Arsenal v. Stoke — Match Review and Player GradesBy: Felegy | August 26th, 2012
180+ minutes of football into the season and we have yet to see our Gunners put one in the back of the net. At the same time all you “glass half fullers” out there can say we haven’t conceded a goal in that same period of play. We pretty much dominated the entire run of play today against Stoke and yet only come away with a 0-0 draw and one point. We finished the game with almost 70% of the total possession and had 11 corner kicks to Stoke’s 0, a testament to our solid defending and their lack of offensive prowess. Yet we only managed two shots on goal, which is worrying.
Lachlan was almost spot on with his lineup prediction. Instead of Walcott we saw Gervinho get the start and Mannone was favored over Sczesny as he is still fighting a rib injury and Fabianksi back problems. Giroud got the start as our main central striker and Podolski as a result started out to the left.
We could have easily found ourselves down 1-0 in the first eight minutes or so. A cross was played into the Arsenal box and Crouch (like he always does against us) headed it down to a dangerous spot for Walters to bury into the net, fortunately for us he was just a half-step offside. We came back with a good effort of our own just a few minutes later. Gervinho and Giroud played a good one two pass on the edge of the box and a defensive slip led to a brief opening for Podolski, Wilkinson recovered just enough to block the shot of Podolski.
Podolski would make another strong determined run through the center of the Stoke defense in the 17th minute and was brought down right at the top of the Stoke box. The resulting free-kick was blasted into the wall by Cazorla. Stoke would get a chance in the 29th minute on the break but the long range effort was easily saved by Mannone, one of the few he would have to make in the game. Both Arteta and Podolski would make impressive fearless close downs in the midfield to create offensive chances; one in the 34th minute by Arteta leading to a long range blast from Cazorla that forced the Stoke keeper to make a decent save and the other in the 40th by Podolski leading to one of our many corners. We ended the half with 70/30 possession and 5/0 on corner kicks but only two shots on goal, we would not add to that tally at all in the second half.
Stoke could have been awarded a penalty when Gibbs gave Pennant a bit of a push on the edge of the box in the 58th minute. It was a physical game the entire 90 minutes and I think giving this as a penalty would have been harsh. I will say the only person that looked to be a defensive liability today was Kieran Gibbs. The entire second half was pretty much a snooze fest, with Arsenal able to move the ball around in the middle of the pitch but could not get much going at all in the final third. Walcott would come on for Gervinho and Ox for Podolski in the 72nd minute. Gervinho should have been off much earlier in my opinion. The guy provided very little all day and I think Theo is a player that needs more than 18 minutes to find his place in the game. I was a little surprised that Pods came off as he was one of our brighter players moving forward. Ramsey would come on for Cazorla in the 81st minute and of course those classy Stoke fans greeted him with boos. “Boooooo, how dare you get your leg broken into a thousand pieces by our ogre Shawcross!!”.
Arteta had another chance with a free kick on the edge of the box but was again denied by the Stoke wall.
On the following corner Giroud found himself all alone in the middle of the box and went for a spectacular volley, he didn’t strike it cleanly at all and the chance was wasted. We used to have a striker that could pull off the amazing like that didn’t we? Diaby had a slight chance as he found himself with the ball at his feet right in front of the six yard box. He got caught in two minds though and never came to a decision; he managed a ridiculously off balance shot that trickled wide. Giroud had one last chance with an incredibly long range effort that almost came off but sailed just over the bar. The final whistle blew and we again have to settle for 1 point. Tony Pulis got to leave with a silly grin on his ugly mug and Wenger looked a bit pissed and perplexed as he walked off.
Positives: Well, we didn’t give up a goal again, that’s a plus. Cazorla again played well pulling the strings in the midfield for us and Podolski looks like he can be a real threat for us going forward. The back four looks really organized and made no major glaring errors today. Verms and BFG handled the free kicks into the box well for the most part. Also, denying Stoke a single corner kick was huge and I’m sure Don Vito was happy to not have to deal with 5-6 Stoke corner kicks as that is one of their strong points.
Negatives: Well, we didn’t score for the second straight game and really didn’t have that many great chances. I’m beginning to wonder where our goals are going to come from this season. The sooner that Giroud and Podolski can get on the score sheet the better.
