He’s gone, hasn’t he?
Steve Bould seems to have whipped this Arsenal defense into shape. Introducing zonal marking and taking away Stoke’s greatest strength, its set pieces. They were so effective that they did not concede a corner and the free kicks that Stoke took were dealt with decisively by Mertesacker and Vermaelen. Vito Mannone for someone with such little match experience looked surprisingly steady and the few times he was tested he was on top of things.
With Abou Diaby still trying to find his feet and coming off second best in the tackling department it was good to see Arsenal players track back to help the defense out. Diaby also had a great chance in the box to score but he took an eternity to get his feet sorted out and then dismally scuffed his shot. To end the match without conceding a goal at the Britannia can be taken as a huge positive. But at the other end, we still have no clue as to who would step up on the scoring front in the absence of RVP.
Santi Cazorla kept the midfield buzzing, Lukas Podolksi looked more direct today, and Oliver Giroud offered some hints as well holding the ball but being wasteful with some of the half chances he had coming his way. He also created the biggest intake of breath when in the 89th minute he chipped in an audacious shot from about 25 yards out that just whisked the top netting. Tonnes of possession as was to be expected but there was just that running out of steam and lack of cutting edge in the final third.
As superb as Arsenal were negating Stoke on its set pieces, there was an equal level of ineptitude converting their own set piece chances. Having Mertesacker, Giroud, and Vermaelen should be an advantage. One could only count Alex Oxlade Chamberlain’s header coming remotely close to goal after Arsenal rained in 11 corners and four free kicks in advantageous positions on the pitch. Three of those crashed into the wall.
A note about Gervinho. This man twists and turns, gets into the box as easy as butter but then fails to look up, shoots into players, sprays a pass to nowhere. Its harder to find a more frustrating player. Maybe a periscope as a birthday present might help.
Stoke were also fortunate when a falling Andy Wilkinson stuck his hand deliberately to stop Podolski’s shot but it went unnoticed by Lee Mason. The same Wilkinson should have been sent off when he lunged into Vermaelen with his studs up in a late challenge. But the most shameful part was when the Stoke crowd greeted Aaron Ramsey’s arrival late in the second half with boos. Neanderthals.
Arsene Wenger did not look terribly unhappy at the result but Tony Pulis was beaming at the end. The Arsenal manager has given some indication there could be at least one and possibly two more players coming in before the end of the transfer market. One should be a holding midfielder because at this time Arsenal are actually doing a City like double act with Arteta covering for Diaby and spurning his own creative instincts.