I always wonder who breaks the news to new signings from far off, picturesque lands that at least once a year they have to play a football match in Stoke. And how do they go about it? Does an earlier survivor of the trip recount all the gory details of 9ft centre backs who eat youth players as a half-time snack. Does Wenger gather them in a group and attempt to inspire them to rise to the challenge of whatever is – literally in the case of Delap’s torpedoes - thrown at them? Or perhaps everyone pretends there is nothing to worry about in the Potteries and then just deal with the shellshock afterwards.
Whichever way it happens, I can't imagine Cazorla or Giroud (something tells me Podolski can give as good as he gets) can be truly prepared for their first game at the Britannia. It is the closest they will ever get to days of yore when men were moustachioed, pitches were bogs and football was rugby.
This isn’t meant as a criticism of Stoke, as such - if I supported them I don’t doubt I’d love anything which unnerves majestic clubs like Arsenal so good luck to them. But if you’re not a supporter it is just a game that must be overcome rather than enjoyed. It’s grim enough watching from the stands but actually playing must be even worse. A bit like landing on the beaches of Dunkirk – head down, hope for the best and see you on the other side. Maybe.
What a boost it could provide if we did manage to take three points, though. It’s too early to say it will be a deciding factor in our fortunes but a team that is still forming its identity after losing two of its biggest names could take a huge amount of encouragement from pulling off a win.
Do I expect that to happen. If I’m honest, no. An Arsenal team needs to be firing on all cylinders and have total belief in itself to take on the likes of Stoke away from home. As last week proved, these players are still getting to know each other but even a draw and at least small signs of, say, attacking cohesion and defensive solidity would be enough to give confidence for the opening stages of the campaign.
Sahin saga - did we really need him?
The ongoing uncertainty over trying to sign Nuri Sahin on loan was frustrating, but mainly because it might have held us up in pursuing alternatives. If we did not complete because, as reported, Real refused to include a permanent transfer clause then that’s fine by me. Why should we act as the rehabilitation unit for a player who needs games and then let Real reap all the benefits if he returns to top form?
In any case, I’m not even sure we needed him. From what I’ve seen Jack Wilshere has everything he can offer and maybe more. People have written about his ability to pick a long pass but Cazorla has already shown he’s not afraid to do that. Missing out on him might prove a blessing in disguise if it allows us to add something new to the team before the transfer window closes. We need a destroyer to prowl in front of the defence, not another playmaker. Someone who would actually enjoy playing at Stoke!