the match. That’s a lot of matches there. Which, in honesty, has been the case in January, where the team has taken to the pitch almost every 3 days, since the home loss to Manchester City.

Post that, we have beaten Swansea in the FA Cup, lost to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in the league, tore apart West Ham in a 10 minute blitz, edged Brighton in the cup, and somewhat disappointingly drew Liverpool. It has not only been a busy time, but also a testing time for players, mentally and physically.

In almost all of the games above, the team has put on a much impressive show in the second half, than in the first, which has become a cause of concern. According to Opta, if games were played in the second half, Arsenal would be second in the table, at 46 points, 2 behind defending champions Manchester City.

This is a cause of concern, because there will be games, where the side may not be able to, or actually allowed to enjoy that lean spell in the second half, and emphasis should clearly be shifted to getting into gear, right from the first whistle, and even score the first goal, rather than conceding first, and having to bear a nervous time till half time.

The fixture list has not been kind, but we shouldn’t be complaining. Look at Chelsea, for example. They have had to play in meaningless competitions like the UEFA Supercup, Community Shield, and the FIFA Club World Cup, which few people actually care about, and they have also made progress in the League Cup, getting knocked out at the semi-final stage, by finalists Swansea. And, now they face a replay against Brentford in the FA Cup. Their league form has been questionable, dropping too many points, yet they have maintained 3rd position, thanks to some consistency.

Matter of concern at Arsenal would be the topsy turvy form, this season. In 24 league games so far, we have won only 10, drawn 8 and lost 6. It is about time, those draws are converted into wins, if the side is to maintain it’s top four voodoo, as it has ever since Arsene Wenger arrived.

Defence has been a massive worry for everyone related to the club this season. 29 goals have been conceded in 24 games. Surprisingly, Manchester United have conceded 31, yet find themselves a massive 21 points ahead of Arsenal. Chelsea and Sp*rs have conceded 24 and 29 respectively, and find themselves 8 and 4 points clear of Arsenal.

So, putting into context, while it is clear that the league is not easy at all, what is worrying is that Arsenal has conceded too many decisive goals, which end up in the side losing points.

Bacary Sagna had a good period since his return, but of late has had a rough patch, thanks to the fixture list. Carl Jenkinson enjoyed a good run, but is inexperienced at the level. Per Mertesacker was undroppable at one stage, but his standards have fallen off late as well. He has made too many schoolboy errors, looks slow and out of depth at times.

Thomas Vermaelen is clearly showing that strains of captaincy are affecting his displays, while Laurent Koscielny has been indifferent to his form last season, where he was the best defender by a mile. Kieran Gibbs has been consistent, but dogged by injuries, while Andre Santos, the less said the better.

So, that makes the signing of Nacho Monreal a very important one, from now towards the end of the season. While signing a left back may not solve all defensive problems, the side needed some freshness and vigor at the back, which I feel the Spaniard will offer.

Said Arsene Wenger about Monreal,

We believe he has the quality,He has been educated at Osasuna. He went from there to Malaga, where he has grown in stature.He’s a very intelligent player and plays the kind of game that can adapt to our style of play. That’s the main reason we bought him.It’s always stimulating [to make a signing], because it’s always a sign of hope and new ambition.I feel this squad is very focused and highly motivated to do well. We don’t need that [stimulus] but if it helps, it’s better. What is most important is that when the player plays, he shows quality. That is the best way to help the squad.

The former Malaga player spoke of his admiration of Arsenal, and how his ex-clubmate and international teammate Santi Cazorla’s success, persuaded him to sign for the club. And having been born and bought up with a Spanish football mentality, Arsenal’s style should suit him well.

It should also give some much respite for Thomas Vermaelen, who is now favorite to start at left back in the crucial Champions League fixture against Bayern Munich. With Monreal coming in, and Santos clearly out of favor, there will be some rotation from now till then, and there will be sufficient rest and recovery for the players.

