Our second Premier League game of the season sees us travel to Stoke, a place that has not been particularly kind to us down the years. I think we go there this time around a little less weighed down by history, given that our last visit there resulted in a thoroughly enjoyable 4-1 win.
Despite a handball goal from Peter Crouch, goals from Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and two from Olivier Giroud ensured our first win there since February 2010. The away record there was always kind of anomalous to our home form. They come to the Emirates and get beaten every time, but at the Ray Winstone Arena there was something of a psychological barrier which last season’s result has hopefully smashed into little pieces.
The team news, at least the team news that was delivered the other day, is that we have some defenders fit for this one, so it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see Per Mertesacker and Shkodran Mustafi come back into the side with Nacho Monreal making up the third part of that back.
Hector Bellerin on the right and Sead Kolasinac on the left is the future, and that’s something I’d like to see today, particularly as the manager has talked up the Bosnian’s physical qualities ahead of a fixture that has often required them. He was asked how he ranks on the strength scale in comparison to other players he’s had at the club, and said:
Maybe he is the strongest, he is naturally strong. He uses quite well the strength of his body without violence and when he intervenes it doesn’t look to be a foul, he just uses his body strength. It is an important quality to help adapt to the Premier League.
He also suggested his physical prowess is something that can help the team beyond the obvious:
The determined attitude gets to the crowd and the crowd responds to that, and that gives a swing to the team, you can see that with him and when he intervenes he provokes happiness
It’s clear we’ve bought him for that left side, so we should start playing him there. Today seems like a decent day to give it its first outing. Ahead of him in midfield it’s Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey if the Welshman is fit, Elneny to slot in there if not.
The front three gives me slight pause for thought, and I suspect that we might see Olivier Giroud start this game. He scored twice there last season, he’s got some physical presence too, and it feels like one of those games that Arsene Wenger views his qualities as important. Does it mean Lacazette is left out or pushed wide? I suspect the latter, perhaps in place of Danny Welbeck, but I guess we’ll see.
He could, of course, stick with the record signing up front and look to Giroud as a very reliable option from the bench should we need it. Alexis Sanchez, despite the manager saying this game was too soon for him, is back in full training, and it must be hugely tempting to include him on the bench for this one.
It is going to be a very tricky game there, as it always is, and there’s no doubt a team the size of Stoke will have looked at our deficiencies at set-pieces last week against Leicester and sniffed some blood. However, there were other elements of our game which were careless and led to those set-pieces that we can easily improve on, so if we do that we limit those opportunities. I also think having actual central defenders in central defence is particularly important for a game like this.
Hopefully we can pick up where we left off there last season. It’s the evening kick-off, 17.30, and we’ll have a live blog and all the post-match stuff over on Arseblog News afterwards.
Elsewhere, Gabriel’s move to Valencia was made official yesterday, with the Brazilian sold to the La Liga side for the classic ‘undisclosed fee’. It’s believed to be around £10m, which is a little less than we paid for him. He was always a hard working, honest player, but he never really seemed fully at home in England. His difficulties with the language were noted in the build up to his departure, and while I think it’s easy enough to learn the vocabulary of football (‘MAN ON!’), it must have made life in general a bit hard going. Not everyone is blessed with an aptitude for languages.
He had some good games for us, he had some poor games for us, but he seemed a decent bloke and tried his best. We’ve seen players with bigger reputations not to do that so best of luck to him in Spain, where he’ll probably feel a bit more comfortable.
It also looks as if Lucas Perez’s move back to Deportivo la Coruña will go through next week, as their manager more or less confirmed it. It remains to be seen quite how it will be structured, whether it’s a loan, a sale, a loan and then a sale, or whatever, but barring any last minute complications he’ll be off too.
Finally, thanks to everyone for the feedback on yesterday’s Arsecast. Having listened back to it I maybe wasn’t as coherent as I’d have liked to be, but hopefully that wasn’t too much of an issue. Your support and kind words mean a great deal, thank you.
Right, time for some breakfast, a big long dog walk, and then the match later this evening. Catch you for that.