The last time we enjoyed an extravagant midweek score and performance in the Champion’s League we returned to earth with a bump at the weekend. Despatching a Ludogorets side (which has proven to be far better than the naysayers ever suggested) with style and six of the best, we returned to face Middlesbrough at the Emirates. Most of us were salivating at the prospect of more of the same but instead were treated to an hour and half’s frustration as the team from the North east put in as organised and determined a defensive display as one could hope to see.
Stoke City have the potential to pose similar problems today. Sitting in the middle of the table they are well used to frustrating more illustrious opponents and on occasions even embarrassing them. I’m hoping that the experience against ‘boro will stand the team in good stead although to be fair we didn’t fail to beat them due to a lack of effort, we just had an off day.
The team Stoke will face today are in very good form both individually and collectively and the confidence with which they went about their work on Wednesday will surely inform the way they go about it today. Alexis is the outstanding player at the moment playing with the kind of verve and audacious invention which cannot help but remind us all of heroes from a bygone era.
Like everyone else his partnership with Özil has tempted me into comparisons with the days of the Henry/Bergkamp axis. I’ve decided not to go down that particular avenue of analogy simply because I’d rather enjoy the here and now. Also I have a sneaking suspicion that there is mischief in the motivation of those drawing such parallels. Set our players a ridiculously high bar and they can easily be dubbed as failures should they fail to clear it.
Now I know there are some of you who enjoy the comfortable indulgence of middle brow middle ground moral superiority and will see such thoughts as more evidence of an unhinged paranoid fantasy. It is what makes Positively Arsenal such a broad church and far from decrying your chosen position I salute your ability to shuck off and dismiss the mounting evidence all around you. However when each month brings a new media campaign against our club it is surely forgiveable if some of us begin to question much of what is said about us.
The Black November stories have now been replaced with the destabilising ‘want away stars’ transfer stories. I can only assume the hope is any drop in form from our leading lights will result in negative reactions on the terraces and online. The stick to beat them has been provided and already I’ve read comments comparing Sanchez with Van Persie so it seems to be working.
The manager and the players have to cope with this phenomenon as best they can and just get on with their jobs. It must surely bring at least a rueful smile when they see the Heroic Harry headlines which accompanied Spurs ignominious exit from the Champion’s League. Still, overcoming adversity is part of the make up of all top sportsmen and if they can shrug it off so must we. Like the penalty embargo and opposition players being allowed to kick ours with impunity, it is wrong, unfair and there is bugger all we can do but suck it up. Or pretend it isn’t happening. It’s all about your chosen coping strategy I suppose.
Hopefully Stoke will come to play football and not kick their way to a point. I confess I’ve not seen much of them this season but in the interest of research and because I’ve been too ill to move from the chair I spent a little time catching up with their last couple of matches. In Arnautovic, Adam and Shawcross they have some renowned brutality to call upon if they sense any slackness from the referee. However Shaquiri and Allen are both skilful, capable players, and this isn’t the same one dimensional Stoke side we once knew.
Mark Hughes suggested Shawcross may not travel to London today so that’s encouraging. He also seemed confused when interviewed as to why his team can win at Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge, but not the Emirates. I suspect it’s down to them scoring less goals than us but I’m not an expert and lack his experience in the game. Stoke have been attempting to emulate the Welsh national teams 3-4-3 formation which served them so well in the Euros this summer. Asked whether this experiment would continue against Arsenal Hughes suggested that his tactics might be dictated by the players he had available to him.
So much for research. The simple fact is top teams don’t react to their opponents. Rather they try to impose their own style of play onto the match forcing the other side to adapt. Whatever the tactical approach Arsène will have seen it before and the players have the experience to deal with it. I sometimes wonder if confidence and current form don’t play a bigger role in any case. I’m not suggesting that if you played nine up front and one in midfield that it would all work out as long as the team was feeling chipper that day, just that there are more variables at play than how the line up looks on paper.
Anyway, the kettle has boiled and I need another Lemsip so I’m going to shuffle off back to bed and leave you to enjoy your Saturday. Here’s to three points and some scintillating football. See you at three.