Arsenal 2 Stoke 0: Arsene Wenger has a selection problem going into a vital run of early season games. Some might argue the problem is of his own making, but he has to chose between strikers Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud at a time when both need a run of games to increase their goalscoring confidence.
Walcott got the nod in this stroll of a win over Stoke and scored the opening 31st minute goal, albeit after missing a hat-trick of decent chances. He missed another bundle of great second half opportunities before Giroud came on, dragged wide in front of an open goal and then settled the match with a straightforward header five minutes from time.
Wenger dropped Giroud to the bench at Walcott’s expense for the second successive victory. He says he will now have to rotate the two with weekly midweek Champions League matches ahead, starting this Wednesday in Zagreb.
Walcott misses a few, but has scored 11 in his last 11 league starts and is looking fit after some injury-plagued seasons. He signed a new bumper contract in the summer and is now being used in his favoured role. Speaking after his first Arsenal goal of the season, he said: “I’ve said to the manager that I’d like to play up front.
“I can play in any of those three positions up front, so it’s a good option for the manager to have, It’s nice to see Olivier among the goals as well, which shows it’s great competition that we have for places here. Everyone is staying fit as well which is important. We want everyone to stay fit with this important Premier League run.”
At least Wenger agrees with Walcott on his preferred role, while also acknowledging he has little option but to use the England forward as a solo hitman.
“I like him as a centre-forward,” Wenger said. “I don’t say he will never play as a winger any more, but considering our situation [i.e Danny Welbeck’s long-term injury and no new signings] with Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud, in the coming months you could say he will be more through the middle.”
For Wenger, he is more concerned they focus on Europe before the short trip to arch rivals Chelsea for this Saturday’s early kick-off.
The French coach is mindful of a defeat in Dortmund this time last year which all but condemned his side to a struggle in their Champions League group.
He explained: “We missed our first game last year in Dortmund and straight away it put us under pressure.
“So it is important that we go to Zagreb and realise what is at stake there. You are quickly out in the Champions League, but we want as well to start well and we know we have a battle first to qualify and afterwards against Bayern.
“We have Olympiakos and Zagreb – first we have to finish above them. This result will count a lot. It is important to start well because the hunger of the team is shown well by how you do in every single competition.”
It is likely Arsenal will again be without experienced central defender Per Mertesacker as the German continues to regain fitness after 18 days in bed with a chest infection.
How Stoke manager Mark Hughes would like to have the same ‘problems’ as he left north London still without a win this season. He hopes to have Jon Walters in contention for their home tie against Leicester this weekend after a knee injury kept him out on Saturday.
And at least Hughes knows he has one of the best goalkeepers in the top flight as Jack Butland again showed why the club was so relaxed about letting Asmir Begovic join Chelsea in the summer.
The understudy to Joe Hart for England was outstanding. He prevented Arsenal from winning by many more goals, despite some errant finishing too, and Hughes feels the 22-year-old is ready to be No. 1 for club and country.
A rueful Hughes said he hoped Butland will not always have to be their man of the match and praised the role of Ireland keeper Shay Given, who he signed this summer to work alongside Butland as well as be his back-up option.
Hughes commented: “Shay’s been a really positive influence and will be for years to come. It was important to get a good senior player in. Jack’s paid his dues, been out on loan and we always felt we had a good keeper. He’s a confident young man and got a great maturity in his professional and personal life. Sometimes young keepers can be erratic and sometimes make mistakes, but Jack has a calmness which will help him.”
Cech 6; Bellerin 6, Paulista 6, Koscielny 7, Monreal 6; Coquelin 7, Cazorla 7; Ramsey 6, Ozil 7 (Oxlade-Chamberlain 75, 6), Sanchez 8 (Arteta 83, 6); Walcott 7 (Giroud 75, 6).
Subs not used:
Ospina, Debuchy, Gibbs, Campbell.
Butland 9; Bardsley 5, Cameron 5, Muniesa 4, Pieters 5; Whelan 4, van Ginkel 5; Diouf 5 (Bojan 75, 6), Shaqiri 5, Arnautovic 5; Joselu 4 (Ireland 57, 5).
Subs not used:
Given, Wollscheid, Wilson, Sidwell, Crouch.
Jon Moss 6/10
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