4 Talking Points from Arsenal's Draw Away to Stoke City
When this author read "row 34, seat 963" on his match ticket, there was a certain amount of fear about just how far back from the action this seat would be located. In fact, the third row from the back in the away end actually provided an excellent panoramic view of proceedings at the Britannia Stadium.
Those proceedings saw Arsenal earn a solid point against Stoke City, despite a performance that should have yielded more. Here are the four main talking points to emerge from the game for the Gunners:
Arsenal dominated the game with some excellent possession play
Let's get the obvious out of the way first: Arsenal should have won this game at a canter, such was their dominance in possession.
Arsenal's passing was controlled and thoughtful and between both boxes, the Gunners were assured and skillful on the ball. The midfield trio of Mikel Arteta, Santi Cazorla and Abou Diaby functioned very well together, each player sticking to the responsibilities of their particular roles.
The problem was that although Arsenal's buildup exuded confidence, their finishing was anything but.
Arsenal's forward line and finishing need a lot of work
Arsene Wenger did the right thing when he deployed Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud and Gervinho as his front three. However, the attacking trio still needs work.
Arsenal's forward play was indecisive and lacked polish. Giroud showed an appetite for the physical battle that Arsenal have missed in recent seasons. His movement was also good, particularly runs into the channels.
Podolski was the same and added a tenacity and directness that Arsenal need in tough away fixtures. However, both are rusty in front of goal. Giroud's touch was poor at the critical moment and Podolski's shooting range left a lot be desired.
As a team, Arsenal's finishing was abject. Abou Diaby should have capped a fine individual performance with at least one goal. However, never has a player appeared so shot-shy.
That affliction was evident in almost every attack Arsenal mounted. The Gunners frequently brought the ball into the Stoke area with assurance and quality.
Once there, however, they proceeded to pass the responsibility to one another via a series of one-touch layoffs. Nobody was confident and bold enough to take charge and deliver the shot.
Arsenal are a little more defensively solid as a unit
A second-straight clean sheet shouldn't be easily dismissed, based on the opposition. Yes, Arsenal have faced two dour teams in Sunderland and Stoke, but in previous seasons, they might have lost both these games by a single goal resulting from a defensive blunder.
This season the team seems more solid. They appear to be working better as a unit. Today, it was clearly visible that everyone knew their defensive responsibility.
On free kicks and throws, Per Mertesacker regularly took Peter Crouch, while Diaby and Thomas Vermaelen would bracket Robert Huth. Giroud took up a position at the near post to attack the initial delivery.
Players were communicating and directing the shape of the defense. Is this the influence of Steve Bould? Probably. Is it also the presence of more disciplined personnel like Arteta and Mertesacker? Quite possibly. The truth is it's probably a healthy portion of both.
Tougher challenges are surely ahead, beginning with next week's trip to Anfield to take on Liverpool's Luis Suarez. However, Arsenal are showing more resolve and discipline defensively and consecutive clean sheets can only build confidence.
Theo Walcott has no place in this team
This subject will be tackled in greater detail in the near future, but for now, it should simply be stated that Theo Walcott's presence will only undermine this team.
This author is not a believer in the view that Walcott does not possess the talent. Ability is not the issue, commitment its. Walcott came on as a substitute and repeated his performance from May, 2011 at the Britannia.
He was static and when he did move, he jogged and trotted along, instead of buzzing into space. At one point while Arsenal were once again contriving to lay the ball off to every club member, on the edge of the Stoke box, Walcott just stood on the inside right and watched.
He didn't call for a pass, or create some width, or make a run in between defenders. Walcott has had long enough now to produce better. He was abysmal against Sunderland and somehow managed to be even worse today.
In all honesty, a point from this nightmare fixture should always be welcomed. However, Arsenal's territorial and possession dominance only highlighted how much they need guile and quality in front of goal.
Picking the right combination up front has to be the starting point, as does encouraging players to be more direct once opportunities are created. Two points is not a terrible start, but tough games are on the horizon, so Wenger must quickly solve this squad's shortcomings.
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