So, it was the second game of the season and we made the trip to The Britannia Stadium, which frankly is a place that no team looks forward to playing in. Following the goalless draw at The Emirates last week, it all seemed a bit too familiar. We dominated the ball with about 67% of the possession, created the chances but lacked the cutting edge in front of goal. Yet another goalless draw, but on this occasion it’s hard to look at it as two points dropped, as was the case against Sunderland. A draw away versus Stoke is a fairly decent result this early in the season.
The team this week featured a couple of changes with Szczesny unable make the team because of a rib injury and Fabianski still unfit, it was up to the 24-year old Italian Vito Mannone to do his job between the posts. In the defence we were still without Sagna and Koscielny. Walcott was relegated to the substitutes bench while Giroud got the nod from the boss for a place in the starting eleven as the lone striker with Podolski and Gervinho on the flanks. Arteta continued to play that holding role in the midfield alongside Diaby.
Stoke City got stuck in right from the kick off and after a few minutes we were left hoping we’d come out of this game with no injuries. We didn’t have as good a start to the game as we would have hoped for with us struggling to hold on to the ball and Walters putting the ball into the back of the net from a Crouch header – only he was a yard offside and thankfully for us, the linesman saw that an raised his flag immediately. We had a chance of our own with Podolski after Wilkinson lost balance in the penalty box only to hurry back up and block the shot for a corner which what looked like a handball. At about this time, we started to get into the game and string a few good passes together creating a couple of decent chances. We were trying to beat Stoke at their own game with Arteta and Cazorla attempting 19 long passes in the first half. The rest of the first half followed suit with Cazorla having two powerful pops at goal in the 35th and 45th minute, both parried away by Begovic. The second half started steadily with the first real highlight coming in the 58th minute when Stoke had a big penalty shout turned down by the referee when Gibbs took down Pennant on the edge of the box. The game started to slow down and the boss brought Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ramsey on as we continued creating half-chances. Giroud caught Begovic off his line in the 89th minute and took a shot from about 30-odd yards out – just skimming the top of the crossbar.
For most of the game it looked as though there was a lack of understanding between the midfield and Giroud, but we have to keep in mind that the whole attacking nucleus of this team consists of three new signings from three other different leagues and we’re only two games into the season. Taking that into perspective, they have done pretty well. It is also clear that Steve Bould has had a huge impact on the defensive side of our team, with yet another clean sheet against a very physical Stoke City team that we have struggled against defensively in earlier seasons.
Gervinho was a big disappointment today with him only making one key pass and not making even a single successful dribble. He also slowed us down on the break on more than one occasion. On the other hand, Cazorla and Arteta had good games yet again with the both of them having about 200 touches of the ball between them and the former making 2 key passes with a 93% pass accuracy and the latter making 3 key passes with a 87% pass accuracy. Arteta also made a huge defensive contribution today with 6 successful tackles and 3 interceptions. That said, Arteta has shown that he can play the holding role very well, but I personally feel he’d be more effective playing in a bit more advanced role where he can also contribute more to the attacking side of our game. I’ve always seen him as a string that links the defensive and attacking part of the team together, making those beautiful passes to our forwards and having a shot once in while, which is something we all know he’s good at. Another huge positive we can take from today’s game is the performances of both our young fullbacks – Jenkinson and Gibbs. Both made about 5 successful tackles and more importantly, always looked in control of the situation and weren’t intimidated by the physicality of Stoke City’s game and managed to defend set-pieces well.
We had some really good chances but at the moment we are not taking them, the same thing happened last week.We are making them and conceding few chances to the opposition but we lost two points again today.
It’s good to see that the team isn’t happy with just a draw, even though it’s not an easy place to get three points. Arteta went on to praise the defensive part of the team saying:
You know if you concede fouls and throw-ins they can put you in trouble because they get the ball in the box and are really organised at set pieces. We didn’t concede many chances and were well organised
Arsene Wenger said that it would take time for the new signings to settle in and generate a better understanding between them. He also admitted that there is still work to do in the training ground with regard to our attacking game. He said:
We have some work to do on the training ground but I believe we have the potential but you can see as well that something is missing. They’re not spontaneous enough in some situations. I’m very positive about my team. People will say: “You did not score in two games” and I cannot deny that. We played against two teams who as a unit defend very well, Sunderland and Stoke, and overall I believe we can be a good surprise in this Championship.
From Wenger’s statements it’s clear that the team hasn’t been bogged down by the two draws and that the team is still as positive as ever – which is a very encouraging sign.
Overall, even though we haven’t experienced the joy of one of our players putting the ball in the back of the net in the first 180 minutes of the season, I thought we had a pretty solid game today, both Podolski and Giroud looked better than they were against Sunderland. The team looked a bit more balanced with Podolski on the wings. Diaby didn’t have too bad a game today, although at times he was a bit hesitant about his decision making – especially when shooting. But to be fair to him scoring goals isn’t really his job. He did make 5 successful tackles and helped defend throw ins by winning 6 aerial duels today. And as mentioned earlier, Cazorla, Arteta and the entire back four have had two great games.
Despite only having two out of a possible six points, there are a lot of positives we can take from this game. The midfield and defence put in a strong performance and this team can only get better the more they gel together, which is very exciting. Onwards and upwards!
(All stats used in this blog post were via WhoScored. You should check them out.)