There are fixtures that I hate, and then fixtures that I Hate. Playing Chelsea, Liverpool and Man City are an example of the former. But when it comes to playing Manchester United, Tottenham or today’s opponents in Stoke city, I truly Hate sitting through every single minute.
Friends will attest to the fact I’m a train wreck to watch football with. My paranoia readily bubbles to the surface through every minute of the match, regardless of the score. Heck, even during our 5-2 win over Spurs last season, I was still a gibbering mess even when we were three goals to the good.
The Stoke City fixture is so bad, it makes me question why I watch football. I enjoy the intelligence and verve that football brings. It’s a sport that has a lot more thought in it than the sorry excuse for argy-bargey that is rugby league. And yet there sits Stoke, with as much enthusiasm for the ‘beautiful game’ as a State of Origin spectator getting psyched over a punch-up.
But on we march towards our doom at the Brittania. I’ve never had the privilege of attending a game in that den, but I cannot imagine it’s pleasant for travelling Arsenal fans.
I’m expecting a slight tweak to Arsenal’s line-up, with Olivier Giroud stepping into the lone-striker’s fold, with Lukas Podolski dropping back to the wing. Gervinho, who often swaps wings throughout the match, should start on the right, with Theo Walcott sitting on the bench.
The rest of the squad should be the same that played out the 0-0 draw against Sunderland. There’s a doubt over Wojcech Szczesny with a minor rib problem, but I expect him to start given Lukasz Fabianski’s torrid time of it the last time he played against Stoke.
With Laurent Koscielny still not fit enough, the back line will include Per Mertesacker for another start, and his role in defence will be crucial with an expected aerial bombardment to come from Stoke.
ArsenalArsenal has made reference to Stoke’s pitch size being kept to maximum throughout the season which on paper will decrease their threat from throw-ins slightly. But Rory Delap is no longer the talisman he was for Stoke and I would be surprised to see him anywhere else other than on the bench. The danger from midfield comes in brutal tacklers Wilson Palacios and Glenn Whelan, while Matthew Etherington will be looking to service Peter Crouch as often as he can with telling crosses.
The striking partnership of Crouch and John Walters will be the genuine test in open play for Arsenal. Crouch usually plays on the right of a front-two, with Walters darting down the left. Think of how that correlates to Arsenal’s back-line: The pacier half of the defence is on Crouch’s side, while the slower half (Mertesacker and Jenkinson) may have to deal with Walters.
Similarly, Gibbs and Vermaelen are the shorter group of defenders dealing with Crouch’s height. Set pieces aside (which are still dangerous as ever), I think Stoke could prove to be more telling in open play than we may give them credit for.
Regardless, it’s a huge game for Mertesacker who still has some questions to answer to certain pockets of the Arsenal fan base. I’m a fan of his and think he offers intelligence, positioning and calm to the back line, but memories of Frank Lampard beating him to aerial balls when he should have done a lot better still linger.
Giroud will look to make his first full start for Arsenal and offer a physical solution up front. Abou Diaby will need to get stuck in and offer protection to Santi Cazorla, who created nine scoring chances against Sunderland, all of which were missed. If he’s allowed to do his thing, this team could do some damage.
In previous fixtures, Stoke have always scored first and often very early. I’m hoping for a disciplined, resolute display from this team. If we play well, it could be an assertive 2-0, but if we come up second-best, things could get nasty.
With he-who-shall-not-be-named starting and scoring in vomit-tastic fashion for United and Chelsea making it two wins from two, it’s extremely important to get our first win of the season under our belts.
It’s a difficult task ahead of us, but this side has already shown plenty of character so far. Here’s hoping for a sterling effort and something to shove down the throats of the repugnant Stoke fans.