Today sees the third part and final part of what looked like a daunting trio of games this time last week.
Having never beaten a Jose Mourinho side in the league, we did exactly that last Sunday, and having not won away Southampton since 2003, we did that too. Now, we have to go to a ground we haven’t won at since 2010 – and even that was a traumatic experience.
Our last win at Stoke came in February 2010, the night when Ryan Shawcross broke Aaron Ramsey’s leg, and two very, very late goals from Cesc Fabregas and Thomas Vermaelen saw us run out 3-1 winners. That was the night of the Fabregas Pulis incident, the great Shushening, but since then it’s been a very unhappy hunting ground.
We’ve visited the Brittania/Ray Winstone Arena six times since, lost three times, and had three draws. What’s interesting about this is that Stoke have lost every time they’ve come to the Emirates, every single time, so this isn’t an issue where the quality of players is in doubt, it’s the ability to deal with the occasion.
Stoke fans make this a noisy affair, sections of them still boo Ramsey for having the temerity to have his leg broken then not feel inclined to make peace with the guy who kicked his shin into pieces. They’ve been a big, strong physical team and, under Pulis in particular, played to exploit our weaknesses – chief of which for many years was actual weakness.
They were bigger, more physical, and we couldn’t cope with long throws and deep crosses and players who would actually challenge for headers. That has changed a bit under Mark Hughes, they’ve added the likes of Shaqiri, Bojan (now on loan elsewhere), Joe Allen, Affelay etc, who are more technical.
They still have giganto-Crouch, Head of Strangling and Stamping Charlie Adam, and others who provide the size they’ve used so well, but it’s not as big a part of their game as it used to be. Whether that suits us or not remains to be seen, but I’d still fancy us more against that kind of team than the other one.
From our point of view we’re waiting on a fitness test for Laurent Koscielny, and if the Frenchman is fit I’d love to see a back three of him, Mustafi and Holding, with Monreal moved back to left-wing back ahead of Kieran Gibbs.
On the right Hector Bellerin will come for the hamstrung Oxlade-Chamberlain, and as I said yesterday it’s a chance for him to remind people of his quality. Beyond that, I don’t think I’d change anything about the team that beat Southampton in midweek. We might have to be prepared to make changes a little earlier in case fatigue becomes obvious, but unless somebody’s carrying a knock, or in that famous red zone, I’d be inclined to keep faith with those guys.
Stoke away is not the time to start rotating. Sunderland on Tuesday provides a much better opportunity to do that, but let’s get what we need from today before we start worrying about that too much.
As I said a week ago, this run of fixtures looked daunting, but we’re two-thirds of the way there. Today is going to be a big test of character and mentality. We’ve broken a couple of hoo-doos this week, let’s hope we can complete the hat-trick.
If we do win, it also puts a little bit of pressure on Liverpool ahead of their game at West Ham tomorrow. They’ll know that if they drop any points, a top four finish is out of their hands and back in ours, so there’s a lot to play for this evening.
This team have let themselves down too often this season, so they owe a big performance, and if they can provide it, it’s going to make the final seven days of this Premier League pretty interesting.
Come on you reds who will probably be in that dark blue and neon third kit later on.
Meanwhile, Chelsea have won the league. If anyone thinks I’m magnanimous enough to congratulate them on that fact, they haven’t been paying close enough attention. The only good thing about them winning was the fact that Sp*rs didn’t, but aside from that it’s a grotesquely unpleasant thing, and anyone who utters the words ‘fair play to them’, or waffles on about how they deserved it or anything else can get straight into the bin.
Which is then going to be placed inside another bin, then inside one of those industrial waste units, compressed into a block of metal in a car crusher, then sent into space from a rocket that is launched from between Diego Costa’s pendulous buttocks. Chelsea, frankly, can stick it up their bums.
I just hope they lose the run of themselves in the celebrations and turn up at Wembley knackered on May 27th:
Chelsea players. Go get shitfaced. Eat bad food. Have some delicious drugs. Try a bit of meth. Switch off. Watch Ally McBeal. Do LSD. Thanks
— arseblog (@arseblog) May 12, 2017
Right, that’s it for this morning. Have a good Saturday, and as ever we’ll catch you later on for the game, the live blog and everything else.
There’s still time to listen to this week’s Arsecast chatting Arsenal-related stuff with Jim Campbell, there’s annoying earworm music waffle, competitions and lots more. Get it into ya!