Stoke Preview: The Past & Present Collide In Difficult Decisions

Injuries are never far from the surface when you talk about Arsenal vs. Stoke City fixtures these days. Farmer Pulis, the architect of agricultural tactics, has much to answer for in that sense. He fanned the flames with a ‘they don’t like it up ’em’ attitude and the burning embers of that ethos still exist today. We talk about Arnautovic and Shawcross while Stoke-ites struggle with the basic concept of language. It’s that kind of relationship.

How we could have done with Sead Kolasinac back then. Wenger christened him “the strongest” player he’s worked with which is not much of an accolade when the competition is Igor Stepanovs, Jose Antonio Reyes and Robert Pires. Tough guys don’t feature much in our pantheon of the Wenger Years. The backdrop to this is the ‘celebration’ of Jese’s ACL injury resulting from Kolasinac’s challenge in a Champions League match.

And that celebration, along with the footballing navvies at other clubs, is at the heart of why the native footballers of these shores are so inept. The razzmatazz of the Premier League revolves around pace and power; skill and technique are a poor second as English clubs struggle to free themselves of the chains of a century or more of the professional game.

It’s why an English club is light years from winning the Champions League without a favourable draw to the final stages. This fixture used to typify the two extremes of the English game and to some extent it does. Meld the two sides attributes together and there’s a good continental team to be made. As it is now, Stoke are resolutely mid-table and we’re resolutely not buying anyone to bridge the gap to the top of the table.

There’s A Preview In Here Somewhere

We go into the game with the prospect of a full-strength(ish) back three. Per Mertesacker – whose Guardian interview is must-read – could play his first Premier League game since Adam was a boy in the Garden of Eden while Shkodran Mustafi will surely return.

The cup final was Mertesacker’s redemption song. Written off, he is determined isto prove everyone wrong, not that he feels the need to do so. However, we’ve reached the point where painful decisions are set to be made and I don’t think Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is going to like them if the BFG returns to the starting line-up. I don’t think he’s going to like it even if Mertesacker doesn’t return to the line-up.

The back three is the big decision for Arsène. I don’t think he’ll change the forwards nor the centre of midfield. The question is who plays alongside Rob Holding and Mustafi. Kolasinac is a powerhouse, hence Wenger’s comments about strength and there may be a temptation to keep him in the centre but I think it’s Nacho Monreal who will retain the left side of the trio until next week.

For the Bosnian, it’s time to unleash him as a left wing-back. Xherdan Shaqiri will be in his sights and the Swiss international is noted for his defensive hard work. There’s space to exploit and Kolasinac’s reputation as an attacking force is impressive. Or the YouTube reel of him in that role was impressive.

Which basically leaves Ox fighting Hector Bellerin for the right wing-back role. The young Spaniard’s copybook was blotted for many and where before there were qualms about leaving him out, few exist now. However, is that the right decision, particularly since his replacement is no more consistent?

Young Guns Go For It

Football is very much a ‘now’ sport and right now Ox is doing well but it’s taken time to get here on a consistent basis. Last week, Ox and Bellerin swapped wing-back roles with the Spaniard moving to the left. It worked; we won, that’s how we know it worked. However, do you want a specialist right back or a wide midfielder in that role?

Personally, I go with Bellerin when we’re at full strength or close to it. That’s a personal choice; Ox, in my view, is more naturally challenging Danny Welbeck for an attacking role. Shift Özil to the left and bring Ox in on the right. I like Welbeck’s effort but I’m not sold on his finishing; he’s never hit double figures in a Premier League season. Perhaps he will this time if he can avoid injury disrupting his campaign as it has done in recent years. I suspect, however, that he’s the one to make way for Alexis next weekend at Anfield.

It’s a tough choice for the manager this weekend. Last season’s crushing victory dispelled the notion that we can’t win at the Potteries and something similarly ruthless is required today. The XI I would start with is:

Cech; Holding, Mustafi, Monreal; Bellerin, Ramsey, Xhaka, Kolasinac; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Özil; Lacazette

The reality is Welbeck in for Ox; last week’s goal will have boosted his confidence but we have two specialist left-backs; no need for the Ox on the left experiment to continue. Square pegs, this week, don’t need to be forced into round holes.

A reminder that both this week’s cracking playlists are on Dad’s Jukebox – Peter Hook here and 2004 here – which should keep you going until kick-off.

Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.

’til Tomorrrow.

244 thoughts on “Stoke Preview: The Past & Present Collide In Difficult Decisions

  1. andy1886,

    Part of that was how deep he was playing to try to cover for Ramsey though. Ozil is not a deep set midfielder, but playing Ramsey meant that he dropped back. Ramsey is an impact player who can change a game, not a starter as part of a midfield pairing.

