1. Nacho Monreal will be just fine at Arsenal
While it wasn’t a man of the match performance from our new Spanish signing, Monreal did his job and did it well. He didn’t really have much to do, especially given the fact that “right-winger” isn’t part of Stoke City’s tactical vocabulary. He had good positional sense, made runs down the right, and made some key interceptions. Looks like he reads the game well. There were some moments where he wasn’t able to link up with his team mates as he would like, but that’s down to being only a day or two at the club. With time, that’ll change, and hopefully he can develop the kind of understanding with the rest of the team like Kieran Gibbs has. Overall, promising signs. It was great to hear cheers from the crowd every time he got the ball, as a way of welcoming him to the Emirates. The cheers were contrasted by inevitable boos for Shawcross whenever he touched the ball.
2. Still not sure how good the defence is
We haven’t exactly stood on solid ground this season when it comes to our defence so it is pleasing to finally get a clean sheet. I can’t remember our last one to be honest. While the defence was sound, its hard to judge if they have turned a corner, given Stoke’s ineptness in front of goal. Mertesacker and co were hardly tested, but credit where it is due for keeping Crouch quiet. Mertesacker dealt with Crouch well while Koscieny often was chasing the second ball. This is the way it should be. Outmuscling opponents and physicality isn’t exactly Koscielny’s strength, as we have seen through several howlers this season, however, chasing balls and tackling are. He also did well with a header in the first half and was unlucky not to score.
3. Walcott continues going from strength to strength
Walcott is at a stage in his career where the sky is the limit. Its hard to believe he is only 23. Yes he can be frustrating at times, but day by day that frustration becomes less and less. Against Stoke he was an absolute handful, Wilkinson was a sitting duck on the left hand side as Theo ran riot. He looks much more confident this season as he firmly establishes himself as a first team regular. He drew several fouls, including the foul which led to the goal. In Walcott, our team has a bit of a secret weapon. Not many teams have a player with such blistering pace who can get in behind a defence in a flash like he does. It was the ultimate compliment almost three years ago when then Barcelona coach Guardiola admitted he was afraid of Walcott’s ability to change a game. Hopefully the 90 minute conversation he had with Henry recently will ensure he produces more match winning performances. In the unlikely event that we do end up winning a trophy this season, I think Walcott and Wilshere will be the keys, they are the two who have been shown to be able to change a game quickly. That alone won’t be enough, the silly goals being leaked at the back need to stop.
4. Still a bit of cutting edge missing
Begovic had a fantastic game, and was probably the man of the match with a string of good saves, but that doesn’t excuse us for not going ahead before the break. It may sound harsh, but we really should have scored some of the chances presented to us. Ox had he ball at his feet from the corner and had the goal at his mercy, yet hit it straight at Begovic. When he was put through on goal by Wilshere all he had to do was pass it into the net, but his shot was slightly lofted, allowing the save to be made. Also when Giroud received a free header from a corner, why did he choose to go across goal instead of shooting himself? That was a bizarre moment. At half time, it felt like it’d be “one of those days” where we dominate and end up drawing 0-0 or get sucker punched with a 1-0 loss. Luckily that didn’t happen, but it could have happened easily against a better opponent.
5. Pleasing to see the attacking depth
It was great to see a decent team take the field and have a formidable bench with the likes of Podolski, Ramsey and Cazorla, who all came on and made an impact. It was useful for a game like this whereby we were frustrated and needed that goal. Fingers crossed that the injuries stay away and we’re able to rotate the squad so that our best XI remains fresh for the big games.
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