Stoke preview: distractions over, 3 points a must

It’s an early start this morning and it’s Stoke in the Premier League this afternoon.

The game at the Orc Arena in the early part of the season was one of those which gave us some hope that our defensive issues were sorted, one of three clean sheets in our first three games and, on the day, we were relatively untroubled by a team which usually causes us more problems at their place.

Since then, we’ve realised those early shut-outs were something of a false dawn, and we’ve reverted to type: capable of conceding a goal to anyone at any time in any manner, including some you couldn’t come up with in your wildest imagination.

And that, coupled with an injury to Kieran Gibbs much more serious than we first feared, prompted Arsene Wenger to splash some cash on Nacho Monreal on deadline day. As an aside, it shows you just how quickly a deal can be done when there’s a will to do it. Of course some take a bit more negotiating than others, but Arsenal had a deal done, medical completed and personal terms agreed for a player inside 24 hours. Make of that what you will.

At his press conference yesterday the manager said he wasn’t sure if he was going to throw the new boy into the team straight away, but I’d be staggered if he didn’t start today. Although he backed under-fire Brazilian Andre Santos, the fact is if he were a player the boss trusted then chances are the Nacho Man probably wouldn’t have been brought in. As such, it would be amazing to me if the Spaniard didn’t make his debut.

I wouldn’t worry about adaptation or anything like that. He’s match fit, ready to play, he’s got Spanish speakers around him to ensure he’s up to speed with everything else, and although there are obvious differences between the Spanish and English leagues – never more obvious than when you see Stoke in action – it’s just a game of football and he should have no problems.

Mikel Arteta took a full part in training yesterday and should, therefore start the game. And if Thomas Vermaelen misses out, and he is a doubt, we could see the following team:

Szczesny – Sagna – Mertesacker – Koscielny – Monreal – Arteta – Wilshere – Cazorla – Podolski – Walcott – Giroud

Abou Diaby is back in the squad and there’s some suggestion that Santi Cazorla is struggling with an injury at the moment. If that’s the case then Diaby could come into midfield with Wilshere pushing further forward into the position in which he shone against West Ham.

Despite a horrible tackle from Glen Whelan last week, Stoke have appeared less brutish this season and slightly less inclined to play the direct, physical game they’ve become renowned for. As such, I fully expect them to revert to type tomorrow and this is a game we’re going to have to really scrap for. And, it goes without saying (although it needs to be said), it’s a game in which we must cut out the absolute bollocks at the back.

I know most goals, when you look back at them, are probably preventable by somebody doing this or somebody else not doing that, but we’re so utterly, ludicrously error prone and individual mistakes are costing us goals. We are the Clouseau-esque French waiter of football, and until we gain some semblance of normality at the back we’re going to find games difficult to win.

That said, up the other end things are going pretty well. Theodore is banging them in, Olivier Giroud has 5 in a week, Podolski is laying on chance after chance from the left hand side, and it looks as if that front three is beginning to function as a unit. Individually they all have their qualities, but after 6 months we’re seeing understanding and awareness between them of those qualities and it makes us more effective.

So, the bottom line is do the basics right at the back and we should have more than enough up front to trouble a Stoke side who have conceded just as many as us in the league this season. We need to see the ‘Arsenal of the second half’ in both halves, not a team reacting to another slapstick tragicomic howler which could be set to the Benny Hill theme tune. Come out of the blocks like we mean it. As Bacary Sagna says, it’s time to start scaring the opposition rather than frightening the shite out of ourselves.

And that is just about that for this morning. I’m heading over for the game so see some of you in the usual place before and after and let’s hope that the Orcs go home drooling and miserable. Come on you reds.

Till tomorrow.


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