Would We Hate Stoke As Much If They Played Football?

Before the dust has had a chance to settle on a slightly surreal week, Arsenal must get themselves up for the unique challenge of Stoke City. Given the history in this fixture and the apparent animosity between the two managers – I’m not going to go on about that, it’s common knowledge – there should be little trouble motivating both sets of players. In a sense, we’re on a hiding to nothing. If we win, we’ve only beaten little old Stoke. If we lose, it’s another victory for good old fashioned Football against the fancy foreigners of N5.

Arsenal and Stoke are about as far apart in footballing style as it’s possible to get. One values creativity and technique, seeking to control the outcome of the game through faith in their own ability. The other looks to disrupt their opponent and rely on physicality and set pieces to create a goal threat.

Arsenal and Stoke are worlds apart and whilst no one expects them to play Total Football, It’s not too much to ask that they might add some colour to their game, especially now they’ve been in the top flight for two and a half years.

There were signs that Pulis was looking to add variety to his squad. He signed Tuncay and then added Gudjohnsen this summer but neither were given a sustained chance and have since left the club with the Icelandic International openly stating that it was disillusionment with the manager’s tactics that forced him out. As if to set in stone their philosophy, as Gudjohnsen left for Fulham, he was replaced with 6ft 5” Norwegian target man John Carew.

Those who seek to defend the brand of Football played by The Potters would say that they can’t attract world class players so have to find a way to play with what they’ve got. This may be true to an extent but, with a bit of vision and a decent coach, it’s possible to bring an element of style to your game. Case in point is Bolton Wanderers. Owen Coyle has spent very little on players yet he has encouraged them, like he did at Burnley, to trust themselves as Footballers, not just as spoilers. Bolton are 8th as it stands so not just style over results. They can also boast having scored perhaps the best team goal so far this season.

I used to stand on the North Bank when George Graham was our boss so I understand as well as anyone that not all teams play like Wenger’s Arsenal. Notwithstanding the point that much of the criticism of Graham’s era is a bit overblown, the difference is that Pulis displays no ambition or ability to develop. He is either not brave enough or not a good enough coach to incorporate any style which doesn’t hurling the ball into the box, set pieces and burly target men. Everything is played to percentages which strikes me as a defeat for the spirit of the game.

Wenger has said that as long as we control the ball we will be ok and I see no reason to disagree. If we work the ball sharply and with an intensity that escaped us at Brisbane Road we should be ok. Apart from the fact that three points would take us seven clear of 3rd and two off the top, a comprehensive victory would be good for the title race, not just Arsenal.

STAT – Stoke City have yet to record more than 50% possession in a Premier League match during their two and a half seasons in the competition. Courtesy of Opta.