Arsenal left the Britannia after a battling display with a well-earned point, but will be disappointed at not having bagged a goal and the 3 points. A point away to Stoke is a valuable one however, with the Potters only defeated at home a few times last season. Stoke started well and managed to put the ball past stand-in keeper Vito Mannone, but the goal was ruled offside. This appeared to wake Arsenal up and they began to dominate proceedings, putting pressure on the Stoke back- line. Podolski and Cazorla linked up effectively on numerous occasions, with Podolski having the Gunners first shot which was blocked by a falling Wilkinson. Begovic was soon called into action and parried away a rasping long-range drive from Cazorla. Stoke rarely threatened and were denied the opportunity to play to their strengths, with the Gunners denying them of any corners. The only other notable chance fell to Giroud, who brushed the top of the net with an ambitious lob 40 yards out.
In his post-match analysis, Gary Neville called this one of the best defensive displays from an Arsenal side he has ever seen and in the post-Invincibles era, it would be hard to disagree with him. While the back four were rarely threatened, they looked confident and solid and dealt with whatever Stoke threw at them. Mertesacker and Vermaelen continued at the centre, while Gibbs and Jenkinson occupied the full-back position. In the centre, Mertesacker and Vermaelen could well be the perfect combination of calmness and ability to the read the game with grit and steel. They were happy to allow Crouch to win the aerial battles which he did well winning 18 of his 21 aerial duels, but Arsenal were regularly first to the second ball and prevented him from knocking it down. Between them, Vermaelen and Mertesacker made 16 clearances, a change from last season where the defence were usually caught out for their reluctance to hoof it clear.
Jenkinson looked a lot more solid at right back, but his lack of positional sense was rarely tested. Arteta worked hard to protect the young player and surely contirbuted to his performance. He was strong against Kightly and Wilson, making 3 tackles ad winning 5 of his 6 attempted ground duels. One thing I would have liked to see more from him was to push forward as he was causing an imbalance in the side by refusing to do this, and to use his crossing ability to target Giroud in the middle, who performed admirably against Huth and Shawcross.
Gibbs took a massive step forward in his defensive progress. The young Englishman won 3 ground duels, 6 tackles, 4 interceptions and made 4 clearances while showing his timing of the challenge has improved with one excellent slide tackle. Lukas Podolski was instructed to drift centrally and this gave Gibbs licence to roam forward, managing 3 crosses. The competition provided from Andre Santos, who didn’t appear his usual jolly self on the bench watching this commanding performance, will hopefully keep Gibbs at this level. Vito Mannone stepped in for Szczesny and caused a lot of nerves for Arsenal fans on Twitter, but the Italian, one incident aside, was solid and dealth with Stoke’s rare aerial bombardments admirably.
Arteta and Diaby were there to protect the back four and done so very well. Diaby was his usual divisive self, losing the ball 28 times and finishing with a 72% pass completion as his final ball was terribly poor. He engaged in 17 aerial duels, most with Peter Crouch, and won a team high 6 of them while also making 3 tackles and winning 7 ground duels. Often caught dawdling on the ball and having to make a quick dribble or pass, he appears to be shrinking in the almost legen status given to him by some before his lengthy lay-off. He looked strong and didn’t shirk from any challenges however and will hopefully grow with a run of games. Mikel Arteta was outstanding in all aspects of the game and I’ll lay out his stats in a chart below.
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It was a true warrior display from the Spaniard and he certainly allayed our need for a defensive midfielder against sides that will line up like Stoke. An intelligent and aware midfielder will suffice in this situation and that is certainly what Arteta is. He reads the game well and anticipates the opponents, rushing back to prevent a counter-attack.
Wenger opted to start Olivier Giroud as the focal point of attack and the Frenchman was strong but looked exactly like a new striker is expected to, struggling with the link-up play and rather toothless. While he won 5 of his 12 aerial duels with the imposing Huth and Shawcross, he finished with a passing accuracy of 59%, the lowest of the outfield players and only completed 8 final third passes. In the corresponding fixture last season, the striker that used to play for us had an 81% passing accuracy and bagged a goal. Giroud has a lot of work to do but certainly looks promising and his long-range attempt was definitely not a sign of a striker bereft of confidence.
Podolski shifted to the left-wing and had a better performance than he did against Sunderland. Completing 3 of his dribbles, attempting 2 shots and finishing with a passing accuracy of 85%, he looked strong and far more effective than he did through the middle. He drifted centrally a lot particularly in the first half and linked up well with Santi Cazorla, our other new signing. Cazorla looked magnificent again, completing 93% of his final third passes, 2 dribbles, creating 2 chances and attempting 6 shots, 4 from outside the box, 2 of which were on target. Stoke were obviously going to give him a rough ride, but aside from a few strong challenges early on, he held up well and won 5 of the 10 ground duels he got into. When he receives the ball to feet his head is always looking up, where to go or who to pass to and a few more games in the Premiership he could reach the likes of David Silva and Juan Mata. With Liverpool coming up next week who are more likely to attack and leave a gap between their defence and midfield we could yet see his strongest performance.
The less said about Gervinho the better. It was one of his worst displays in an Arsenal shirt and he couldn’t even perform his strength well, hitting the by-line and managing a cross. He only lost the ball twice, but that was mainly due to his ability to shield it and manage a pass. He constantly ran into trouble and had to look for the safe option, as a result only 13% of his passes were forward, as opposed to 27% by Podolski on the other wing. He will need to improve if he wants to keep his position, especially as Walcott looked threatening when he came on against some tired legs.
Cazorla shined in the final third once again as the image below from EPLIndex’s stats centre shows:
Liverpool will provide the Gunners with their sternest test yet. Their strong performance against Man City today possibly came at the worst time from an Arsenal fans perspective as they looked confident and capable of the passing game Rogers is trying to impose on them. This could play into Arsenal’s hand though, as they usually perform well against teams who try to play their game, exploiting the space on the pitch and hopefully the attack can finally click and get that elusive first goal.
All of the stats from this article have been taken from the Opta Stats Centre at EPLIndex.com – Subscribe Now (Includes author privileges!) Check out our new Top Stats feature on the Stats Centre which allows you to compare all players in the league & read about new additions to the stats centre.