  2. C,

    We all have our own opinions about who played well and who did not.

    You are very outspoken and you have strong opinions, and you are welcome to them, and often you are right. But you must let others have their views too.

    Mine is not a strong opinion about any one player – there were too many to single any one out for especial criticism – the manager however has baffled me with his views on defense.

    And just to keep you happy — you always call for Theo to come on — and it is no surprise to me that when he does he …….. becomes the Invisible Man. 🙂

    I would have one of the youngsters like Reiss Nelson in the squad rather than him, to be candid.

    That’s my opinion.

  3. Taking individual players out of it the fundamental point remains that any midfield combination we field will not feature a single player who is good in the tackle. I cannot see how we would EVER win a title with that very basic weakness. People talk about a strong spine in the team. We have no backbone, Wenger lost the balance between technical ability and strength years ago. You need both.

  4. Wavey,

    Your 7:54 pretty much covers my view too.

    And what has happened to Gibbs? He has not gone yet, and is 10 times better than Belli at left back, So why was he not in the team?

    Chambers is a much better CB than Monreal – he is still with us too — so why did he not play?
    Holding is better than both of them, but had one poor game and is put in the dustbin. Why.

    Giro when he came on caused problems for the Stoke defence because he is as big as they are — I like Danny, but against a big team I think he needs to be on the bench.

    I guess we can all go on with our own queries about what is going on — and this after just two games – and much tho we recovered well against Leicester – we could have lost that game too.

    I do not get the mind set that can justify that player selection.

  5. Just to be clear, I am not having a go about Ramsey being a bad player. It’s down to what formation he can fit effectively into. Ramsey cannot be part of a midfield pairing unless his partner is a midfield beast who can stop everything because he pushes too far up the pitch. In our current playing style Ramsey is better suited sitting behind a front 2 which would mean Ozil drops to the bench. We could then have Xhaka/Elneny or even Xhaka/LeCoq which would give us a bit more defensive discipline in midfield and still allow us to benefit from Xhaka’s passing. If we want to chase a game with 20 minutes to go we can get Ramsey on and go all gung ho, but not from the start. Clearly Xhaka’s passing from defence is ropey, but the likelihood is that his midfield partner would have been there to cover if it had been Elneny or Coquelin. One thing you can guarantee is that Ramsey will be up the other end of the pitch.

  6. andy1886:
    Taking individual players out of it the fundamental point remains that any midfield combination we field will not feature a single player who is good in the tackle. I cannot see how we would EVER win a title with that very basic weakness. People talk about a strong spine in the team. We have no backbone, Wenger lost the balance between technical ability and strength years ago. You need both.

    You are right. End of (as you Brits say) 😀

  7. HenryB,

    Sorry if it seemed like I waa picking on one player when it was clear most of them were shit.

    I wasn’t really calling for Theo, funny I even said unleas he scored he would be invisible and there he was.

  8. Perhaps once we have all our centre backs fit and available Wenger will play a side like this :-

    Musfafi______Merts _______Koscielny





  9. YW,

    It certainly didn’t help. We’re weak in the middle, lack strength, energy and commitment. I can only assume that the manager doesn’t value those qualities in a player.

  10. andy1886,

    Good evening all. I did not see the Match so can’t comment upon it.

    I have said this before we do not currently possess the correct type of midfield player(s) whom can play I front of the defense alongside Xhakia. It was broken last year and with no additions this season why should anything have changed? Why?

    We have no players in the mould of Gilberto, Vierea. I hate to say this but look at the Spuds they have two Wanyama and Dembele are prime PL current day examples. Nzoni at Sevilla could do a job. Matuidi who has gone to Juve could possibly have done a job. There are players out there.

    The Manager has been very lax so far in bringing someone of the type.

    Modern day PL football it is essential that a Team has a number of options and adaptabity.

    We play Basketball Footballl.

  11. I did not see the game but was disappointed when I checked the results. I agree with Wavey and Andy and I can’t believe that Arsene started with Nacho and Kolasinic in the back 3 when he had Holding and Mert available. That said we only conceded 1 goal. The other line up mistake was the fact that Lacazette is the only player who started the game today for us that who is a real threat to score double digits in league goals this season. How do we expect to score consistently when we have so little firepower on the pitch?

  12. What are Stokes aspirations for the season? Top 8?

    Looking back on the game, they had a plan. One we’ve seen deployed against us before. Pressure the ball everywhere on the pitch, play on the break and defend a led doggedly. They got a bit of luck and rode it well, but, to be fair, they probably deserved the three points. At worst a draw

    Doesn’t bode well for our season on the road against the top half of the table again this season, does it?

