04 February 2013

Arsenal 1-0 Stoke: From Out-Arsenaled to Out-Stoke-ing

Well, that wasn't pretty. Then again, against Stoke, what is? If you come out of a game with all limbs and internal organs intact, it's a victory of sorts. As it goes, we continue our dominance on a day when we needed three points--Liverpool tied Man City, erasing two potential points from each team's tally; Spurs only  managed a goal against West Brom, who went down to 10 men for more than 42 minutes, Everton barely tied Aston Villa on a Fellaini goal in stoppage time, and Chelsea found a way to lose to Newcastle on a last-gasp goal from new signee Moussa Sissoko. We now find ourselves a point back of Everton, four back from Spurs, and five back against an increasingly-fragile looking Chelsea. When we look at the rest of our schedule, optimism does start to creep in.

You'll only need stitches, not crutches.
As to the match, though, it was particularly gratifying to win against Stoke the way we did. They play football as if they're a bunch of American footballers who got cut and settled for proper footballing--only they keep playing by American football rules. This works particularly well against us, given our preference for niceties like passing and dribbling and being able to walk unassisted when the game's over. To see aggressiveness from Wilshere is, of course, becoming par for the course, but to see Monreal send a few bodies flying was just delish. I never wish harm on a fellow human, but this is Stoke, after all. I'm sure Walters is an upstanding member of the community, calls his mother on Sunday evenings, and nurses wounded squirrels back to health in his spare time, but he plays for a team that dishes it out, apparently as something akin to strategy. The play was clean, and the wound accidental, but it shows that we have players to willing mix it up. Similar with Arteta--his tackle on Michael Owen was crunching but well-timed, and he let Owen know that that petty little swipe wouldn't go unnoticed. Long story short--it's nice to see a few headlines after an Arsenal match that include the words "Arsenal", "steel", and "mettle", among others.

Continuing a long-standing tradition, we again met a keeper who had a MOTM kind of day. Begovic is among the best in the league, in my opinion, but he was making save after save after save. With almost any other keeper, we'd've been up 2-0 or 3-0 by halftime. Some of our finishing could have been more clinical--a few too many shots to the middle third of the goal instead of the outer thirds, but he was impenetrable nonetheless. When Podolski finally did slip the spot-kick in, deflecting it off a Stoke defender in the 78th minute, my first reaction was, "well, that was a crap goal." Then I reminded myself of how often we've been on the other end of that, and, to borrow a phrase from basketball, they're all swishes on the scoreboard. All that was left was to hold the ball and soak up what little pressure Stoke could muster (consisting largely of Shawcross lumping the ball in the general direction of Crouch. Well-played.
Blurry, but why is Walcott drifting forward? 

Before we're done, though, a last word on Walcott. He had a decent day, but the fact that he was even close to off-side on Podolski's kick is ridiculous--it continues a string of him being caught offside for no good reason. Look: if you're the last man wide on the weak side, with all of the action and defenders between you and your teammate with the ball at his feet, there is simply no excuse for being offside. Sure, if there's a weak-side defender wide of you who can decide to hold you onside or catch you off, that's understandable. If Walcott is serious about taking the next step in his development, in his mission of fulfilling his destiny (?), this is one area (among others) that he must address. Contrast his movement against, say, Giroud, who seems to have a much stronger sense of movement and timing, sliding laterally and only moving vertically after a ball is played forwards. They have similar statistics (Walcott has been called offsides 13 times in 1,400 minutes; Giroud, 14 in 1,516), but Giroud plays exclusively through the center and is more vulnerable to offside-traps and mistiming runs, while Walcott frequently plays in from the wing and (at least theoretically) should be able to keep the defensive line in front of him--he's also receiving a hefty number of his touches as direct passes from Sagna to his feet or into open space to chase down, while Giroud is receiving lofted passes into the heart of the defense. At any rate, back to the issue at hand, why on earth would Walcott drift offside? I admire his desire to scoop up a potential rebound, but he's gotta be smarter than that. Is he trying to protect his status as top goal-scorer? Does he resent Podolski for getting to take the shot? I like Walcott; I genuinely do, but thank the referee for making the right call to preserve the goal. I hope someone has a chat with Theo, if only on this one instance if not on the concept in general.
Right, then. We travel to Sunderland, whom we tied at home in week one. This is another winnable game. Spurs host Newcastle while Everton travel to Old Trafford. We should, at a minimum, keep pace if not pull even with Everton...