Arsenal got a useful point at the Britannia stadium. The following 12 points are a review of the match.
1. Best of Times and the Worst of Times
I doubt that anyone—Gunner or Gooner—had any misconceptions about Stoke City. Everyone knows exactly how they play.
And so it was that in the early minutes of the match they wanted to play their game, keep the ball in the air, draw fouls, get free kicks and use their physicality to advantage and score.
But credit to Arsenal who soon snuffed out that notion by seizing control of the midfield. This enabled them to play to their own strength.
After the first six shaky minutes for Arsenal, they recovered and began carving out chances for themselves, considering this was Stoke they were playing, one couldn't have asked for a better start.
However, the fact that Arsenal didn't take their early chances meant this game could end in regret, and as the omens seemed to indicate, the script would end exactly so, as Stoke took the lead in what one must say was against the run of play.
Whenever a team creates chances and don't take them, defeat often smiles and invites itself into the match.
But Arsenal's strength in this match was such that they were leveled within six minutes. A good thing they did, since Stoke came back from halftime more aggressive and intentionally drawing fouls to earn free kicks.
It means they took the bite out of Arsenal who found their rhythm disrupted time after time.
2. Stoke City's Game Plan
Be physical. Draw fouls. Keep the ball in the airs. Make the match a matter of personal battles.
In the second half, play a high line to compress the space to allow you to mark Arsenal players more closely and physically. Keep the duel in Arsenal's half. Make them commit fouls. Launch the ball into the penalty box and press their defenders into making mistakes.
3. Arsenal's Game Plan
Keep it simple. Have the full-backs play deeper than usual; Song more defensively minded. Have Benayoun cut inside to pressure the ball. Have Aaron Ramsey roam the midfield to win tackles and to gather loose balls. Have Rosicky move the ball quickly from defensive position to attack. Have Gervinho attack Stoke's left-back. Make sure to close up the midfield.
4. Big Mistakes
Mistakes from both sides led to the two goals of the match.
I do not blame Bacary Sagna for Stoke's goal. His pass was into space in anticipation that his teammate would move into that space. Lack of this anticipation caused the interception that eventually lead to Stoke City's goal.
On the other end, Yossi Benayoun's tenacity won possession on the left flank. He fed Tomas Rosicky whose cross found Robin van Persie. This goal came from a mistake by Stoke City's right-back.
5. Goal Shows Van Persie's Class
Tomas Rosicky's cross was a good one, but it wasn't goal-gilded. There were many bodies around it. The fact that it turned into a goal is the reason why Robin van Persie is a top-class striker. It was his anticipation of where the ball would end up that produced the goal.
He "simply" wafted into the space around the defenders to tap in.
6. Robin van Persie Struggled
This match didn't suit Van Persie very well. He was required to receive the ball with his back to goal a number of times in the second half, and he struggled. He looked good and dangerous going forward, especially when he sought to open up space for others.
Since Stoke's tactics only grew more aggressive in the second half, I started hoping for the introduction of Marouane Chamakh, who is good at holding up the ball with his back to goal.
As it happened, Chamakh's introduction was at the right time. It allowed Van Persie to take a breather from trying to hold up the ball. It also allowed him to drop a little deeper to receive the ball.
To say that Van Persie struggled, though, isn't to say he wasn't important in the match. He was. His goal attests to that.
Quality players don't always have great games, what sets them apart are the chances they take. Their mere presence on the pitch contributes greatly to a team's endeavor.
7. Gervinho Gifted but not Clinical
Gervinho had a good game—a good sign of recovery from the Africa Cup of Nations burnout. He made varied runs on and off the ball, sometimes cutting outside his maker and sometimes inside. Plus, he made forays infield to create space both for himself and for others.
Playing on the right flank seemed to suit him. Moreover, he seems to have a good understanding with Robin van Persie.
To improve his game though, he needs to be more clinical when an opportunity to score arises. Shooting technique seems to desert him at the decisive moment. A striker needs to hit the target most of the time—make the goalkeeper work.
Furthermore, he needs to be braver.
A more daring striker would have buried Bacary Sagna's cross, which had a goal written all over it. Gervinho though seemed afraid of contact with the goalkeeper, as such he made only minimal connection with the ball, letting Stoke off the hook thereby.
Stoke City employing their physical game. Clive Brunskill/Getty Images.
8. Chamakh was Brief but Effective
This is the kind of game that suits Marouane Chamakh, especially since it was the aim of Stoke City to keep the ball in the air. Also, since in the second half they decided to push high, close to the halfway line, to try and put pressure on Arsenal.
It meant playing out required an indirect approach from Arsenal—a relay effect, at which Stoke City themselves are adept. It requires pivots to hold up the ball to allow runners off the ball to advance forward to receive it.
Tight marking means Van Persie wasn't very effective at this, and it doesn't seem to be particularly his strength. Chamakh did this very well, shielding possession to allow teammates to advance forward into open spaces.
Playing Stoke means winning little, personal duels. This Chamakh did very well—not eye-catching, but very important.
9. Ramsey Was Silent
It was the silence of a well-tuned car, which means he performed his role well. He won tackles, chased down balls and linked up well with Song and Rosicky. Aside from his wayward shots, there was little wanting in his game. In fact, there was much to be appreciated.
10. Substitutions Good
Some persist in claiming that Arsenal still play the 4-2-1-3 (4-2-3-1) formation. This isn't true.
The nature of the midfield combination of Tomas Rosicky, Mikel Arteta and Alex Song involves a fluid 4-3-3. It wasn't different here. Ramsey performed admirably, having been constrained to sit deeper than he is wont.
When Abou Diaby was introduced, the formation changed to 4-2-1-3 proper, which essentially involved Arsenal playing with two holders in Song and Diaby. It allowed Arsenal to move the area of skirmish to Stokes' half—the opposite of what had ensued to this point in the second half.
His introduction meant Arsenal had fresh legs on the left flank. Stoke were unable to make any head ways on this flank thereafter. This helped shift the momentum Arsenal's way.
The rumor about Yann M'Vila makes me wonder whether Wenger wants to convert Song to a creative midfielder role (the passer type). At Wolves, the experiment appeared on hand. Here, the use of Andre Santos on the left could be that Wenger is exploring the option for the false-11.
If I'm right, this could be a pointer to what Wenger's summer purchases or lack thereof will be. It doesn't make sense to buy particular types of players if you already have them in your squad.
Is he experimenting? Clive Brunskill/Getty Images.
12. A Useful Point
This was a difficult match, but Arsenal performed admirably. Newcastle United's surprising loss at Wigan means the advantage for third position on the table is Arsenal's.
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