    The defensive line up, as everyone has said, was fucking madness. We’ve got two very good left full backs. One is a specialist LWB. A third squad player covers that position. We play the best two players for that position at CB, rest three (three!!!!!) specialist CB’s, Rest the third choice LWB and play ourvery right footed right back there

    We then play someone who we don’t what their best position is at RB. For what? Trying to extend his contract?

    Fuck me. Literally. Fuck me

    Ramsey should be benched and come on at the 65 minute predictable substitute cycle. Ozil was useless. The ref more so. Lacazette looked bright and knows which dead balls to chase down. I like him. I hope Arsene doesn’t grind his game out of him

    The rest were nondescript. Long old season ahead

  13. I did not see the game but its interesting to read the number of negative comments in our blog about Ramsey and yet what I read from other sources suggested that he was one of the few players on our team that actually played reasonably well and Yogi said he was our MOTM. The other thing that I read was Ozil did another very good imitation of the invisible man today. Its certainly not going to help our season if Arsene does not have the cojones to drop him sooner rather then later.

  14. Ras,

    Be nice to see the Windies back to their best, perhaps the kids out there are not taking to cricket like they use to; it was a religion

  15. The over/under betting line for the total number of league goals for Ozil and Welbeck together is probably around 14 and without Sanchez they make up 2/3 of our starting forward line. Clawing our way back to 4th might be a struggle with Sanchez but its really going to be tough without him unless we suddenly figure out how to keep a whole lot of clean sheets.

  16. Bill,

    Ramsey gives a good impression of a great player, but in fact did very little. He completely ignored any responsibilities in the middle of the park. In short bursts he can shake up a defence and make a nuisance of himself, but for extended periods he leaves a lot of space in the middle for the opposition to exploit. He did get a very good chance in the first half which Butland did well to get out to and block. I’d be tempted to play Ramsey at the top of a 3 in midfield and drop Ozil to the bench either from the start of game, or as a substitute. It would allow him to play to his strengths without leaving a huge hole in the midfield. He certainly shouldn’t be paired with Xhaka in the middle.

  17. Elneny was missing, so for all the huff & puff of Ramsey, he is a clear example of Wenger’s problem: industry without results. Welcome to mediocrity served as the 2nd course of a 38 meal buffet.

  18. Ras, when I think back to the days of Clive Lloyd, Big Bird Joel Garner, Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Viv Richards and others I despair that their legacy has been trashed by the present generation of West Indies cricketers.

  19. Wavey,

    I noticed that Ozil was often dropping deeper than Ramsey ! Actually, I thought we played quite well (except for putting the ball in the back of the net). I like the idea of Bellerin playing on the left. It lets him use his right foot more creatively and gives opponents more to think about.

  20. Wavey @ 10:57

    I really like the idea of dropping Ozil to the bench and moving Ramsey to the top of a 3 in midfield. He plays really well in that sort of role for Wales. We can look for excuses for Ozil like “he is dropping deeper” but the reality is that his ability to have a positive influence has been fading for quite a while and so far having the summer off has done nothing to reinvigorate him.

  21. Wavey

    “Ramsey gives a good impression of a great player”

    We talk about this a lot. We tend to over rate some players who have an eye catching style, however, eye catching is often not the same as effective. However, in the case of Ramsey I think the consensus opinion has become overly harsh but that is just me.

  22. I’m just beyond tired of it all now.

    As an assessment, we’ve not improved in last decade if anything we’ve spent more than declined.

    Wenger just can’t get the balance of a squad right now, we’ve not played attractive football since Nasri, Cesc, RVP roamed the pitch and even then, we couldn’t defend for love nor money whic resulted in getting bullied by better teams. After that small era, losing Cesc, Nasri and RVP and replacing them with Mikel Arteta, Ramsey/Wilshere and Giroud we got good at winning when we absolute had too but the attractive side of our game largely disappeared.

    Starting to think RVP was right when he left, the club seems to lack ambition to take the steps needed to really get to the next level. Last three years, Man U have been at their weakest in decades, Chelsea and Liverpool barely adding their squads and losing star players and City looking dull and what do we do over summers? Buy one big player per summer and then bemoan having too large a squad to add anymore when their is at least 3/4 positions needing strengthened. Wenger now saying squad Is is too large, it is and it’s full of completely average players as well. Debuchy, Campbell, Walcott, Wilshere, Chambers, Jenkinson, Gibbs, Perez ALL could have been sold, reduced our wage bill considerably and bought in new players to strengthen team properly. Jack Wilshere is on about 80k a week and playing in reserves. Get him sold, he’s not going to suddenly break into the team now.