Arsenal recalled striker Benik Afobe from his loan spell at Bolton Wanderers. He scored 3 goals in 23 games, and the club’s inability to purchase a striker during the window looks to have sparked this recall. David Villa was highly touted as an arrival at the Emirates, until the Catalan cunts decided not to sell one of their players to Arsenal, whom they have in the past treated like a fucking shopping center. Afobe might have to play some role this season. Let’s wait and watch.

Up front, Arsenal do not face too many problems, with Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott looking like a real fun attacking unit. Walcott brings pace, pace and bit more of pace, while Olivier Giroud brings his wonderfully sculpted bod…silky smooth skills and physical and aerial ability, while Podolski can pack a punch from the left, with his cannon of a foot and his direct runs into the box. So far, the trio boast of the following stats.

Olivier Giroud – 14 goals, 10 assists

Theo Walcott – 18 goals, 12 assists

Lukas Podolski – 11 goals, 11 assists

What is more pleasing is the fact that Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere have been brimming with confidence recently, and the midfield looks settled, apart from the problematic holding midfielder slot.

Mikel Arteta has manned the position reasonably, but it requires a lot of physical input to play as the lone defensive midfielder, and it has surely taken his toll on him. Form and injuries are proof.

Abou Diaby is a candidate, but he loves going forward, and his injury record is shambolic. Aaron Ramsey had a decent couple of games, in the absence of the above two, but he is not the long term answer to this puzzle. Francis Coquelin looks like the most cultured option at the moment in the club. His lack of experience could be a hindrance, and it is about time Arsene gets the balance straight by signing a solid badass defensive midfielder in the trans…oh well.

Arsenal players will be away for some meaningless international duty, and again we will have to face some nail biting moments, hoping that players don’t return with bruises and knocks. France has called up Laurent Koscielny, Olivier Giroud and Bacary Sagna for their friendly against Germany, who themselves are most likely to call up Lukas Podolski and Per Mertesacker.

Spain have called up Nacho Monreal and Santi Cazorla, while Wojciech Szczesny makes Poland’s squad. Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain all make it to the England squad, who face Brazil at Wembley, as part of the 150th celebration of a numbnut of an institution, the FA.

Right, team news then. Kieran Gibbs is definitely out for 6 weeks, whose thigh sprain proved costly at £8.3 million worth of Spanish defensive material. Thomas Vermaelen is a doubt, while Mikel Arteta could be given his first start in a long long time. Francis Coquelin is ruled out as well.

The Ogres snatched Jack Butland from Birmingham, but Asmir Begovic, is expected to keep his place. Elsewhere, new signing Brek Shea is yet to receive his visa. The rest are just a bunch of hungry ogres, with one of them known for his penchant for breaking legs. He goes by the name Ryan Shawcross.

Here is how I expect the teams to lineup.

abEbNqeakW

FLASH – Supposedly, rumors all over that Cazorla may not play, to attend his uncle’s funeral. Condolences. Replace Cazorla with Diaby/Ramsey in the above squad. Whoever you have taken a liking to. Or not.

It could be another typical game at the Emirates, where the opposition would be happy to sit back and absorb attacks. Arsenal will have to find their creative juices flowing early, and also inject some pace and incisiveness early on, against a strong defence.

The earlier game against Stoke this season outlined Arsenal’s newly changed defensive strength, something that has been shattered, and it will be another hard game for Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny, in dealing with Peter Crouch and Dave Whelan.

Through the middle, Steve N’Zonzi can cause problems, while Etherington can keep the crosses flowing in. So, the defence will have to keep their discipline throughout.

Lukas Podolski spoke of the fight the team has to put up now, while Mertesacker reiterated the need to concentrate on playing their own game, rather than concentrating too much on Stoke’s game.

Enjoy the game wherever you are!

Jai Arsenal 🙂

—————————————————————————————————————————————————————– While you are about it, follow Blazing Cannons on twitter. @blazingcannons

And do like, the Facebook page as well.

Go ahead you lazy bum, that’s all I ask of you!

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Posted by on February 2, 2013 in 2012-2013, Match Previews

 

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