Monday, January 18, 2016

Gunners gain a battling point at the Britannia

As expected, there was nothing pretty about a trip to Stoke. Arsenal came away with a 0-0 draw which, while frustrating, is a significant improvement on recent trips there when the Gunners have surrendered to a meek defeat.
It’s impossible to say at this stage if the draw will be any sort of turning point or inspiration for Arsenal in the title race. Stoke have taken all three points off Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea at the Britannia this season, so a draw is a decent enough result, and it was achieved without Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, Santi Cazorla, Francis Coquelin and others. Without that amount of creativity, Arsenal were always likely to struggle to prize open a pretty miserly Stoke defence, so the lack of goals shouldn’t have been much of a surprise. 
It wasn’t for a lack of endeavour though as Arsenal looked up for the physical battle that Stoke posed. For all the talk of ‘Stoke-alona’ and the improved style of play from the Potters this season, they were always likely to revert back to a more direct, more confrontational, style with Arsenal in town. Somehow, there were no yellow cards in the game as, unfortunately, the referee bought into the hostile atmosphere and struggled to recognise any fouls worthy of a card from the home side, despite there being plenty to choose from. 
Despite the more sturdy performance from Arsenal at Stoke, they were indebted to Petr Cech. Without a few fantastic saves from the big keeper, the Gunners would have felt the familiar sinking feeling at the Britannia. The standouts came in the second half as the game opened more and chances began to come at both ends. There was a brilliant double save to deny Joselu and then Bojan as Cech kept out the initial powerful effort before sliding back to towards the goal to divert the follow-up wide. He then made a superb stop with his left foot after Aaron Ramsey had headed a chance off the line.
The lines about Cech making a difference to Arsenal this season have been written to death, but they still ring very true. The presence of a world class goalkeeper between the sticks can’t be underestimated. It wasn’t just his saves that were impressive on Sunday either, but his commanding clearances and catches from crosses into the box were also things we’ve rarely seen from an Arsenal goalkeeper in this fixture on that ground.
At the other end, Jack Butland was in equally impressive form for Stoke. When Arsenal did manage to create a couple of openings, the Stoke keeper was there to keep the scores level. In the first half, he made an excellent smothering stop in a one-on-one with Olivier Giroud before denying the same player in the second half as the Frenchman sent a header towards the bottom corner. In both situations, I don’t think there’s much more that Olivier Giroud could have done, you just have to hold your hands up and accept that the goalkeeper made some good saves.
The game deserved to be 0-0, and when Stoke were intent on disrupting the game and were good defensively, it’s hard to be too frustrated at Arsenal. Alexis and Ozil would obviously have made a difference to the team going forward, but Arsene Wenger was right to leave them at home as it wasn’t worth risking them if there are any injury concerns whatsoever.  If Arsenal win the next game against Chelsea, the point will seem like a good one, especially as it should allow for the return of some fit and firing creative players to face the struggling Blues.
Just a final word on the Stoke fans’ abuse of Aaron Ramsey. I understand that certain players against certain clubs get some stick from opposing supporters, it is part of football, albeit not an attractive one. But to continually abuse a player for having his leg snapped in two is just embarrassing and shameful.