Arsenal vs. Stoke: Arsene Wenger Beats the Potters at Their Own Game

James McNicholas@@jamesmcnicholasFeatured ColumnistSeptember 22, 2013

This Premier League clash was an intriguing case of role reversal.

Arsenal, usually renowned for their free-flowing football, scored three goals via the unfamiliar means of a set piece.

Meanwhile, Stoke City, previously purveyors of route-one approach play and ruthlessly efficient dead-ball routines, kept possession well but failed to show the required killer instinct.

It was as if Stoke and Arsenal were performing parodic impressions of each other.

Manager Mark Hughes deserves credit for his swift transformation of the Stoke setup. He appears to have completely changed the team’s philosophy in a matter of weeks—this is revolution rather than evolution.

Stoke haven’t dramatically changed their personnel, but they have radically altered their style. The technically gifted Marc Wilson has been installed as a deep-lying playmaker, and in this game, Hughes handed a start to skillful former Werder Bremen forward Marko Arnautovic.

Rory Delap, Ryan Shotton and their long throws are gone. Instead, Stoke have adopted a patient passing game.

According to BBC Sport, Stoke had the majority of the game’s possession, finishing the game with 51 percent. Opta (subscription required) indicates the Potters had as much of 65 percent of the ball in the second half when they were chasing the game.

The fact that a Stoke side looking for a goal chose to leave the giant Peter Crouch on the bench speaks volumes.

Arsenal, on the other hand, were not at their fluent best. The Gunners struggled to create chances from open play, but were able to fall back upon an unfamiliar resource to score from three set pieces.

For that novelty, Arsenal owe plenty to Mesut Ozil. Making his home debut, the German had a hand in all three goals. First, his goal-bound effort was palmed into the path of Aaron Ramsey by Asmir Begovic for the Welshman to tuck in the opener.

Then he provided two perfectly floated dead-ball deliveries for Per Mertesacker and Bacary Sagna to nod home.

Ozil is not known as a set-piece specialist, but his immaculate technique means he is more than capable of delivering dangerous balls. With Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny and Olivier Giroud all in the side, Arsenal boast a newfound aerial threat.

According to Opta, Stoke played just 11 long balls.

Arsenal played 23 in the direction of the impressive Giroud, who showed in his tussles with Ryan Shawcross and Robert Huth that he is adapting to the physicality of the Premier League.

The goals might have been Stoke-esque, but Arsene Wenger won’t have been remotely bothered. The new-look Arsenal have a pronounced pragmatism and are developing a vital winning habit.

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