So, a week on from the opening fixtures of the Premier League season, what have we learnt? Liverpool look average at best, Chelsea continue to ride out their luck and, by May, we should be seeing Fulham and Swansea battling it out for the Premier League crown. Ok Ok, so this may be a hasty, short-sighted assessment (minus the Chelsea part). The hastiness of football fans and journos alike never fails to amuse me. Take the fictional “CRISIS” at Arsenal, following the 0-0 draw with Sunderland, for example. This, quite frankly, laughable assessment of a team after one game played is something that Manchester United did not have to experience after their loss at Everton (did you hear that DOWN there United fans, LOSS AT EVERTON!).
Although the result on Saturday did not go as most of us, including myself, had planned, I still feel that there are many positives to be taken into the game at the Britannia on Sunday.
Stoke City – Arsenal
My Prediction 1-2
The Gunners are off to a place that leaves every fan fearing the worst. The battling tackles in midfield (memories of Shawcross on Ramsey) and not to mention the constant barrage of bullet throw-ins administered by one Rory Delap. The Britannia must be the only place in football where corners are preferred to be given away than throw-ins.
As ever I will be taking into consideration the fitness of players taken from both www.physioroom.com and Arsene’s Friday press conference.
Possible Arsenal XI vs Stoke City –
Starting with the goalkeeper; we have heard Arsene say that Wojciech Szczesny is a slight doubt and will be assessed before the game on Sunday. I fully believe that he will be available. Even if slightly ‘under the weather’ I believe that AW will want his number 1 goalkeeper in for this one. If, for any reason, Shezza isn’t able to partake, I expect Fabianski to come in. Although he has had his shaky moments, Wenger isn’t the type to throw an inexperienced goalkeeper into a clash in which he’ll be continuously pressurized by players such as Peter Crouch and Rory Delap.
Defensively it seems as though we will be without Koscielny once again. With this in mind, I think it will be the same 4 that lined up against Sunderland last weekend. Although having the odd nervous moment, all in all, the defence coped well and were rewarded with a valuable clean sheet. I think this is the type of game that Mertesacker will show just how important he can be. His positioning and aerial ability will prove to be vital against the style of Stoke. The one worry I have for the defence is Jenkinson at RB. I still feel that he lacks the intelligence that is really needed at this level. He didn’t fair too badly last time out, but I do feel that he lacks that little bit of quality that is required for the Premier League. This being said, if Vermaelen can keep the defence tight and confident, we will survive the scares.
I think that Wenger will look to stick with the same system, in the midfield, that faced Sunderland at the weekend. I also believe that we will see the same personnel. The two deeper lying midfielders, Diaby and Arteta, both provide the team with different qualities and, equally, performed well at the weekend. I, sometimes, would like to see Diaby release the ball a bit quicker. He is brilliant when running at players and this is obviously a huge part of his game but I feel that the better option, on occasions, would be to get the ball moving quickly and provide the front men. No qualms with the way Arteta plays – the perfect metronome. Able to pick the ball up, look for the right pass and he rarely gets it wrong. He also showed during the Sunderland game that he was willing to put in tackles for the team. This is a big help and will be vital in the fixture on Sunday.
Now to the guy that had us all on the edge of our seat last weekend – Santi Cazorla. Santi was simply incredible last weekend. Whenever the little Spaniard found the ball at his feet, you always believed something was going to happen. His ability to come deep and find the ball, coupled with a brilliant range of passing makes Santi a very exciting player indeed. Last weekend, Santi was able to challenge the goalkeeper with some long range attempts which is something that will also excite the Arsenal fans. A real spark that I am looking forward to seeing more of.
I’m expecting Podolski and Gervinho to start out wide on Sunday. I feel that Podolski was slightly isolated playing upfront last weekend. It seemed to me that he wasn’t quite ready to play in a central role in the Premier League. I think his strength and quality will show against a tough opposition on Sunday. Gervinho, in spells, impressed me greatly last weekend. His ability to run at players with a massive desire to beat his man is commendable. He seems like a real confident player with the potential to rip all sorts of defences apart on his day. Similarly to Diaby though, I do feel that he holds on to the ball more often that he should. Although he does quite often beat his man, I just feel that he runs himself into cul-de-sacs more often than not. Very exciting to watch, don’t get me wrong, but I would like to see him pop it inside to Santi and terrorise the full-back with his off the ball movement too. Interesting to see how Gervinho and Podolski can protect the full-backs on Sunday as I’m sure it will be required, at times.
I’m hoping that AW decides to throw in Giroud from the start on Sunday. Ok, so he missed a chance last week. The amount of people that are dismissing any quality he has because of that one moment is truly remarkable. If only Twitter was around when the likes of Henry, Drogba and Ronaldo started out in the Premier League, we would all be saying that these three players were destined for failure! Give the guy time! To score so many goals in Ligue 1 last season, lead his team to the title and represent his national side, he obviously has a bit about him. I feel that his physical presence and aerial ability will be useful, both defensively and offensively against Stoke on Sunday. Only a matter of time before he opens his account for the Arsenal.
Possible Stoke XI vs Arsenal
A full strength Stoke side should be available on Sunday – barring Dean Whitehead after his sending off at Reading last weekend. This suspension should mean that Stokes’ new American midfielder, Geoff Cameron, will get his first Premier League start for the club. Pennant will look to recover from a thigh strain and, the former Gunner, may also feature. Kightly looked lively against Reading and was able to get on the scoresheet, he will be looking to provide good service for the two big men up top on Sunday. A front two of Peter Crouch and Jon Walters cements the fact that Vermaelen and Merty will have to be strong at the back, especially with any balls that come high into the front men.
A real physical side, not surprisingly, to be fielded by Tony Pulis. Although the team may not possess any real game winners, the work rate and hunger will be unparalleled. Arsenal will have to be strong and ready to fight for the ball in midfield. This may be the game that the ‘all important’ DMC void really shows.
This being said, I think we have too much quality and will come out victors on Sunday, getting the ball rolling for our season.