Arsenal's annual trip to the cabbage patch is upon us. At least it comes early this year, though the downturn in the weather is probably indicative of the fact that we have to play at Stoke this weekend. I've spent the last couple of days in Southend-On-Sea with my family, so I haven't been too in touch with things at Arsenal. I'm not surprised that Nuri Sahin went elsewhere - Arsenal's failure to close a deal is now becoming repetitively embarrassing, but I'll hold fire on any verdict on our transfer dealings until the window closes. Suffice to say I am as frustrated as the next person, and I certainly believe a proper defensive midfield player is required. I just hope Wenger feels the same way and something is done about it this week.
The team news has not been altogether encouraging with Wojciech Szczesny clearly not 100% fit. With the already unreliable Fabianski also not entirely fit we can see just how stark the goalkeeping situation is at the Club. We have failed to ship out Fabianski and Mannone, and the Manager has not brought in any genuine experienced quality to cover for and challenge Szczesny. What would we do if Szczesny got a long term injury? There is quality out there, and Wenger should have gone and got it. The importance of Szczesny tomorrow against Stoke can not be be in any doubt. It's fair to say I'm not his biggest fan, but he is head and shoulders better than the other two. Tomorrow, if he is fit, he must rediscover his willingness to come off his line and dominate the six yard area.
Obviously most of the focus tomorrow will be on the way we defend the high ball. Per Mertesacker must attack the ball in this area of the pitch. I can't criticise the BFG for being a bit on the slow side, but I can certainly criticise a man of his size for not dominating in the air as he should. Tomorrow we are up against one of our nemeses in the shape of freaky Crouch. That being the case I want to see Mertesacker taking charge.
I don't see the rest of the team changing too much from last weekend. We will need the extra height of Abou Diaby, at either end of the pitch, though I suspect his fragile ankles will be a target for Pulis' highly trained henchmen. I expect Podolski to continue up front, though the physical stature of Olivier Giroud might be a better option against Stoke, with Podolski on the left and Gervinho to the right. With Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain only returning to fitness I would be slightly surprised to see him in from the start, though Arsene might prefer The Ox to little Santi Cazorla so early in the Spaniard's Premier League career.
The thing is with Stoke that you know what to expect. There is no shock to it anymore. For that reason there is no excuse for Arsenal being caught out by them tomorrow. Furthermore, if we play our game properly they will not be able to live with our pace and movement. The fact is that Arsenal are a better side than Stoke. As long as Arsenal play to their ability, and are willing to work as hard as (or harder than) Stoke then we will win the game. There will be the usual level of tackling and foul play from Stoke - I would hope that even the most rabid City fan would accept that they sail close to the wind. Just look at the foul by Shawcross in the last minute at Reading last week and you can see that the line gets crossed. In making that tackle Shawcross was as out of control of himself as he was when breaking Aaron Ramsey's leg. Frankly he's an animal who shouldn't be on the football pitch, even if he does love his Mum.
One more thing for tomorrow is, of course, the baiting of Arsene Wenger that will be in evidence tomorrow. It was highlighted as "comedy" on BBC and Sky last season, so we can expect the Britannia brain-boxes to be at it again, including that fat cow that was sat next to the dugout last time. You can also be sure that Pulis will have done nothing in his programme notes to address the behaviour of the Stoke fans (unlike Ferguson who has called on people to pack it in when we play at Old Trafford). The best way for Arsenal to deal with it, of course, is to go out and show them who they are on the pitch. Alternatively, Steve Bould can spark a touchline bust-up that requires him to knock that stupid cap off Pulis' head.
Match review will be here tomorrow afternoon/evening.