    Our midfield is scared, we used to play with confidence in our abilities leading to those small intricate triangle passes, but the difference between then and now was it was quick, we took opposing players out of positions then had the likes of pires, henry and bergkamp putting in a through ball into open space. Now? It’s quick passing sideways and backwards, allow opposition players to get players back and then play 6 on 11 and eventually lose ball and inevitably get hit with a counter attack.

    Every summer, it’s one step forward two steps back….

    imagine buying one of the best strikers in France and making him play up top whilst Xhaka, Ozil, Ramsey and Ox pass it backwards and sideways with a few passes over the top. Rubbish, Stoke looked comfortable for about 80 minutes of that game. We’ve lost all sense of pace and guile, play it safe and pass it back to defenders or sideways to each other and move in and out, no players taking on opposition defenders, always looking for the cheeky pass between them which results in getting tackled or intercepted. Why we haven’t signed at least 1 defender and one creative midfielder (it’s not a defensive midfielder we need, we need a player with intensity and forward passing ability). We’re just so, so average now…..Can’t remember the last time we played and i was genuinely excited with what i was seeing. We don’t thrash teams anymore. We’re so cautious but don’t even have the ability to properly contain teams…it’s just do frustrating week after week to watch this.

    I though Wenger was going to change, i thought all the negativity he got last season really lit a fire in him to smash these two remaining years but it’s not, it’s same old same old.

    I pity the manager that takes over this team, i really do, because we’re average at best needed about 150-200mill of players in to really improve us.

  23. I think our central midfield is probably never going to look solid as long as Xhaka is our deepest midfielder. In theory the deepest midfielder is the one whose main job should be providing defensive solidarity. That is why he is called the “defensive midfielder”. I did not see the game today but I did watch the Leicester game and based on the number of goals we conceded in that game and how shaky we looked, its probably hard to make a legitimate argument that our midfield was better last week with Elneny/Xhaka.

  24. Nobody can be as good as the Windies were and it not have ramifications. By that token, we are vastly improved.

    For Arsenal commentary see last season.

  25. Bill,

    I get what you’re saying, but Leicester would have scored a lot more if they had been up against the midfield pairing we put out today.

  26. Wavey:

    I get what you’re saying, but Leicester would have scored a lot more if they had been up against the midfield pairing we put out today.


    OK. No way we can prove that either way.

    If you look back at the comments it seems like Ramsey was somehow blamed for just about everything bad that happened from our defense all the way up to blaming Ozil’s ineffectiveness on Ramsey’s positioning. Ozil has been just as bad or worse when Ramsey has not been playing so those sort of critical comments lose a bit of their credibility and it suggests to me that we are trying a bit to hard to find reasons to criticize Ramsey.

  27. Its my own personal bias that the biggest problem with our midfield defensive solidarity is Xhaka and we are probably going to struggle with him as our deepest “defensive midfielder” no matter who he is the other central midfielder.

  28. Ozil is far from the problem, unfortunately he is one of the few I can count on one hand that actually suits this hands off system. Why? Because he has a football brain and has been made to play with numbskulls that need coaching. Laca appears to be on the same wavelength, wonder how long it takes before he clocks the truth of his situation. Not to mention how bar the brand new Bosnian beast even our defenders get bullied as Wenger tries to convince us he’s buying skill.

    van dijk

    Off the top, players that could easily have been acquired over the years with the right motivation.

  29. Playing the right back on the left is not the CHANGE we were looking for Mr. Wenger.

    Why all these changes in positions? Why our back line is not ready from 1st game of the season, every season? What the hell is going on with this club?

    Nothing really, it’s the same old Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal. And that what really needs to change.

  30. What odds on the window closing with us close to a net spend of zero, with Arsene’s tilt to the top four well underway?

    On the showings so far I’d say top six is a struggle

    Balance the books with no CL money on the way looks like it’s the order of this season. Could we end up being the leagues lowest net spenders?

  31. Don’t pay for this dross now, very rarely watch it but i will come on here now and then to just say what a total shit show this club is…..if we win the league or even get into the top four i’ll eat my hat….cracking early season result….away at Stoke, do the players or the manager learn absolute nothing from the past. Progress…..more like regress ! Thank god i’ve mentally checked out, it’s almost gratifying now, proving we all know what arsene and the board dont, that we are on the road to nowhere….and he is way way way over cooked.

  32. Damon,

    It’s looking very likely Damon, all the evidence is there. Wenger is keen to talk about moving players on, has little or nothing to say about adding anyone. Lots of talk about a bloated squad but he doesn’t have much to say about the lack of real quality outside our two or three real ‘stars’. Wenger has been given a free hand by Stan and will do exactly what he wants, I doubt he feels any pressure to win titles despite the unrest last season.

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