The last four times Stoke City has travelled to the Emirates, Arsenal has won comfortably. The trend looked set to continue before the match even kicked off with the Potters putting in an indifferent start to the season; drawing two and losing two, even though the comeback against Sp*rs for a thrilling 2-2 draw was pretty impressive.
The major selection headache for Arsene Wenger was whether to persist upfront with Theo Walcott as he did against Newcastle or reinstate Olivier Giroud to the starting lineup. In the end, it was the Englishman who got the nod. With Per Mertesacker still out from the virus that has laid him low for a couple of weeks, it was Gabriel who partnered Laurent Koscienly in the centre of defence.
Almost straight from kickoff, Arsenal looked to dominate proceedings, the front three of Alexis Sanchez, Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey pushing right up and applying pressure to the Stoke backline. Further back, Santi Cazorla was particularly imperious, pinging passes left and right around the centre of the pack.
Arsenal should have been four goals to the good within the first ten minutes of the first half, a measure of amount of chances the team had. Only the frame of the post (twice denying Sanchez) and the excellent Jack Butland kept the score goalless. There was a particularly galling miss by Walcott when the ball was swung in beautifully from the right, for the striker to only head the ball over. Surely, many of the fans present in the Emirates and across the world wished at that moment that it was the Frenchman Giroud that was starting upfront instead of the diminutive Theo.
The Frenchman would eventually come on from the bench to seal what should have been a much more convincing victory with a textbook near post header off a Cazorla free kick. This, just minutes after missing what was surely an easier chance when the ball rebounded to him, eight yards from goal.
The all important first goal ironically came when Stoke city were on the front foot and had pushed many players upfront. Francis Coquelin put in a sliding tackle to win the ball back, which then fell to Mesut Özil. One look up from the German and he saw Walcott starting a run across the Stoke backline. One sumptuous lofted ball later, Theo was bearing down on Butland’s goal. If there was any position you wanted Theo Walcott, that was surely it, and Theo duly obliged, cooly slotting the ball under the advancing keeper.
While it was encouraging the number of chances created by the Arsenal team during the match, (29 in all), it was worrying how profligate they were. Not every team Arsenal comes up against this season would be so generous and to see Arsenal make every opposing goalkeeper seem like a world beater is serious cause for concern. That also provides ammunition for those who say the manager should have procured a ‘clinical’ striker in the past transfer window, no matter the expense, or how such a striker would fit into the team.
Chelsea at the Stamford Bridge are next, right after the Champions league opener in midweek and despite their defensive struggles this season, somehow I don’t see them giving up that many chances. The onus is now on the players to find the goals the manager swears are present in this team.
COME ON YOU RIP ROARING GUNNERS!!!!!!!!