Sitting in the autumnal sunshine at the Arsenal on Saturday, soaking up some rays, while watching a supremely dominant display against Stoke, with the Gunners spraying the ball around in such a pleasing-on-the-eye fashion, it’s hard to imagine a more pleasurable way of passing a Saturday afternoon.
By contrast, I couldn’t help but picture the disappointed faces of the couple of youngsters who’d travelled up from the Potteries with their pop and who’d been positively bristling with eager anticipation prior to the match, as we engaged in some friendly banter on the walk up to the ground.
Along with the majority of the Premier’s lesser lights, Mark Hughes attempted to make use of their increased resources by introducing a raft of new talent over the course of the summer. Having never seen Stoke win at our place in their lifetimes, these kids were keen to see whether their new-look line-up could perhaps prove themselves capable of something slightly more ambitious than their customary “park the bus” attempt to stifle the Arsenal.
However, based on Saturday’s showing, the Potters have yet to profit from the sacrifice of their traditional, more combative, muscular approach, in favour of more skillful footballers. The Gunners were so comfortable in our monopoly of possession that the likes of Shaquiri, Joselu and Van Ginkel barely had a sniff of the ball all afternoon. In fact, it was only the impressive goalkeeping heroics of Jack Butland that were responsible for maintaining a respectable scoreline; suggesting the sale of Begovic was perhaps the most significant bit of business Stoke achieved this summer.
Stoke’s anaemic performance only served as more grist to the mill for our manager’s assertions about his fruitless efforts to find players capable of improving our squad. Arsène contended that Walcott wouldn’t have started (and scored!) if he’d signed another striker. Yet few Gooners would’ve moaned, at least not for the first 30 minutes, with Theo being the source of mounting frustration among those seated around me, as he spurned chance after chance.
Considering we could and really should’ve been “home and hosed” by half-time, with more clinical finishing, it was a massive relief when Walcott finally broke his duck. His confidence would’ve been dented if he’d failed to notch a single goal from all the opportunities he was gifted on Saturday. Sterling would have scored a hat-trick against Stoke and although Theo struggles to convince anyone that he’s capable of being a prolific goal-poacher, we must be patient. We really can’t afford to be reliant on a solitary centre-forward to carry the twice-weekly burden for the entire duration!
If news of City’s last-gasp winner at Selhurst Park wasn’t galling enough, this wound was well and truly salted by work an unknown Nigerian striker had swelled further their options up front.
After peppering the Potters with 30-odd efforts on their goal, it was no less irritating to return home and watch Man Utd produce a 100 percent return on a meagre three efforts on target and to finish the day above us in the table on goal difference.
Nevertheless, despite our failure to inflict a rugby-type scoreline on a less rugby-like Stoke, there was plenty of cause for encouragement on Saturday.
With Chelsea likely to be stung into a response at Stamford Bridgenext week, that tie will be an opportunity to demonstrate if we’re capable of casting off the shackles of our former frailties and proving that this squad has finally developed some real character. That is assuming we retain sufficient zest after an arduous midweek outing to Zagreb?
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