It is tough travelling to Stoke. Take it from me. And it is not just about the primitive transport links. Even before making the journey, one has to consider if all the tales you hear about the city are true and how should one adequately prepare for the ‘city’. Are the people who live in Stoke mostly offsprings of orcs? Is the entire place just one big swamp with lights?
It is even harder if you are a professional footballer. You grow up dreaming of playing for big clubs like Real Madrid or Barcelona and then you get that dream. You actually join one of these clubs at a precocious age and you are promoted from the reserves to the first team in short order. You are even hailed as one of the hopes of the future.
Then life comes at you fast. You lose form or get injured and you lose your place in the team. Next thing you know, you are out on loan or sold. To Stoke. Of all places, Stoke? Why Stoke? Some may say it is because Stoke manager once played for Barcelona, difficult as it is to imagine.
And it was one of those Real Madrid/Barcelona old boys that proved the difference against Arsenal for Stoke; Jese sneaking past Nacho Monreal, playing strangely as the middle of three centrebacks to slot the ball past Petr Cech.
There was a familiar tune to the whole match, Arsenal having the lion share of possession without creating much, Stoke content to sit back and counter and the home fans booing Aaron Ramsey’s every touch. Same ol’.
With so many players playing out of position, it was perhaps not surprising that Arsenal’s forward play lacked any sort of fluency. Despite having at least one clear shout for a penalty, a Lacazette goal incorrectly ruled offside and Danny Welbeck having two great chances to score, the team never really looked convincing going forward. There were so many missed passes, it was as if the players were introduced to each other on the team coach.
Even with the introduction of Olivier Giroud, Theo Walcott and Alex Iwobi, the away team’s forward play still looked ragged. Not even the bearded Frenchman could save the day when presented with a pretty easy chance in injury time.
What was clear was that something was not working with the way the team was set up. And it was as if the team played that bad. At all. In snatches, team actually played quite, at least well enough to beat Stoke but it broke down soon enough.
For me, the back three needs to go. It needs to die a swift, painful death. The change in formation was introduced at the tail end of last season to shore up the defence but on the evidence of the last two matches, it is definitely failing in that regard. What it has managed to do instead is to stifle our attacking play in return.
Playing an extra defender doesn’t always translate into having a better defence, especially when you are playing two left backs in a back three. We all love Nacho but he is definitely not a centre back. Shoehorning players into unfamiliar positions can work in the short term by freshening up the team but we are way past that time. Besides, the team doesn’t really have the players to play in the formation the manager currently prefers, (looking at Hector Bellerin and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain).
The question I want answered right now is; did the manager leave the Stoke train station okay? No slips? No falls?