Today at ’North London Is Red’ I am delighted to welcome Richard Bagley as a guest blogger. Richard is a fellow blogger and runs a great blog over at Baggers Blog. I’m sure you are going to enjoy reading his post, I know I certainly did. Take it away Richard…..
Firstly, a huge “thank you” to Daniel for allowing my piece to be put up for you guys to read. I’ve not been writing for long and sometimes finding things to write about is pretty difficult. I hope you guys enjoy it.
So here we are on the brink of another weekend, of the bank holiday variety no less, and with it comes the anticipation of Arsenal’s first away game of the season. The opening game at the Emirates wasn’t the dazzling display we were hoping for and whilst we knew that Sunderland were not likely to offer much threat going forwards it was inevitable that they would be difficult to break down. On the positive side, there was definitely enough in our display to suggest that we have the makings of a very good team.
Whilst we still have a number of young players in the squad they have been in and around the first team for a number of years and should now be far more capable of coping with the mental pressures associated with tough away games. Players such as Gibbs, Ramsey and Walcott have played a number of games against the likes of Stoke, and whilst we bemoan our chequered history against them, the players should now have the maturity to put on a professional performance even with the high level of expectation on them.
Wenger has bought players that can immediately make an impact and integrate themselves into the team. We have seen any number of players that have joined the club and needed time to not only adapt to the league, but also develop as players. Podolski, Giroud and Cazorla represent a rebalancing of the team, adding their existing quality to benefit the team in the current season, as opposed to us seeing another work in progress at the beginning of their own journey.
All of that and Diaby didn’t suffer his almost obligatory long term Achilles / hamstring / anterior ligament / undisclosed injury setback. Considering the other results at the weekend, a point may not have been the worst thing as at least we are of the mark, unlike some.
Away games have a tendency to fill me with a certain anxiety as, over the past few years, teams have figured out what seems to be a once size fits all solution to playing us; sit deep, stay compact, rely on occasional counter attacking play and set pieces. The term “one size fits all” is one that has always interested me mainly because, even with my limited knowledge of fashion, it pretty much means “make it a medium size that stretches”. Skinny people look like they’re wearing a tent and larger people end up looking like strung meat; it fits, but that is not to say it fits well. In this footballing metaphor, Stoke would be the medium build person that the garment would actually fit and would look like they actually bought it in their own size.
Stoke are an incredibly hard working team and whilst many will point to their lack of technical quality in some areas, it worries me that so many people I speak to seem reluctant to admit that playing technically superior football isn’t the only way to win football matches. We cheer on the national team and praise the hard work and endeavour shown on the pitch by technically inferior players, yet when it comes to the Premier League our appreciation of the need of a team to play to its strengths is pretty fleeting.
In years gone by, with a disproportionately high number of younger players in the team, we almost arrogantly expected to win these types of games with our quick passing and close control. When this failed to convert to goals, the team would be visibly frustrated. We lacked the maturity, imagination, creativity and tenacity to play the game to the end and this has been a feature for me for quite a while now. Even going back to the days of Bergkamp and Henry, it was noticeable how we lacked the cutting edge and incisiveness that Bergkamp gave us and we were fortunate that the team had a higher number of truly great players to compensate for his absence.
That’s not to say we haven’t played well, or had the ability in the team, but that we perhaps lacked the conviction to go with it.
Over the past 4 seasons our head-to-head record against Stoke when we have been entertained at the Britannia hardly gives us, as fans confidence;
2011/12 – Draw
2010/11 – Lost
2009/10 – Won
2008/09 – Lost
In contrast, over the same period we have won all of our home games against Stoke. It seems we are able to take all the negatives from the away results and not appreciate our record against them at home. Playing at the Britannia just seems to be one of those fixtures that troubles us to a greater extent than it should. Add in the Shawcross challenge on Ramsey and you are looking at a match that is almost always just a few degrees short of reaching boiling point.
The one thing to remember is that our memories of Stoke as Arsenal fans last a lot longer than those of most of our current squad. Of the players that faced Sunderland last weekend, 8 have played against Stoke before in an Arsenal shirt, with only 6 of them being on the losing side. Considering that those players are Szczesny, Gibbs, Diaby, Walcott, Ramsey and Arshavin, I’m not sure we should be looking too much at our past record to bring an untimely sense of doom and gloom to the proceedings.
After all, Szczesny, Gibbs and Walcott have done a decent amount of growing up since they last lost to Stoke 2 years ago. Diaby is only on the list because he played Stoke 4 years ago in a team that featured Silvestre, Denilson, Bendtner and Vela and Ramsey may well fail to feature at the weekend and I don’t really think that Arshavin cares much either way.
With Oxlade-Chamberlain set to make the trip this weekend, probably at the expense of Arshavin’s appearance, we are likely to field 7 players at some point in the game who have never faced Stoke whilst wearing an Arsenal shirt. Whilst the inclusion of Jenkinson and Oxlade-Chamberlain will act as a reminder that bringing through young players is still very much a priority of Wenger’s, the fact that debutants in this particular fixture include Mertesacker, Arteta, Cazorla, Podolski and Giroud leaves me quietly confident that we can banish some of the demons that seem to show their faces every time this clash comes around.
With Koscielny out injured, Mertesacker has a chance to show that he merits a place in the starting XI; we now have the depth in defence to actually set up our team based on the need to counter the strengths of the opposition, not purely basing team selection on who happens to be fit at any given time.
Arteta has been nothing short of a revelation since he joined the club. With the combination of his ability and experience, gained with both us and Everton, he adds an assured quality and determination to our midfield that we will need to both break down, and stifle, a team as hard working as Stoke.
Cazorla showed last weekend that he is not afraid to hustle opponents and, despite the opposition being a step up in physicality from the opening game, I have faith that his awareness and guile on the ball will more than make up for his lack of height. After all, Jack Wilshere is hardly a giant and I’ve never worried about Jack getting hustled out of a game.
All of which brings us to our newly acquired duo of Podolski and Giroud, shouldering the task left by he who shall not be named. Podolski’s experience in the Bundesliga will be key to him adapting to the Premier League. I fancy him to add a very direct outlet to our play, preventing us from becoming too one-dimensional when Walcott fails to make an impact on the game.
Giroud by all accounts was a great physical presence in Ligue 1 and whilst he may not find it easy to dominate players in the same way in the Premier League, he will definitely be able to compete and who knows he may thrive physically the way Drogba did. The other benefit is that he actually looks like he can use his feet and can play with his back to goal; a trait sadly absent from Chamakh and a trait that could catch a few defenders out if they are only expecting him to be an aerial threat.
The key thing that applies to all these players is that, with an average of 27, they have experience. They have been in, and dealt with, tough situations and a variety of opponents before and come out the other side to tell the tale. They are professionals after all, meant to learn from their mistakes and avoid making those same mistakes again. I expect our new arrivals to continue to improve, settling into the team and showing their eagerness to prove why the manager was right to sign them.
Will we have an easy match against Stoke on Sunday? No.
Do we have a team with the quality and experience to win? Undoubtedly.
Thanks for reading. If you’re interesting in reading more articles like the one above feel free to check out Baggers Blog and/or follow me on Twitter [tf show_count=true button='grey']richardabagley[/tf]
Fantastic stuff Richard. I really enjoyed reading this one had have a re-enforced optimism for Sunday.
Thanks for reading guys and helping me support my fellow Gooner bloggers. Please do leave your comments and don’t forget to click that follow button!
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