Saturday, 25 August 2012

Never been to Stoke, Santi? Oh, you’ll love it…

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!


  1. Really enjoyed this; a good deal more - I suggest - than Santi will tomorrow's 'game' !

  2. hi you need to get over ramesy first

  3. I would love it if we could beat them. Love it." Part of the immortal rant uttered by Kevin Keegan in 1996. Football is a passionate sport. It gets under your skin and emotions often run high, as Keegan displayed so memorably on that infamous day.

    Sunday sees the visit of Arsenal to the Britannia Stadium and I¹d imagine every Stoke fan in attendance will be silently repeating Keegan's renowned words in their minds. This is the one game that all Stoke fans take the most joy out of winning. Since our return to the Premier League we¹ve played Arsenal five times at The Brit, winning three, drawing one and losing just the once. Not a bad record considering the finances available to both clubs.

    It's no secret there is no love lost between the two clubs. Arsene Wenger's quotes in the aftermath of the Shawcross-Ramsey incident back in September 2010, showed very poor form and Stoke fans will never forgive him for that. Football is a contact sport and injuries are ultimately, and unfortunately, going to happen. Everyone involved in the sport accepts that.

    Ramsey suffered a terrible injury that day, but it wasn't the result of a horrific challenge; no matter what Wenger says to the contrary. No level-headed Stoke fan wishes Ramsey any harm, and it¹s great that he has made a full recovery and is back playing football again. This has nothing to do with the gripe Stoke fans hold against Arsenal, and Wenger in particular.

    I won't go over old ground and list my complaints of how Arsenal handled the incident. Instead, I'll highlight a similar occurrence that happened at Stoke in 2008.

    Rory Delap was on loan at Stoke from Sunderland at the time, and he suffered a similar double leg break as a result of a 50-50 challenge with Robbie Elliott in a match against, ironically, Sunderland. Straight after the game, Tony Pulis said: "Two people have just gone in for a challenge. Elliott is a seasoned pro and would know Rory, so I'm sure the last thing he would want to do is break his leg."

    Delap himself added: "I know Robbie really well and I know that he goes in hard, hard but fair. He just went in stronger than me and that is what you should do. I certainly don't hold any grudge against Robbie and I have told him that." The matter was immediately laid to rest. Elliot was allowed to get on with his career and Stoke stood by Delap throughout his rehabilitation. The rest, as they say, is history.

    Compare how the two clubs handled very similar situations and I will allow you to draw your own conclusions. You can have all the talented players in the world, and all the money you like, but money can¹t buy you class. I believe Wenger proved that in the weeks after that dramatic encounter back in 2010.

    So come Sunday, at 1.30pm at the Britannia Stadium, in the words of Kevin Keegan: "I would love it if we could beat them. Love it."


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