No player ratings from me, just player grades. I like letters better than numbers for some reason.
Vito Mannone–A. He wasn’t really tested that much today but he did what he had to do. He came out fairly confidently to claim balls into the box on a few occasions and made no major errors. He did what was expected of him today.
Per Mertesacker–B+. Again, not a ton to do in defense but he and Verms handled Crouch well today. Crouch has a history of burning us and having the height of Mertesacker to combat him today was nice. I still think Koscielny will be first choice over Per but at least he is making a case for staying in the starting lineup.
Verms–A. He won a bunch of balls in the air for us and looked confident leading the defense and the team with the Captain’s armband on. Here’s to hoping that he can stay relatively healthy the whole season as he seems to bring a calming effect to our backline.
Carl Jenkinson–B. No mistakes but provided very little going forward down the right hand side. Giroud is someone that can thrive on crosses into the box and I’m not sure if Jenkinson provided a single one today. But again, his main job is to defend and he did that well today. Get well soon Bacary!
Kieran Gibbs–C-. It was a disappointing performance for Gibbs today. That penalty decision on Pennant could have easily gone against him and was fairly unnecessary. With Sagna out, the team needs him to provide that attacking option from the back down the left side. Many of his crosses were astray and over everyone. On a few occasions he could have looked for some cutback type passes instead of chips over everyone’s head. He shows flashes of brilliance but just not today, hopefully he will bounce back.
Mikel Arteta–B. Stood tall for us in the middle today but provided little in the way of creativity for our attacking players. A solid performance but we have seen better from him in the past.
Abou Diaby–C-. Played the entire 90 minutes and came out unscathed which is nice. Unfortunately he didn’t provide much of anything today. A few times he was caught taking too long with the ball which he is known to do and he missed that nice opportunity late in the game in the middle of the box. A calmer head would have taken their time but he wasted the opportunity. Unlike against Sunderland, we did not see him make many positive runs forward throughout the game. He needs to find his full form quickly in what could be a crowded midfield when Wilshere and Rosicky return.
Santi Cazorla–A-(MOTM). Having this guy on the ball in the middle of the field is exciting. He seems to very rarely give the ball away and is looking to move the ball forward to majority of the time. He is adjusting to the EPL quickly and as the team gels more and more I can see his assist tally growing. Also, I like that he is not afraid to blast a shot from distance.
Gervinho–D+. Our worst player today in my opinion. Had Theo gotten the start I think the result could have been different today. How many times can this guy make a run down the flank to just eventually run out of room and dribble the ball over the touchline for a goal kick!? So frustrating. On more than one occasion, had he looked up, he would have seen a better option to cut the ball back earlier to an oncoming attacker. Again, with Ox and Theo on the bench Gervinho needs to do much better if he wants to continue to see the field.
Lukas Podolski–B+. He was probably our second best performer today behind Cazorla. He worked hard all game and showed some fearlessness closing down on some 50/50 balls with Stoke players. He also had probably our best chance for a goal when he was played through by Giroud early on but his attempt was blocked. He’s just going to get better for us as time goes on I have a feeling.
Olivier Giroud–B. I had a tough time coming up with his grade, cold have been a B- but I figured I would be nice since it’s his first EPL start. He held the ball up very well with his back to goal which is a nice change for us. He probably should have gone for something simpler on that corner but at least he was in the right spot. He worked hard for us up front today and he’ll get his goals at some point, we hope.
I’m not even going to bother giving the subs grades as none of them really made much of an impact for us late in the game. I do think that Gervinho should have been pulled off much earlier in favor of Theo Walcott as I said earlier. Ox looked energetic and willing to charge forward as always and Ramsey looked more confident on the ball than he did late last season.
It’s not the start to the season that we were looking for that’s for sure. We should have grabbed at least four out of the six points but we only come away with two. Plus, the upcoming schedule is going to get quite a bit more difficult with three of our next four games against Liverpool, ManCity, and Chelsea. A string of poor results against those teams could easily have us playing catch-up again for the majority of the season. On the other hand, a few wins in that run of games could put us in a good spot moving forward. Let’s hope we get our offensive woes figured out and start scoring some goals. A great defense can only get you one point when there are no goals to be had. There is a week left in the Transfer Window, do we add another true striker? We shall see. Until next time, be well fellow Gunners!