Update: The game is off because it’s snowing a bit in London.
Morning all and the order of the day is Stoke City. Which is like going into your local restaurant and ordering a Poo Roulade with a Curtain of Vomit and a side of freshly bubbling mucus.
From a footballing point of view there’s the chance to go back to the top of the league which really tells you so much about the league this season. They are difficult opponents, more so away than at home really. The last time Stoke came to us and got anything was 1975. However, our home form remains unconvincing and we’ll have to be strong today.
I suspect the manager’s team selection will be mindful of that and I would certainly be thinking about Djourou for this one. His height could be very important. Of course what I think doesn’t really matter and I suspect the manager will stick with Squilscienly at the centre of the defence. Cesc is sure to come back into the side, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Robin van Persie start alongside Chamakah which would require a slight change of formation. When more or less everyone is fit it’s more difficult to guess what he’s going to do.
Maybe Theo will come in for Arshavin. Nasri has to start. Wilshere might drop out but it’s not as if replacing him with Denilson makes that much difference. If I had to guess I’d go with: Wojscez©® – Sagna – Squillaci – Koscielny – Clichy – Song – Denilson – Cesc – Nasri – Chamakh – van Persie
And that is just a guess because that team doesn’t look quite right to me. Still, we’ll wait and see. Obviously a lot is made of Stoke’s long throws, they’re dangerous and difficult to defend. It’s not just the role of the centre-halves to win those headers either so everyone is going to have to be fully committed when they happen. It would be unwise to ignore Stoke’s wide players as well. Pennant and Etherington can deliver it well from those areas and just like any other team which possesses an aerial threat we have to nullify that by cutting off the supply. Making sure they don’t get their crosses in will be very important.
From our point of view we’ve got to show a lot more from an attacking point of view than we did on Monday night. That was the most disappointing aspect of our performance really. For a team with such flair and so many options to create as little as we did was frustrating. Hopefully the return of Cesc to midfield will add more creativity, you’re looking for van Persie to start finding a bit of form and take some of the burden off Chamakh, while Nasri and Walcott added to the mix means we’ve got plenty to trouble them with.
Then there’s the physical side of the game. You can be very sure that Stoke won’t be holding back in the tackle, nor should we. We’ve got to be strong, fully committed and we’ve got to deal with their physicality. On a basic level they’re a bigger side than we are and they’ll use that to try and gain advantage. We can’t out-muscle them but we can refuse to be bullied and out-play them. Our passing in recent games has been rather too careless and that’s something we’ve got to get right today. If we can move the ball around well then that, more than anything else, will make life very difficult for Stoke.
And so we come to Lennie. As has been stressed plenty of times the most important thing today is to win the game. Taking three points will hurt Stoke more than any stick they might get from the crowd but that doesn’t mean the crowd doesn’t have a part to play today. The referee, Lee Mason. knows he’s in charge of a game in which tensions are high and which could kick off at any time. Fuses are short, there’s a lot of history, there’s been a lot of talk, so while we want the players to concentrate fully on the game, those in the stadium won’t let Mason forget it.
The portrayal of Shawcross as some kind of victim really sticks in my throat – see here, for example – when we all know the reality is very, very different. He smashed Ramsey’s leg in two with a reckless, dangerous challenge and his tears mean nothing because he hasn’t learned a thing from it. If, afterwards, he accepted the way he plays the game was liable to cause injury to opponents and pledged to change then you could forgive him. The excuse making, the unwillingness to accept that what he did was wrong and the subsequent media campaign to protect poor, put-upon, Lennie from the vicious scolding he got was, frankly, sickening.
Arsenal fans haven’t forgotten and we’re not in any mood to forgive. The barracking of Lennie should be unmerciful and the vitriol aimed at him should go hand in hand with support for the team. Regardless of what you might think of how our players can frustrate the bottom line is that it’s always the opposition who are the enemy and today’s lot are just that.
Moving on and to the Champions League draw. It had to be Barcelona, didn’t it? I know a lot of people were dismayed with the fact we’ve gone out of the Champions League at the draw stage but isn’t this what European football is all about? Does anyone really care about playing Schalke? Sure, you might want to play Barcelona at a later stage but I don’t think it really matters.
They are obviously a fantastic side capable of taking anyone apart on their day but they’re not infallible, they are not omnipotent football gods. Ask Hercules. No, not the son of Jupiter, but the small football team from Alicante who beat Barcelona 2-0 at the Camp Nou earlier this season. It’s a massive task for us but hopefully we’ll have important players fit and healthy for this one and nothing is pre-determined. It’s exciting, nerve wracking, glamorous and epic, just the way it should be. I can’t wait for it.
We can win this. Barcelona are not unbeatable. If they were invincible, they would win the Champions League every year. If we want to be champions of Europe, we have to be able to beat anyone and everyone – and that includes Barca.
And how can you argue with that? Difficult? Of course. Impossible, no. The first leg is at home on Feb 16th with the return at their place on March 8th.
So there you have it. If you’re stuck in work today or out and about doing your Christmas shopping you can follow the game via the live blog.
Here’s to a big performance and the three points that will send us back to the top of the table. Above all else that should be our motivation today – but that doesn’t mean we can’t remind Lennie and Pubis that they are smeg-chomping wankhammers.