Stoke preview

Morning all.

North London prepares itself for the invasion of a traveling horde of drooling orcs, Stoke City come to town. It was interesting to read Tony Pubis talk about how there’s no problem between him and Arsenal, what happened in the past is in the past. Good for you, Pubis.

Can’t say the same though. I hold grudges like Johnny Pokerington, best poker player in the all the land, holds aces. Yes, I should probably know better but what are you going to do? If you confront me about it I’ll simply hold a grudge against you. That’s just the nature of the beast.

Arsene believes the team’s spirit and unity will help us continue our journey on the way to the more respectable end of the table, saying:

One strength we do have here is that we are united and we can fight against adversity. When you are at a big club you have to have the mental strength to fight against that. There are periods when people say you are much better than you are and periods when people say you are much worse than you are.

And he reckons some of the criticism has been unfair:

I would like to show you some critics after the Newcastle game when we drew 0-0. We got slaughtered, played with ten men, Newcastle are unbeaten and nobody talks about it. We were playing in a very difficult environment from the start onwards and that is not easy for players who come to this club

Which, on the face of it, seems reasonable, but critics then couldn’t see into the future and say ‘Well, Newcastle will be unbeaten in their first 10 games, that’s not bad for Arsenal’. And we didn’t play with 10 men by choice either. Joey Barton might indeed be a cretinous thug whose wealth allows him to purchase as many quotation books as he likes, thus furthering his facade of erudition, but we fell for his nonsense hook, line and sinker.

And to be honest, I’ve never really heard anyone complain about the Newcastle result. Only that Man United one where we let in more goals than the number of times I want to hit John Terry face with a cactus, that Blackburn one, that Sp*rs one … ahh, you get the picture. Still, if the manager is trying to creating a bit of us against them for the team, then I’m all for it. Especially when the them are Stoke. I hate Stoke (have I ever mentioned that?).

In terms of today’s team, the more I think about it the more it makes sense to use Koscielny at right back due his pace/mobility, while Djourou’s height in the middle might be better served against Crouch or any of the other gigantostrikers Pubis can call upon. Therefore, I’d put money on Djourou starting at right back. I think Ramsey will come back into midfield too, seeing us line up something like:

SZCZ – Djourou – Mert – Koscielny – Santos – Song – Arteta – Ramsey – Gervinho – Walcott – RVP

For a couple of our players, Santos, Mertesacker and Gervinho, I suspect this will be something of a new experience for them. I’m sure they’ve played physical games before but Stoke’s brand of rugby will prove a real challenge, I think. If we were naive by not letting Gervinho know about Barton and his antics before the Newcastle game you would hope that the players today will have been well briefed about what to expect.

If Delap plays then every throw in from 50 yards is a threat and we’ll have to deal with those properly and aggressively. We need to be organised and decisive at the back today. And that’s ignoring the threat from their wide men, Etherington and Pennant (if he plays) who provide good delivery for the forwards. From our point of view we need to look back at last Sunday and the way we played in the first 25 minutes against Sunderland. More of that is required, a fast start again would be fantastic, but this is going to be a real challenge.

Any game against Stoke puts one in mind of Aaron Ramsey. Last season, after scoring the winner against United, he returned the ground where he leg was snapped in two and where Stoke fans jeered him as he was lying injured. He didn’t have a good game that day, no Arsenal player did in fairness, but Arsene Wenger believes he’s still recovering from that injury, saying:

He is gaining his touch again because he lost that a little bit for a while. Now the speed of the movement of his feet is there again, but let me tell you it takes a long time.

And while a number of papers have reported the boss talking about tackling as a defence of Stoke’s style, I think it’s fair to say he’s subtly stuck the knife in a little bit:

Tackling is a technique and if it is done well with the desire not to hurt but to win the ball it is a fantastic technique. Personally I like players who are brave, but with the right spirit. I think the bravest players I have met are those who were physical but did not hurt people. Usually the players who play to hurt are cowards.

Like this, for example? I’ll say no more, other than I hate Stoke (I don’t think I’ve ever made that clear on this blog) and want to see them burn today.

A win today would put us ahead of them, and leave us just 2 points behind Liverpool in 5th (although a Sp*rs win would force them down the table a bit). It would mean progress continues to be made and given the test on offer today it’d keep the confidence going ahead of next weekend’s game against Chelsea. It’ll be tough but then that’s the way it always is against Stoke.

The game isn’t on TV but there should be full live blog coverage of it later on (stream permitting). Kick off today is 1.30pm, so check back later for the post with all the details or bookmark the default live blog page. All going well you’ll get up the second live updates which you can follow on your computer, your ‘pad, your phone and possibly your Speak ‘n’ Spell.

And remember, you can get up to £50 in free bets from Paddy Power. All you have to do is click here to register. Sadly, there aren’t any odds for ‘Ramsey to score with belter which smashes Lennie’s testicles off and leaves them in a bloody mush on the ground’, but Aaron at 12-1 for first goal, or 9-1 to score first for Arsenal seem decent odds to me.

Right, until later. Come on Arsenal.

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