03 March 2014

Player Ratings vs. Stoke

It's a crippling blow that many are interpreting as an actual death-knell, but the way I see is that there is still gas in tank and a few more laps to go. Sorry to mix metaphors. At times like this, I'm a little less particular about the literary elements of the lead-in. This was on paper one of our apparently easier fixtures, enough so that many of us, myself included, had already penciled a victory along with three points. We underestimated the difficulty of playing in the Britannia Stadium, and, as is frequently the case, the ref giveth and the ref taketh away. It was only a few weeks ago that we benefitted from a non-call against Liverpool, so we shouldn't moan (much) about the call that went against us against Stoke. Still, complaining is usually more satisfying than stoicism, so I'll allow myself a bit of that. Without further ado, then, I present the player-ratings...

Starters
What? I step on people. It's this thing I do. Get up!
  • Mike Jones— -10.00 (MotM): That's a negative 10.0, in case it doesn't show properly. I do love me some em-dashes, which unfortunately blurs with the minus-sign. It's a cross I'm willing to bear. The penalty against Koscielny leaves us little to complain other than to point out that it was ball-to-hand, but rules are rules, and it would ask a lot of Jones to wave that one off. Instead, I'm more irritated that Walters himself wasn't cautioned or booked for the shove that followed, as if he was trying to make sure Kos was in the box or to injure Kos after the fact. Insane. Jones seemed cowed by the Stoke crowd all match long, such as when he missed/ignored Adam's stomp on Giroud or allowed Stoke's wall to encroach well within ten yards when we did have the spot-kick towards the end. Eh. Teams that deserve to win championships don't need help from the ref, do they? (coughcoughRamirescough).
  • Laurent Koscielny—7.34: It tells you a lot about our offensive display when the highest-rated player was a defender who was called for a penalty for the goal that decided the game, but Kos was all over the pitch: two tackles (2nd in the side), four interceptions (1st),  and eleven clearances (1st). He was far and away our best player, which is just as much a compliment to him as it is an indictment against many others.
  • Wojciech Szczesny—7.26: Didn't have much to do but came up with a number of fine saves when called upon. Might have done better on the penalty, but what can you say? I'm not wild about his body-fake, as if he's trying to trick the shooter, but he's saved more PK's than I ever will, so I'll go ahead and leave it alone.
  • Mikel Arteta—7.26: Four tackles (1st) to go along with 102 touches (far and away the highest number of anyone on the pitch) show how heavily involved he was, at least in trying to get something going on the attack. Five clearances emphasize to some degree that he was more-focused on shielding the back-four on a day when we really should have been pressing higher up the pitch...
  • Kieran Gibbs—7.17: An effective if conservative outing for Gibbs, who was pressed into action despite not being fully fit. He didn't join the attack very often and seemed more content on defending, turning in ten clearances but was a bit wasteful when he did join the attack, offering four crosses that found no one. 
  • Per Mertesacker—7.00: As is usual, a quiet, consistent outing as he looked to mop up on the rare occasions that Arteta or Koscielny let anything leak through. Thirteen clearances led the team and one nifty tackle, calm as ever, as he simply stepped forward to dispossess a Potter without aplomb but no fuss.
  • Olivier Giroud6.84: As I had fretted, it would be a long, frustrating afternoon for Giroud, going up against a backline that featured four defenders and a keeper who could match his height. He grappled as well as he could but was outmatched more than usual; his most-vital contribution was when he got fouled to earn us a spot-kick just outside Stoke's box. That, and getting stomped by Adams, who faces retroactive action from the FA.
  • Bacary Sagna—6.7: Playing Cazorla ahead of him worked once, but a second time against a stubborn defense like Stoke's seems to have asked too much. Without much help from Santi, Sagna turnedi neight clearances on defense but was left alone on offense, heaving crosses into the box to little effect, but he didn't have many other options until Ox came on and gave him another target to pass to.
  • Lukas Podolski—6.38: This rating surprises me given how ineffective he was. He didn't do much all that terrible but was anonymous for the entire match. He managed a mere 31 touches in 66 minutes, while Ozil found time for 25 touches in 29 minutes.
  • Santi Cazorla—6.36: On a day when we needed width and pace, Santi, suspecting that pace may not be his first asset, chose not to offer any width. His average field-position showed him inside the center-circle as if he was a CAM. Sagna was almost comically isolated as a result. Santi, unlike Podolski, found time to get involved but didn't get the memo on Stoke's defense, sending in five pointless crosses.
  • Jack Wilshere—6.23: Fiesty as always but little to show for it. I still don't like him as a DM but it looks as if he's being trained up for this in the long run. Howver, for now, his most-vital contribution was in getting fouled four times. He did register two tackles, but he was almost invisible for long stretches. 
  • Tomáš Rosický—5.99: This was about as poorly as I've seen Tomáš play in some time. He buzzed about but with little apparent purpose or impact. He just never found a handle on the match. Was he crowded by Cazorla and Wilshere? Adrift without Giroud to target? Lost in the tall trees of Stoke's defense? It's hard to imagine that he was tired or outclassed, but the spark just wasn't there for him.
Substutions
Before I get into it, I have to admit to a fair amount of frustration. Despite seeing that we were struggling to make any headway or have any impact against Stoke, Arsene, for reasons of his own, didn't make any substitutions until close to seventy minutes on, which has become such a trope that one can set a watch by it. By the time Ozil came on, joined a few minutes later by Ox, it was already abundantly clearer that the current set-up wasn't working. As mentioned above, Poldi was a non-factor, Cazorla was ignoring Sagan and playing centrally when width was needed, and others, like Tomáš and Jack were ineffective. The change in urgency after the subs came in may have come as a result of Stoke's go-ahead goal, but the nature of the changes suggest that earlier substitutions might have changed the outcome.
  • Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (74' for Rosický)—6.37: The pace, energy, and directness he offered started putting Stoke on notice immediately, and in a week that saw him earn a call-up for England, is it any wonder that he brought such ambition? Either invigorated by the honor or eager to prove his merits, he changed the tenor of the game but didn't have enough time to change its outcome. Pity.
  • Mesut Ozil (66' for Podolksi)—5.86: Got himself involved much more than Podolski ever was but still didn't make much of an impact. Perhaps still shrugging off the post-Bayern hangover, he looked a bit listless, not to mention ineffective.
  • Yaya Sanogo (81' for Wilshere)—5.81: Scuffed a great chance from Ox in injury-time. Hard to look past that or offer much in the way of defense. At a minimum, it was refreshing to see a substitution that had more to do with tactics than it did with timing. Would Sanogo have been more settled in had he come on at halftime? I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on the miss, chalking it up to youth and nerves more than to skill. A bit harsh to lay blame for the outcome on him when so many other teammates with more experience did little better.
In all, a tough result, but one that's only slightly harsher than we deserved. Even against a team like Stoke, if we can't create more chances, we're going to go begging for finishing. Ten shots, with only two on target, just doesn't cut it, and we reaped the bitter fruit. We'll have to lick various wounds and summon up greater courage and determination for Everton next weekend.