Arsenal Out-Muscle Stoke as Mesut Ozil Shines Again
It was evident from kickoff that this Arsenal side is not the same as those of years past, which have succumbed to Stoke's physical pressure and withered away as the game would wear on.
Rather, the Gunners turned what are generally assumed to be Stoke's greatest strengths against them.
Set pieces have not been Arsenal's hallmark for about a decade, and Arsene Wenger seems content to preserve his side's technical skill and focus less on the brawny aspects of the game.
Yet this is a much more well-rounded side than those the Frenchman has fielded in recent seasons. All three of Arsenal's goals were the product of set-piece situations, and two required no touches other than the ball into the box and the header into the goal.
It is difficult to remember a time when the Gunners relied more on the strength of their necks than the deftness of their feet to win matches.
Indeed, their two headed goals were indicative of a broader physical commitment against a side often thought to be the most robust (to put it diplomatically) in the most brawny league in the world.
Aaron Ramsey made the most tackles in today's game (6) and the joint-most this season (26) along with Lucas.— Orbinho (@Orbinho) September 22, 2013
Aaron Ramsey, Mathieu Flamini and Jack Wilshere were afforded the opportunity to get stuck in and broaden the scope of their influence beyond the usual passing and moving. All three could regularly be seen engaging in muscular contests with hulking Stoke players, and often achieving their desired result.
Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny worked in tandem to isolate and contain Kenwyne Jones, and Stoke were not able to threaten Wojciech Szczesny with crosses or long balls into the box.
The Gunners did bend a bit in the second half—"dropping physically," as Arsene Wenger might say—but, like all excellent sides, they possessed the tensile strength to stretch and bend without actually allowing the Potters to score or even register a threatening chance.
Wenger used his substitutions intelligently to reinforce his side during the closing minutes. Nacho Monreal stabilized the left flank, and Mikel Arteta was as metronomic and calming as usual in a more advanced midfield role.
It will be interesting to see how the manager decides to fit Arteta, last season's undroppable stalwart, into a midfield that is not only saturated with talent but is clicking remarkably well in its current arrangement.
Ramsey, impeccable 1st half before fading. Another excellent performance from Kieran Gibbs, not so much a player improved than transformed.— Philippe Auclair (@PhilippeAuclair) September 22, 2013
Mathieu Flamini, whose position in front of the defense Arteta usually occupies, did not make way for the Spaniard when he entered. That is both revealing and justified; his physical robustness and willingness to sit back has been a massive boon to a side that hitherto had only Arteta to turn to for such qualities.
While Flamini helped construct the foundation for Arsenal to push forward and manufacture the chances that ultimately won them three points, Mesut Ozil was the catalyst that provided the Gunners with their spark.
He became Arsenal's default free-kick-taker from the moment he arrived, and almost every one of his deliveries against Stoke justified that decision. The three that resulted in goals emanated from different areas of the pitch, but in each case Ozil picked the perfect angle and placed the ball exactly where he wanted to.
FT Stats Arsenal v Stoke City Shots 17-10 On target 9-3, Fouls 8-14 Duels Won 55%-45%, Pass Accuracy 87%-85%, Possession 51%-49%— Orbinho (@Orbinho) September 22, 2013
It has taken him two games to become the Premier League leader in assists.
In the first case, his shot on goal was placed so well that Asmir Begovic needed to parry the ball away, opening the door for Aaron Ramsey to add yet another goal to his team-leading tally.
Ozil was active in other facets of the game but was not quite as omnipresent as one might have expected. However, discouragement would be irrational: It will take time for him to become acclimated to the Premier League, and Stoke are quite a test in one's second game.
If Ozil had joined Arsenal in any of the last several seasons, he would not have been able to defer much of the physical load to his more experienced teammates.
Now, Arsenal have the toughness to match their technicality, and their dispatching of Stoke was evidence that the Gunners can finally win with routine against teams that are eminently beatable.
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