Arsenal 1 – 0 Stoke: Podolski breaks Stoke hearts, and I laugh

Arsenal 1 – 0 Stoke
Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

This wasn’t a great game…
It’s hardly surprising when you consider the opposition.  Stoke are a horrible side, in every respect.  I find their style of play and their character equally repulsive.

Their performance at the Emirates was one of the most negative I’ve ever seen by a Premier League team.  It was a strange tactical decision when you consider our vulnerability at the back.  If Stoke had gone for us, we might just have buckled.

As it was, we simply had to be patient, and the late introduction of Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski helped bring about the tipping point.  When Stoke did occasionally venture forward, Mertesacker and Koscielny had more than enough to deal with anything The Potters threw at them.

I’m delighted the goal was scored in ‘controversial’ circumstances…
The brief reprieve provided by the linesman only made the crushing blow of Podolski’s goal all the more profound for Stoke’s players and manager.  It hurt them, and I’m glad it did.

Nacho Gonzalez…
…had a solid if unspectacular debut.  I suspect we’ll accustomed to describing him in that manner: he seems to be a no-nonsense, safety-first kind of player.  That’s fine by me: not enough of our supposed defenders are willing to be defenders first and foremost.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain…
…is having a difficult season.  If only there was a cliche to describe the struggles of a player who made a significant impact in their first season, only to then struggle to replicate that form second time round.  Alas.

Chamberlain has two basic problems.  The first is that the outstanding form of Theo Walcott and Lukas Podolski has limited his opportunities.  The second issue is that when he is afforded a chance to start, he invariably tries too hard to impress.  On one occasion on Saturday he beat his man to get to the byline, only to turn back and try to beat him a further two times.  By the time he eventually got his cross away, all the men in the middle were marked.

The Ox could learn something from Podolski: efficiency is key.

One of the most interesting battles took place away from the pitch…
Bizarrely, the Arsenal stewards decided that the second half of this heated game would be the opportune moment to try and convince the singing section of the crowd to break the habit of a lifetime (well, six-and-a-half years) and sit down.  Needless to say, they failed, and gave up after about ten minutes amid chants of, “Stand up if you love Arsenal!”.

On the subject of the Arsenal fans…
I can’t help but chuckle at our continued failure to master the scansion of one of our own chants.  Arsenal fans are fond of singing a certain ditty that implies that the mother of the manager of our local rivals may be seeking employment as a lady of the night.

Whenever the manager changes, so must the chant.  While there is usually a period of adaptation, we are now six months in to Andre Villas Boas’ reign, and still that chant dwindles embarrassing out whenever it reaches that crucial point.

The problem, it would seem, is the sheer number of syllables in Villas Boas’ name.  Might I suggest using the popular acronym ‘AVB’, and that way we can get on with questioning the honour of his mother in the time-honoured tradition.

Deadline Day Thoughts: He’s Nacho left-back anymore, Malaga

To my immense surprise, Arsenal bought a player yesterday.

And not just any player. Several friends whose opinion I value highly sought me out to tell me just what a good player Arsenal have got. To be fair, his CV speaks for itself: Nacho Monreal is a Spanish international at the peak of his career.

Were it not for an injury to Kieran Gibbs on the eve of the transfer window, I doubt anyone would have arrived. Arsene Wenger revealed in his press conference today that Gibbs could miss as many as eight weeks with a thigh problem, and the prospect of relying on Andre Santos for that crucial period of the season was obviously not something the manage was prepared to face.

It shows you how swiftly a deal can be done when there’s a bit of urgency. I have spent most of this window frustrated with Arsene’s reluctance to enter the market. He seems to have fallen out of love with the entire idea of transfers; his recent quotes suggest he finds them dirty and a bit sordid. He views them as the ugly side of football – a side he would rather not engage with.

His relationship with the market seems to have been irrevocably soured by the sages over the likes of Fabregas, Nasri and Van Persie. Meantime many of his own signings have floundered. In the last few years, transfers have been more hurtful than helpful.

He’s wrong to be dismissive of transfers. People rightly laugh at cheque-book managers, but good recruitment is a skill. There are deficiencies in Arsenal’s squad and a club with our resources ought to be able to correct them.

Monreal is a great start. I would have liked to have seen him supplemented by a defensive midfielder and a striker, but despite reported bids for Etienne Capoue and David Villa, it wasn’t to be.

We’ve been allowed to get away with it, though. I expected our rivals for fourth place, Spurs and Everton, to make significant additions in this window. Instead, Tottenham only added Lewis Holtby, failing to sign the striker or holding midfielder they plainly need. Everton, meanwhile, got an England U-19 International defender and missed out on ambitious moves for Alvaro Negredo and Leroy Fer.

I expected both clubs to consolidate their strong league position with a few speculative purchases. Instead, they’ve allowed us right back in to the game.

No-one predicted the signing of Monreal. However, as usual with Arsene Wenger, there were clues. A few days ago, he said of the January window:

“It’s a market for me that is a wrong transfer market because the only teams who sell players are teams in financial trouble.”

His sympathy obviously only extends so far, as he returned to the club from whom he stole Santi Cazorla, debt-ridden Malaga, to take another top talent.

It’s unusual for Arsene Wenger to sign a player who provides genuine competition for an established first-team player. His squads usually have quite a rigid hierarchy, with a clear first XI and then a set of reserves. Nacho Monreal breaks that mould: he has not come here to play second fiddle to Kieran Gibbs. Once Gibbs is fit again, there will be a genuine tussle between these those two.

That is how it should be. Competition is healthy, and important. Has the emergence of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain seen a decline in the form of Theo Walcott? Quite the opposite.

For the first time in a long time, Arsene Wenger may have the option of rotating a member of his defence without significantly weakening the side.

For now, however, Monreal has the left-back slot to himself. He is cup-tied for the European clash with Bayern Munich, but I expect him to slot straight in for tomorrow’s Premier League tie with Stoke.

Let’s just hope the orcs don’t end up feasting on Nacho.