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Friday, 28 February 2014

Stoke hoodoo must be ended tomorrow

Our last winner at Stoke

The game in 2010 is always remembered for Shawcross crippling Aaron Ramsey. What is less recalled is the fact that it was Arsenal's last win at Stoke City. I suppose it's ironic that the day on which Pulis' horrendous tactics had their most horrific conclusion was also the day that an Arsenal side rose the challenge and came out on top. On that night Sol Campbell and Thomas Vermaelen were inspirational, alongside Cesc Fabregas, as The Gunners scored twice late on to come home with three crucial points. Ultimately those points were important in securing a Champions League spot a few months later. Tomorrow the three points could be scarcely more important as we enter a phase of fixtures that could break our season completely.
The talk seems to be that Thomas Vermaelen could be back in the side tomorrow. I don't really buy that he's been injured in recent weeks, but the possible lack of left-backs in the squad has meant his return has been forced upon Arsene Wenger. It's fair to say that Vermaelen has been Captain of Arsenal in name only this season. That's a real shame for a man who was the only real candidate to replace Van Persie in the role at the start of the last campaign. The thought of him coming in at left-back does not fill me with confidence, especially against a side that likes to get it wide. I would prefer Flamini to fill in for either Gibbs or Monreal (though he looked out of position when playing there throughout the second half last weekend) but he is more needed in central midfield tomorrow. With the likes of Charlie Adam kicking their way through the game then Flamini's bottle and no nonsense attitude will be essential at the Britannia. I would be playing both Flamini and Arteta tomorrow and leaving out Jack Wilshere.
Mesut Ozil is also going to return at Stoke. I couldn't believe he was left out of the team last Saturday. I felt certain that Wenger would make a point of playing him and telling him to go out and show how good he is. Against a weak opponent, with one eye on Wembley, it would have been an ideal chance to build his confidence. He could then have been taken out of the firing line tomorrow and given a place on the bench for a bit of a rest. If there was one place I wouldn't be keen for Ozil to be playing then it's at Stoke. For a player who has seemed so afraid of any kind of physical contact in his time in the Premier League so far it will be one hell of a test. If Ozil steps up tomorrow and dominates then we will perhaps be seeing the start of his Arsenal career. With Robert Huth possibly back for Stoke, and Shawcross in full Frankenstein mode, he will need to have his wits about him. To be honest, we could do worse than put both Sanogo and Giroud in the side to match things up physically. That won't happen.
As I alluded to at the top of this post tomorrow is the start of a run of fixtures that could break us. Normally Stoke City wouldn't bear comparison with Bayern Munich, Man City, Everton, Chelsea and Tottenham but such is our record at Stoke that they are an issue for us. A win tomorrow, ahead of this dark month or so ahead, would set us up well. A failure to get the three points has Arsenal on the back foot in the Title race before we've even got started on the run-in. Tomorrow is massive. Arsenal must show the fight and the character to go to Stoke and win. I don't care how. March has been unkind to us in recent years. Much like getting a win at Stoke, it's time to change the record.

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