It sticks in my craw, but I have to credit Mark Hughes…
Funny idiom, that. Apparently a craw is the throat of a bird. I googled it. I don’t have a bird’s throat, but if I did, having to be nice about Mark Hughes would certainly clog it right up.
Stoke are a changed team. They’re playing football now. Proper football. Rory Delap has been let go and has found his rightful place in League Two. Ryan Shotton and his towel have been dispatched to Wigan. The long-throws are out and short-passing is in.
I have to admit, I was impressed. Marc Wilson has transformed from a lumbering utility player in to a technically competent and positionally intelligent holding midfielder. In Marko Arnautovic, the Potters have acquired a number ten with both imagination and industry.
I don’t know if the speed of Stoke’s adaptation says more about Hughes’ innovation or Pulis’ intransigence. However, the latter option allows me to reduce Hughes’ credit and have a pop his predecessor, so I’ll plump for that.
There was a bit of role-reversal going on…
Stoke controlled a lot of the possession, yet Arsenal scored from three set-pieces. Still, at least the Stoke fans were forced to abandon their usual boast of supporting an “English” team – Kieran Gibbs and Jack Wilshere outnumbered Ryan Shawcross on today’s team-sheets.
Opportunity Gnocked for Serge…
…and I thought Gnabry did very well. His touch was superb, and the only criticism you could level at him is that he sometimes looked a little timid. After beating the first man he’d generally look to pass the ball to a more senior colleague.
His body-shape and running style remind me a little of Chelsea’s Eden Hazard. I certainly hope to see more of him in next week’s Capital One Cup tie with West Brom.
It was good to see some familiar faces on the bench…
The return of Mikel Arteta gives us back some depth in midfield. It will be genuinely difficult to choose between Arteta and Flamini, who was at his rambunctious best against Stoke, putting as much energy in to pointing and cajoling as tackling and harrying.
In difficult away games, it could be an option to field both, with Aaron Ramsey patrolling the area just ahead and Mesut Ozil stationed on the wing. It’s one of those “nice problems” Arsene Wenger will be delighted to have.
It was good too see Nicklas Bendtner back on the bench. Yes, he is hugely out of practise. Yes, he is a little overweight. Yes, he looks like he’s come to a fancy dress party in disguise as ‘The Mandarin’ from Iron Man 3. However, I’d still rather call on the Dane than either Yaya Sanogo or Chuba Akpom.
For Aaron Ramsey, confidence is everything…
His opening goal looked like a simple tap-in, but was in reality far trickier. He had to react in an instant to find a very narrow gap between goalie and post with his weaker foot.
Of course, in his current form, he pulled it off. Confidence is an extraordinary thing. It can do incredible things to a footballer. Ramsey is at the crest of a wave, and I hope he can stay there as long as possible. When he inevitably reverts to somewhere approaching the mean, I still think we’ll still have a very fine footballer on our hands.
Ozil’s set-pieces are a bonus…
The German is not renowned as a dead-ball specialist but as an assured technician is able to get the ball beyond the first man and in to dangerous areas. That’s more than most of our current crop.
I am continually amazed that a group of such technically gifted players are unable to consistently deliver a decent set-piece. Even the wondrously-gifted Santi Cazorla seems to have inherited the Arsenal disease of lumping the ball directly in to the first defender.
Hopefully Ozil’s immaculate technique can give us a new attacking weapon for our Arsenal.
Have Arsenal ever had so many one-footed players?
We frequently celebrate Cazorla’s ambidexterity, but I can’t remember an Arsenal team containing so many players who simply refused to use their wrong foot. The likes of Jack Wilshere and Olivier Giroud seem allergic to kicking the ball with their right boot.
Perhaps its because we have so many lefties in the squad. Left-footed players aren’t encouraged to develop their two-footedness as much as they’re generally allowed to flourish as specialists.
It’s time some of our squad got working on moulding their chocolate legs.
Arsenal miss Tomas Rosicky…
Arsenal struggled to maintain their tempo for long periods of this game. I can’t help but feel that’s because of the absence of the metronomic Tomas Rosicky.
It seems there will not be room for Rosicky and Ozil in the same team. Hopefully one of the other midfielders – Ramsey perhaps – can pick up the baton and start picking up the tempo in the middle of the park.
For all Ozil’s gifts, he won’t replicate the persistent pressure that Rosicky is able to put on opposition defenders.