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Tuesday 15 September 2015

Less Rugby-like Stoke Should Really Have Suffered A More Rugby-like Scoreline

Hi folks,

It will be interesting to see what starting XI AW selects in Zagreb and whether it reflects the fact that we have such a significant encounter only three days later at Stamford Bridge. It could be argued that Chelsea have exactly the same recovery time, but they are playing at home on Wednesday night and don't have to suffer a long schlep back from the Croatian capital.

Nevertheless, it's absolutely crucial that we get off to a winning start in the Champions League and so in an ideal world, I'd want us to field a strong side, score a couple of early goals to put the result to bed and enable Arsène to rest three of our most influential players at half-time.

With the sort of ground covered by the likes of Alexis and Coquelin, I wouldn't expect them to regularly be able to repeat quite the same level of performance, relentlessly playing three times in seven days. So if they are to be at their most energetic come 12.45 on Saturday, I'd hope they don't need to play the entire 90 minutes in midweek?

I imagine Le Coq will be most Arsenal fans' choice of player of the season thus far. It is great to see him growing in confidence with each passing game, but I hope his success doesn't go to his head. I imagine that playing alongside such cultured ball-players as Santi, Mezut et al, one is bound to start believing one can do likewise. Yet personally I would much prefer to see Franny concentrate on his more artisan defensive duties and to leave the artistic glory passes to his team-mates.

Hopefully, based on Chelsea's woeful form, Coquelin won't be overly busy on Saturday. However the Gobby One is going to be absolutely determined to stem the tide of the Blues recent demise and I sincerely hope Arsène is able to ensure that we are suitably prepared and motivated to best take advantage of the situation, by achieving his first triumph against his nemesis. Frankly I will be devastated by a result that reflects the fact that Chelsea are more desperate to avoid defeat than the Gunners are, to secure a long-awaited victory at the Bridge.

Before I finish, I feel obliged to give a shout out to Nacho Monreal. Considering that I was seriously underwhelmed when Nacho first arrived at the club, in the belief that he appeared to be little more than an above average full-back, I have to admit that the Spaniard appears to have grown into his role in the team. Where in the past I would've been hoping for the return to full fitness of Kieran Gibbs, to my mind Monreal has now nailed down his position as our first choice left-back and must rank as the most impressive of the Gunners more unsung players in this campaign to date.

Wishing everyone who is celebrating the occasion a very happy and healthy New Year

Less Rugby-like Stoke Should Really Have Suffered A More Rugby-like Scoreline

Sitting in the autumnal sunshine at the Arsenal on Saturday, soaking up some rays, whilst watching a supremely dominant display against Stoke, with the Gunners spraying the ball around in such a pleasing-on-the-eye fashion, it’s hard to imagine a more pleasurable way of passing a Saturday afternoon.

By contrast, I couldn’t help but picture the disappointed faces of the couple of youngsters who’d travelled up from the Potteries with their pop and who’d been positively bristling with eager anticipation prior to the match, as we engaged in some friendly banter on the walk up to the ground.

Along with the majority of the Premiership’s lesser lights, Mark Hughes attempted to make use of their increased resources, by introducing a raft of new talent over the course of the summer. Having never seen Stoke win at our place in their lifetimes, these kids were keen to see whether their new look line-up could perhaps prove themselves capable of something slightly more ambitious than their customary “park the bus” attempt to stifle the Arsenal.

However, based on Saturday’s showing, the Potters have yet to profit from the sacrifice of their traditional, more combative, muscular approach, in favour of more skillful footballers. The Gunners were so comfortable in our monopoly of possession that the likes of Shaquiri, Joselu and Van Ginkel barely had a sniff of the ball all afternoon. In fact, it was only the impressive goalkeeping heroics of Jack Butland that were responsible for maintaining a respectable scoreline; suggesting that the sale of Begovic was perhaps the most significant bit of business Stoke achieved this summer.

As has been the case with ineffectual displays from other Premiership debutantes, Stoke’s anaemic performance only served as more grist to the mill for our manager’s assertions about his fruitless efforts to find players capable of improving our squad. Arsène contended that Walcott wouldn’t have started (and scored!) if he’d signed another striker. Yet few Gooners would’ve moaned, at least not for the first thirty minutes, with Theo being the source of mounting frustration amongst those seated around me, as he spurned chance after chance.

Considering we could and really should’ve been “home and hosed” by half-time, with more clinical finishing, it was a massive relief when Walcott finally broke his duck. His confidence would’ve been seriously dented, if he’d failed to notch a single goal from all the opportunities he was gifted with on Saturday. Sterling would’ve scored a hat-trick against Stoke and although Theo continues to struggle to convince anyone that he’s capable of being a prolific goal-poacher, we must be patient. We really can’t afford to be reliant on a solitary centre-forward to carry the twice weekly burden for the entire duration!

With Man City being deprived of Aguero, Sterling and Silva and rarely looking more likely to drop points on their travels, if news of their last gasp winner at Selhurst Park wasn’t galling enough, this wound was well and truly salted by their unknown Nigerian striker and the appearance of City having such infinite options up front.

After having peppered the Potters with thirty odd efforts on their goal, it was no less irritating to return home and watch Man Utd produce a 100 per cent return on a meagre three efforts on target and to finish the day above us in the table on goal difference.

Nevertheless, despite our failure to inflict a rugby type scoreline on a less rugby like Stoke, there was plenty of cause for encouragement on Saturday. After a disconcerting start to his Arsenal career, Cech is beginning to look more like the keeper we were expecting.

Admittedly Petr could’ve put his feet up for most of this match but there was a moment, which stuck in my mind, when he steamed through the opposition to punch the ball clear. It’s been a while since an Arsenal keeper has dominated his area with such physical conviction and hopefully Cech’s reassuring presence will result in an increasingly composed aura throughout our defence.

It appears as if we’re beginning to find some rhythm to our passing and Coquelin’s influence is growing with each passing game. To the point where Franny’s tendency to want to spray a thirty-yard pass, instead of keeping it simple might have one concerned about him developing Franz Beckenbauer delusions. Gabriel is beginning to look like a potential first-choice and it could be that the Brazilian possesses the sort of mean streak that might just lend us the sort of backbone that we’ve lacked for so long.

With Chelsea likely to be stung into a concerted response, next Saturday’s outing to Stamford Bridge might well prove the acid test and an opportunity to demonstrate if we’re capable of casting off the shackles of our former frailties and proving that this squad has finally developed some real character. That is assuming we retain sufficient zest after an arduous midweek outing to Zagreb?
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