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Tuesday, 22 February 2011
Six Nations Rugby team come to Arsenal (Stoke City (h) preview)
So tomorrow night sees our postponed match with Stoke City finally take place. You will recall that this is the match originally scheduled for the Saturday before Christmas, but it fell victim to the heavy December snow. It's interesting to note that we will not be seeing the original referee for this match. Lee Mason has been replaced by Peter Walton tomorrow - whether this would have happened anyway I don't know, but it seems a bit of a coincidence after Mason's decisions during the Everton game a couple of weeks ago.
The visit of Stoke City means that we will be, for the first time this season, playing against a team from another sport. Fabregas may have said that Ipswich played a game more akin to rugby, but they have nothing on this lot. I watched Stoke play Sunderland a couple of weeks ago and, eventually, batter them in to submission at the end of the game. You can't deny that Stoke's "style" is effective, but how anyone could sit and watch that every week must be one of life's great mysteries. The difference in aesthetic quality could not be more stark from last Wednesday to this. The ridiculous thing is that Stoke are even more likely to cause Arsenal major problems than Barcelona.
Arsenal's team news is not encouraging. Robin Van Persie and Laurent Koscielny have both been ruled out of the fixture. RVP has got a hamstring problem while Koscielny has suffered a back injury. This is a major problem. We shouldn't be surprised at Van Persie getting a knock as he's played unhindered for a couple of months, but what a terrible blow it could be. The Dutch striker has been the best striker in the Premier League since Christmas and our current run has no small part to do with his form. Koscielny, meanwhile, has formed a passable partnership with Johan Djourou. We will now have to watch Djourou try and carry Squillaci through a game against the tallest and most physical strike pair in the country - John Carew and Kenwynne Jones. If Diaby was fit and available (he is still suspended...and injured) I would have put Song alongside Djourou, but that option is not available without a change in formation - more of that below.
Stoke will stick with their usual game plan - kick the southern/foreign softies off the pitch and pile as many high balls in to the box as you possibly can. The injuries to RVP (our best header of the ball - he intercepts more than his share of set-pieces at the near-post) and Koscielny could be particularly costly tomorrow night. At the other end they will have the talentless Shawcross making his first appearance against Arsenal since breaking Aaron Ramsey's leg this time last year. I would have fancied Van Persie to take him apart. I expect Bendtner to replace him up front and we will need a repeat performance of his dominant aerial display at the Britannia last year if we are to prosper. I gave Bendtner a slagging on here yesterday, and deservedly so, but if he plays through the middle tomorrow we might just see a different display from him.
Having been forced in to changes, and there being little chance of Chamakh getting another start after Sunday, Wenger's available personnel would lend itself much better to a 4-4-2 formation. With the players at our disposal we would be much better off with a midfield comprising Nasri, Wilshere, Fabregas and Arshavin, supporting a front two of Bendtner/Chamakh with Walcott. This would give the big striker some support, while Shawcross and company could not handle the pace of Theo. It would also free Alex Song to join the back four. Sadly we know Arsene doesn't do tactics, or horses for courses, so here is the team I expect to see:
Szczesny - Sagna, Djourou, Squillaci, Clichy - Song, Wilshere, Fabregas - Nasri, Bendtner, Walcott.
As I said on here last week I am having to miss the game tomorrow thanks to the late change of date - the game was supposed to be tonight - so I will have to make do with Sky's version of the match highlights. I have no doubt that the abridged version of the game will bear little resemblance to the actual play, but my review of the game on Thursday will be largely dependent on it unfortunately. I hope that those lucky enough to be in the stadium will give Ryan Shawcross the abuse he deserves - he is not a footballer, but a licensed thug who shouldn't be anywhere near a football pitch. Such odious characters deserve to know what we feel about them.