Kieran Gibbs - excellent today
I have no doubt that Arsenal will be hit over the head again with the fact that we drew another blank today, and I suppose that's understandable. However, that would be to overlook the all round performance of the side at a place we find it very difficult. It would also be to overlook the organisation of the back four, with Mikel Arteta outstanding in front of them, as they protected Vito Mannone superbly.
The big Italian had little to do in general, but when he was called upon he didn't put a foot wrong. When I saw that neither Szczesny nor Fabianski were available I was very worried. It is a credit to the coaching staff, I think, for what has clearly been some decent work on the training pitch this week. That being said, I have just heard Arsene Wenger say that Szczesny will be "at least another week". Given that I've heard that before I would be very annoyed if we don't bring in some proper goalkeeping cover this week.
The game itself was as comfortable as any we've played at Stoke since they were promoted. The Arsenal fans were in fine voice, and clearly out shouted the home support from the first whistle (the neanderthals only seemed to come to life when Aaron Ramsey came on - check out the comments section of yesterday's post to see why they are neanderthals). I thought the midfield looked really strong and Cazorla tried to orchestrate things - his willingness to receive the ball in any situation is a joy to watch. Unfortunately we lacked any cutting edge whatsoever. Gervinho was back to the form of last season this afternoon, and I would have given him the hook at half-time and brought on Oxlade-Chamberlain. When The Ox was finally introduced it was to replace Lukas Podolski, who had been prominent in our best moments of the first-half. You can argue that he had not been in the game much after half-time, but he can pop up with the finish you need in such a tight encounter when chances are at a premium. Added to the fact that Abou Diaby was out on his feet by then it was another bizarre Wenger substitution, but we're well used to that by now.
There will be a lot of focus on our lack of goals, as I said at the top of this post. Olivier Giroud will be the man under the microscope, and he again had chances to win the match for Arsenal. I'll start with the positives on him and that would be to highlight his physicality. I mentioned in the preview piece yesterday that I thought Wenger might prefer him in this game due to his size, and that was the case as it turned out. It's fair to say that, when the ball was played up to him (and Arsenal did it a lot before half-time) he was too big and too strong for bully-boy Shawcross. Two or three times the boy who loves his mummy simply bounced of Giroud in the aerial exchanges. It reminded me a lot of Adebayor when he first came up against John Terry and gave him one hell of a tough afternoon in a game at Stamford Bridge (if memory serves me right it was the day Van Persie got a couple of goals early in the second-half of a 2-1 win). The negatives, unfortunately, involved his play when given a sight of goal again. Gary Neville said he should have done better with a Cazorla pass before half-time, but I think that was a harsh assessment as the ball was played slightly behind him. However, I was annoyed when he tried to hit a spectacular volley when presented with a free header from a second-half corner - that was the best chance of the game, really. Then, late on, he went for another spectacular effort (in fairness he nearly pulled it off) when a simple ball to Ramsey would have had him one-on-one with the goalkeeper. As it was we got nil again today. Giroud needs to get a goal soon, or the nay-sayers will be out in force.
Overall I was not disappointed with the performance, much like last week, though the failure to really create was frustrating. It's a tough one as it's difficult to criticise any player. I thought the full-backs played particularly well for Arsenal, with Kieran Gibbs turning in one of his very best performances. When you see Jermaine Pennant being take off then you know that Gibbs has done his job particularly well. The problem we have with drawing again, and not scoring again, is that next week we have to go to Liverpool that little bit more desperate for the points. I suppose it's more a symptom of last weeks home game, than of the match today.
One final comment on the game today is the time-wasting from the home side. How were there only three minutes added at the end? I can understand sides trying to get every little advantage they can away from home, but in front of their own fans? Still, the pundits will praise Stoke's effort, while continuing to lament the fact that England's national side is so workmanlike. They don't do irony.
There are now five days of hard work ahead for Arsene Wenger and business people at the Club. In his interview after the game Wenger has certainly given the impression that we can expect plenty of action this week. We can all see where additions are needed, and we all know who needs to be shipped out. The purchasing side of things should have been taken care of weeks ago, especially as we were told lessons were learned last August. I suspect (and I certainly hope) that we will see a few new squad numbers dished out by Friday night, while waving goodbye to certain others. If we can do some good business this week then there is a chance of success this season. Over to you Arsene and Ivan.