Arsenal’s scoreless start to the new campaign continued on Sunday as despite a decent endeavour at the Britannia Stadium, the Gunners had to settle for a 0-0 draw with Stoke City.
Today’s hosts have normally provided an unwanted welcome for Wenger’s men in this particular fixture and a point earned might not be a bad bargain, but at full-time, the slight regret written on the Arsenal manager’s face was because his side had taken a lion’s share of the chances today but like last week, had a mere point to show for it.
Arsene Wenger set out all his fire power for the full display today. All summer signings Olivier Giroud, Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski took their place in the starting line-up as Theo Walcott was dropped to the bench.
Wenger’s men, somehow surprisingly, looked the more comfortable side from kick-off and had the Stoke defense on its toes. But it was actually the Potters who would place the ball in the net as a cross from the left was headed down by Peter Crouch and then finished by Jonathan Walters who appeared to be in an offside position. Thankfully, the effort was ruled out by the referee and Arsenal, despite carving out half-chances from Podolski and company, went into half-time still on level terms.
Neither team looked to threaten much at the start of the second-half but Podolski soon came to life on the left while Gervinho huffed and puffed with no fruition on the right flank. After 70 minutes, the wing duo would be replaced by speed merchants Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Arsenal’s new reinforcements injected some pace into the action as expected but the closest the Gunners went was from the big man upfront Giroud. The former Ligue 1 striker attempted a couple of efforts which would have contended for ‘goal of the season’ had either went in.
First, one of many Arsenal corner-kicks found Giroud free with some room in the box but the Frenchman’s spectacular acrobatic effort did not go too far from finding the top corner of the net. And then late on, Giroud raced into open space and after noticing that Stoke’s goalkeeper was slightly off guard, the striker whipped the ball from about 45 yards out and saw it brush the top of net – just inches away. Last week he was noted for a shocking miss. This week though, it was a shocking attempt.
Unfortunately, nothing landed in the opposition’s net today. Then again, nothing was allowed in Arsenal’s net either.
We have done worse at the Britannia Stadium. Going behind in the first ten minutes, looking terrified on every set-piece and not being allowed to dictate the movement of the ball. None of that happened today.
Part of that is down to the fact that the collective muscle of Arsenal has ‘beefed up’ a bit. Gone are the days of a lightweight midfield where Nasri, Rosicky, Arshavin and Fabregas would be ordered to breakdown the imposing wall of Huth and Shawcross.
Giroud and Podolski have shown that they may be adapting to the Premier League, but strength and stamina will not be too much of an ask. Even Cazorla, despite his size is no push-over. That is what Stoke found out today. Arsenal are growing bigger and will not come to be bullied anymore.
Due to that lack of restriction from Stoke, Arsenal had the freedom to find much of their passes today as they would at another stadium other than the Britannina, but the failure to hit the target was down to the same old attitude to me. The insistence to not shoot even when there is an open sight goal. Giroud and Gibbs were guilty of taking extra touches on the ball on the left while Diaby was in slow motion every time he received the ball in the penalty area.
Gervinho, in all honesty was frustrating. I still admire the drive and determination in him. He will lose lose the ball nine times after trying to dribble and he will still dribble the tenth time. But whether that is down to lack of creativity or just simple over-confidence, Gervinho’s end product on the right wing today was almost abysmal.
One thing I have noticed about him is that he likes to hug the flanks a lot and often seems like he fears running through the middle. Talking about running, Podolski can really run at defenders. If you are observant, you would know that Van Persie did not like to do that particular thing because his game is more about positioning himself in the right places to either volley or play the ball.Podolski though, is more direct and had a better game than he did against Sunderland.
His fellow forward Giroud showed glimpses of his ability today with his hold-up play as a target man upfront and of course that audacious long-range attempt which could have won the game in a fantastic manner.
So another 0-0 draw, yes, but another clean-sheet and useful point gained. The only concern now is that the fixture list does not get any easier with Liverpool next and with the games growing tougher every week, you have to wonder when Arsenal will finally be able to show not just promises but the product of the team we have available have this campaign.
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