When I make a preseason prediction, I never count on all three points against Stoke City. The one time we have beaten them since their return to the Premier League, we lost Aaron Ramsey for a year. Stoke may have changed their manager and added players with some flair but their stadium remains The Orc Arena, a place where your first and only ambition is to come out alive.
In a game that could have gone either way, a 0:0 draw is far from the worst possible outcome. Olivier Giroud could have given us the lead in either half but Jack Butland made two spectacular saves to deny the Frenchman. However, Butland has to be content with being only the second best goalkeeper on the pitch as Petr Čech won us another point with a string of brilliant saves.
Here are the 5 key points from the game.
1.Petr Čech was phenomenal.
One has to debate whether the highlight of the day was Čech’s double save in the second half to deny both Joselu and Bojan Krkić or the save with a stretched leg that frustrated Joselu once again. What is out of the question is Čech’s ability to win points for us when we previously would have dropped them. While nobody can deny that Mesut Özil’s assists and Olivier Giroud’s goals have played a huge role in our campaign so far, Čech’s crucial saves deserve special praise as well. With every top save Čech makes, the grief over the “Almunia Years” get stronger.
2.Our away record suffers without Francis Coquelin.
If Arsenal don’t win the title, we can blame two factors: 1) PGMO’s incompetence/open bias against Arsenal (Ramsey’s goal against Liverpool at the Emirates, Mike Dean’s horror-show at Stamford Bridge, Mark Clattenburg’s poor performance at The Hawthorns) and 2) Arsene Wenger’s late reaction regarding Francis Coquelin’s cover. Our problems away from home (W1D3L2) began with Coquelin’s injury against West Bromwich Albion in November. Since that injury, we have played six league matches away from home and won just one – against last placed Aston Villa (via Squawka.com). We have also conceded ten goals in those six games out of twenty-one goals conceded in total. The importance of the Frenchman is evident with this simple fact: we have conceded fourteen out of fifteen goals away from home when Coquelin wasn’t on the pitch.
It’s perhaps inappropriate to mention this after a game in which we didn’t concede. What is more impressive is that we managed to do it with Mathieu Flamini in the starting eleven. The Frenchman is too slow to make an interception or a well-timed tackle, while his passing skills leave a lot to be desired. Hopefully Wenger’s decision to sign Elneny has not come too late.
3.Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain doesn’t offer a final product.
Our problems with injuries require a huge internal investigation. The fact we were without Özil, Tomas Rosicky, Alexis Sánchez, Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere, all of which are our options for playing behind Olivier Giroud, is too weird even for our injury standards. As a consequence, Wenger had to start with Oxlade-Chamberlain who has gone through his worst campaign since his arrival from Southampton in 2011. The English youngster created just one chance and had appalling percentage of successful passes of just 78% (via Squawka.com). Aside from his powerful shot that was tipped over the bar by Butland, The Ox didn’t create anything worthy of mentioning. Granted, he made a successful five take-ons but nothing concrete came out of it. Wenger certainly knows more than I do but I’m not sure that Oxlade-Chamberlain’s future really lies in the center of the pitch. Or at Arsenal, for that matter.
4. Joel Campbell and Alex Iwobi have shown more than Theo Walcott.
Granted, Craig Pawson’s lenient approach didn’t help Theo as he was forced to battle his way out against the butchers of Stoke. However, that doesn’t change the fact both Campbell and Iwobi looked more like footballers in the final third than Theo. Campbell created the best chance of the day for Giroud with a perfect pass while Iwobi’s first touch is absolutely superior to Theo’s. After Iwobi’s introduction, our movement in the final third looked more fluid, especially when Campbell was switching places with The Ox.
5.Gaining a point at Stoke is not a bad result.
At the end of the day, avoiding defeat at the Britannia is a good result. Since their return to the Premiership in 2008, no team has managed to run out as the eventual champions after losing at the Britannia which is a good omen given that Manchester City have already left there without a single point.
Our advantage over City does look slim, a single point with a worse goal-difference, but we have nine more games at home and seven on the road while it’s vice versa for our main title challenger. If we get our best players back for a start, Alexis Sánchez and Mesut Özil, we should be in the mix until the very end.
Our next match is against Chelsea at home. We haven’t beaten them at home since December 2010 when we were celebrating Cesc Fabregas scoring against Petr Čech. With Özil and Alexis on the pitch, we can heap more misery on their campaign.