Arsenal News: Has Wenger learned how to tame the beast?

 IBTimes Staff Reporter on August 26 2012 4:46 PM

Stoke have won 3 of the last 4 games against Arsenal, at home.

Has Wenger learned to tame the beast?

This fixture throws up two contrasting styles, efficiency versus intricacy.

To create Wenger's nightmare recipe:

Onto a granite bed of well-rehearsed set pieces,

throw in the head of Peter Crouch,

doused liberally with Rory Delap throw-ins.

 To complete the recipe:

Stir in some tight defending, a dash of desire

and a really unfriendly, passionate crowd.

There you have it: Stoke City- the away day that no Premiership side relishes.

They are not easy to watch but have been a regular thorn in Arsène's side.

Just as every new car has to be driven repeatedly into walls to test safety features, so must every side visit Stoke, to take their turn as crash test dummies.

The Gunners have consistently struggled to cope with the more physical sides, epitomised by Stoke City. Those that go on the win the Premiership, are able to mix it when required but Arsenal have shown a weak underbelly in the past.

To make matters worse, Szczesny, Wilshere, Rosicky and Sagna, were all injured.

The Game:

The first 23 minutes were unremarkable, with neither side able to penetrate. Wenger will have shed few tears over Delap's absence.

Shawcross's positioning, industry and bravery have become the benchmark of Stoke's defensive unit. They are very well drilled and hard to break down.

After 8 minutes, a possible penalty shout came, in the form of a Wilkinson handball but it would have been harsh. Diaby, was showing assurance in midfield, with Stoke camped in their own half.

The home side contented themselves with long balls, to target man Crouch. With 7 goals in 15 games against the Gunners, he was the danger man.

Even with his superior height, he was unable to punch a hole in the resolute Gunners defence.

Santi Cazorla began to exert himself on the game. He played a deft threaded through ball, on 27 minutes and shot straight at the keeper a minute later.

In the second half, the pattern was similar, with Cazorla creating chances and showing a good awareness of his teammates. The referee rightly waved away a clumsy challenge by Gibbs on Pennant, inside the area, on 57 minutes.

Most of the chances came Arsenal's way, with a good cross by Podolski on 59 minutes. Stoke were showing signs of tiring, so Pulis brought on Jerome in place of Pennant to add more muscle. This helped to settle his side.

Wenger responded on 71 minutes by bringing on Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain, to inject more pace into attack, in the hope of forcing the win.

Cazorla began to fade and was replaced by Ramsey in the 81st minute. He showed some neat touches but has yet to fully recover from the dreadful injury he suffered at the hands of Shawcross in 2010.

The crowd's reaction to Ramsey, is something of an unwelcome sideshow in this fixture, unlike their Wenger masks, accompanied by mimicry of his outraged gesturing.

Walters had the goal in sight on 86 minutes, after Ramsey conceded possession but his cute attempt was poorly executed and wide.

The last significant chance of the game fell to Giroud in the 87th minute but he would have done better to square to Ramsey, rather than attempt a shot at glory from distance.

What have we learned?

Arsenal will be disappointed not to have made better use of their 62% possession but delighted by their defensive performance. It cannot be coincidental that with Steve Bould as Wengers new no. 2, Arsenal have looked much more solid at the back.

Marrying Bould-style defence, with Wenger's attack, would be a mouth-watering prospect.

Arsenal's defensive decision-making was better, both individually and collectively and they looked more cohesive as a unit.

They knew when to pass the ball out of defence and when to aim for row Z. This was like the old days, with Vermaelen as the modern day Adams but no Ian Wright up front.

Jenkinson, while limited in attacking intentions, was solid, reliable and stuck to his task.

Mertesacker now looks up to the pace of the Premiership and refused to buckle under the intimidating attentions of Crouch. He won his duals.

Gibbs performed well, getting forward whenever possible, while Vermaelan, the new captain, marshalled his troops well.

Arsenal were not bullied today and controlled the game, with the stand-in keeper Mannone, not being stretched.

Diaby and Arteta were up for the fight in midfield, with Gervinho willing to take players on. His final ball is still lacking.

Arteta deserves extra praise, for fulfilling a more defensive brief than usual, with distinction.

Carzola was the man of the match for me, as he was the beating heart of Arsenal and able to turn the Stoke defence at will.

Giroud and Poldolski have yet to score but showed industry and guile, without a cutting edge. They are not yet on the right wavelength. It will take longer for these new players to gel.

We are now seeing the blueprint of the new Arsenal and with a few choice additions, it is possible that this side will challenge all-comers.

Rome wasn't built in a day and Wenger still needs to work out how to score from free kicks and corners, all 12 of them.

In fact, Arsenal need to work out how to score goals without Robin Van Persie.

Many have accused the Arsenal supremo of stubbornness and only having a plan A. He was able to run with plan B today and only narrowly missed out on 3 points.

Wenger will spend money before next Friday's transfer deadline but given that he is missing so many key players, this squad is looking more balanced than any Arsenal side for years.