If you’re a fan of the roaring, scoring Arsenal of old, this game would have been a let-down on paper. But Arsenal did themselves no disservices with a battling 0-0 draw against Stoke at the Brittania.
The early team news was Vito Mannone deputising for the injured Wojcech Szczesny who had a rib complaint. You can bet that there would be fears Stoke would have tried to exploit that (if the fans and media knew, surely Tony Pulis knew) and with Lukas Fabianski also crocked, the third-choice Italian stepped into the breach.
Within seven minutes he was already picking the ball out of the back of the net, but thankfully the linesman correctly called offside as Jonathan Walters gave the defence an early scare.
The match was an arm-wrestle from kick-off, and the commentators insisted on going on about the ‘contrast in styles’ between the two sides and how it was such a big test for a notoriously leaky Arsenal defence. Such as it was, the backline passed it with flying colours.
There was a genuine vibe of Arsenal refusing to buckle under any sort of physical intimidation from Stoke, so much so that the home team’s players were becoming visibly frustrated with how things had panned out. After a niggly first 20 minutes, Arsenal had gained control of the midfield and had found a neat passing rhythm.
With the defence proving very solid and the midfield trying its best to follow suit, it was left to the forward line to disappoint again as Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud and Gervinho failed to find any real rhythm.
That’s not to say they didn’t create chances, but it was a very Alex Hleb affair as the forwards ignored chances to put their foot through the ball, constantly looking for one more pass towards the penalty spot.
The biggest chance came in the first half as Podolksi broke clear in the box, and with Wilkinson slipping up, he fired for goal, only for said defender to palm the ball away in a blatant handball. That’s not just a penalty, it’s a red card offence.
Nevertheless, the defender got away with it and only conceded one of the 11 corners Arsenal were to use up in the game. Arsenal had a second penalty shout in the first half when Gervinho broke to the byline before falling from a small tug from another thick-headed defender.
Now, I won’t bang on about how we were deprived of a penalty with the ‘foul’ on Gervinho. That pull wouldn’t bring most people down more than a stiff breeze could, but to hear the commentators go on about how there ‘wasn’t enough’ contact was pretty grating. How one measures what ‘enough’ is one question, but wait until Luis Suarez or Wayne Rooney goes down in the same instances (and get the penalty awarded to boot), and watch in awe as the same commentators justify it with the ‘rules is rules’ excuse.
Anyways, I suppose Arsenal should feel lucky in some ways as Kieran Gibbs had one hairy moment in the second stanza when Pennant got ahead of him and fell in the box, but thankfully no penalty was awarded.
Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Aaron Ramsey (booooooooo!) all came on later to spice things up, and with Stoke tiring a few more chances were carved out. But our failure to make anything really clear-cut proved our undoing as our strike force was blanked again.
Yet, two points from six, while disappointing, is far from a disaster at this point. We’re a single point behind United, two behind City, and while Chelsea have steamed ahead with three wins, I’ll reserve judgement about a team run with a manager I have huge doubts about. For extra fun, we’re a point ahead of Spurs.
Mannone: 6.5 – Hardly troubled but did what was required when called upon. One hairy moment when under pressure from Walters, but held onto the high ball despite catching it in his midriff.
Jenkinson: 8 – Stirling performance at right back. Looks like he’s starting to bulk up and was giving close to nothing away for most of the game. Strong tackle, and great recovery when beaten.
Mertesacker: 7 – Put his body on the line and head where it needed to be throughout. Commands the backline in tandem with Vermaelen very well. Strong showing.
Vermaelen: 7.5 – Survived the arm wrestle with both Walters and Crouch throughout. Copped a terrible tackle but no damage done, it seems. Put 100% of the shift into defensive work, cutting out his rampages forward.
Gibbs: 7.5 – Most responsible defensive shift I’ve seen from Gibbs, but had a few opportunities to get forward, too. Really don’t like his lobbed crosses and would prefer a bit more zip, but part of a solid defensive unit today.
Diaby: 6 – A non-entity in midfield. Offered nothing in attack and lost his balance when he had a (difficult) opportunity to score. Defensively was fine and got back whenever needed.
Arteta: 6.5 – Try as he might, couldn’t break down Stoke’s door. His awareness of Stoke’s threat came to the fore and when this team does find its form, Arteta will be at the centre of many counter-attacks. Took a stupid free-kick when it looked like Podolski had the best angle in the second half.
Cazorla: 8 – Another great showing from the midfield’s new boy. Everything he does has a delightful subtlety to it and with more incisive strikers, would have had a few assists today.
Podolski: 6.5 – Should have had a goal when Wilkinson palmed his shot away in the box. Nothing else came off in the first half, but encouraging signs emerged when he started running at defenders.
Gervinho: 5 – A bad day at the office. Never really showed off his dribbling abilities and his passing was off as well. Subbed off for Walcott.
Giroud: 5.5 – His ability to hold up the ball is starting to emerge (after only two games, sheesh), but got the jitters when he had a sniff of goal. Needs to shoot when presented with the chance, but that could be said of most of the team.
SUBS: Walcott: 6 – Created a little more than Gervinho did but pace never truly utilised coming off the bench. Created one or two overlaps.
Chamberlain: 6 – Busy down the left flank but didn’t have much of an impact.
Ramsey: 6 – Not much time to influence the game. Came on to the predicted chorus of boos, but nearly managed a spin-and-shoot goal near the death.
Hype Meter time, and everything remains as it was against Sunderland. Six points were predicted after two games, and we’ve drawn both. So 33% is a nice round, relegatable figure. Early days yet, so that number means about as much as the Hype Meter itself: absolute FA.
The 0-0 draw, despite the frustration, showcased a number of things I’m really starting to like about this side. We’ve shed all our most-talented players over the past two seasons, but also shed their flakiness. As a result, we have a team that’s lost its killer instinct in front of goal, but is trying to make up for that with fight. It’s something the fans can get behind while we try to sort our heads out in the forwards’ department.
As an example, Giroud had another flat day today, but you could see instances late on where he was galloping around and chasing lost causes, including beating the Stoke right-back to the ball and heading it on into space for him to chase. It bobbled out for a goal kick.
But when you’re out of form and being played as a regular first choice, these are the things that will need to be done.
I’m hoping the midfielders are practising their long shots on the training field as was evident in our preseason friendlies. They’re really going to have to step up to the plate while Podolski and Giroud settle. Cazorla looks to be leading the charge on that front, and I’m hoping Gervinho visits a psychologist soon to get over his butterflies when it comes to having a pop.
That’s all from me. Share your thoughts on the game and our two points on the table in the comments.
Until next time, tally ho.