Outstanding against Stoke's massive oafs
I'm disappointed today. Not with the football, obviously, but with the fact that the Stoke fans appear to be a less rabid bunch post-Pulis. Not one of them bit at yesterday's blog post which I was certain would bring at least one out of his hovel to have a go. No matter.
It wasn't Arsenal's best performance so far this season, but if we play like that and win 3-1 every week I will be one happy punter. It's fair to say we created next to nothing against Stoke, but then they didn't either. As a spectacle I suspect the neutral viewers on Sky will have been largely underwhelmed. For those of us in the ground it wasn't exactly inspiring, but we had the first home view of Mesut Ozil to keep us smiling. After about five minutes he controlled a ball out of the air on the end of his foot and drew a gasp from the crowd, such was the quality of his first touch. To be honest he was not really at it in open play yesterday. Sometimes the passing was a little bit off, and I had the distinct feeling that he was keeping it just a little bit too simple. On the one or two occasions he allowed himself to play the little German had us purring. There was one move in the first-half, right in front of the away fans, where he dummied to go past the full-back on the outside, and then did it anyway. It immediately put me in mind of Robert Pires setting up Freddie Ljungberg at Anfield just before Christmas 2001 having just left Gerrard standing. Sadly Ozil's ball across the box was mis-hit, but when he settles in you have to think we're in for a few treats.
The injury to Theo Walcott saw Serge Gnabry make a surprise and impressive first Premier League start. As with Ozil he chose to take it steady, which was probably a combination of nerves and instruction from the Manager. Having said that I was extremely impressed by Gnabry, as I have been I the past. His strength on the ball was a real feature as Stoke's players found that he was a youngster who couldn't be bullied out of possession. His full-back had to be substituted which is most certainly a triumph for a kid on his debut. He got back to support Sagna time and again, which was entirely necessary against a Stoke side whose only discernible tactic was to hit high balls out to Arnautovic on their right hand side (I'm not having it that they are playing more football these days - yes there was more passing, but ultimately it was a game based on high balls and physicality). Huth's foul on Gnabry was typical of the man, the team and the Manager. Gnabry, to his credit, got up and came back for more. I hope to see a lot the young German this season.
The star of Arsenal's show yesterday had to be Olivier Giroud. As ever he was up front on his own. He was up against Huth and Shawcross who were barging, elbowing and kicking him at every opportunity. I dread to think how bruised Giroud must be today. He won every header against Stoke's centre-backs, which must be virtually unheard of. Arsenal didn't get quite enough support around Giroud, especially late on when the players were obviously tired. However, his strength was a joy to behold and I was delighted with him. Yes, his finishing can still improve (he went a bit Lee Chapman when Ozil set him up in the second-half) but not many defenders will relish facing him having watched his start to the season (or since Christmas, to be fair to him). With Nicklas Bendtner back on the bench yesterday (in some not very under stated bright yellow boots) there is a credible back-up option available which might afford Giroud the occasional rest, and that is most welcome.
I have one or two other observations to make from yesterday. Firstly the referee, Mike Dean, was his usual arrogant self. He let Huth and Shawcross away with plenty. He allowed Charlie Adam to be constantly in his ear while he was on the pitch. He missed all sorts. Yet, in the final minute, he booked Stephen Ireland for nothing more than a trip. Ireland clearly went for the ball, but was fractionally late. Nobody was hurt (or ever likely to be in that sort of tackle) so I can only assume that Dean was booking Ireland simply because of who he is. It summed up Dean and the way he behaves as a referee. He should have been off the panel years ago, but he's still there making it up as he goes along.
The second thing I wanted to point out was Stoke's failure to use Peter Crouch. The Freak has an amazing scoring record against Arsenal, at various Clubs. It was odd enough that he shouldn't start the match, but to then not get sent on at 2-1 or 3-1 down is beyond my understanding. He was sent out to warm up just as Sagna was about to score our third goal, but then Jermaine Pennant came on instead. I'm sure the Stoke fans must have been confused, too. Well, even more confused than their normal state.
Finally I want to talk about the fact that we got three goals, but none from open play. For too long set-pieces have been more luck than judgement at Arsenal. There has been no method, no idea that something has been rehearsed. Frankly, that has made them wasted opportunities. I said a couple of years ago that we had started turning dead-ball situations in to open play, such was the reluctance to put the ball in to the box. I'd like to think that, with the arrival of Ozil, someone has noticed that we now have a player capable of putting the ball exactly where they want to. The delivery to the near post, on two occasions, must have had Steve Bould smiling. Maybe it was a happy coincidence, but I hope we've added another string to our bow - it will make defending against Arsenal even more difficult. It's been a long time since Marwood, Limpar, Davis and Merson were playing inch-perfect set-piece balls, so let's hope Ozil is taking up the mantle.
Before the game I went in to the All Arsenal Shop with the intention of getting "Ozil 11" printed on my away shirt. I also intended to join the photo outside The Armoury of the Gooners in their Ozil shirts. As I was about to join the queue I was informed by one of the staff that the Premier League printing for Ozil 11 was unavailable for away shirts, and it was the same situation in The Armoury. This was Ozil's home debut. The away shirt is the new strip for this season. They've had three weeks to ensure they had stock of this, surely knowing that there would be customers aplenty for it at this match. Yet again Arsenal, supposedly an American-run, near billion-pound business, have failed to meet demand for something in their shops. It happens every Christmas with anything remotely popular, which is then never re-stocked despite obvious demand. For something as simple as the shirt printing to be unavailable is just completely unacceptable. Money that would have been spent at the Club by plenty of people yesterday was thrown away because Arsenal continues to employ incompetents in this area of their operation. It's not rocket science, is it?