THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

23 February ~ So another midweek game at the Emirates but the contrasts between this week and last couldn't be more marked. Stoke City are the very antithesis of the way the game is "supposed" to be played. Even Alex McLeish was heard to remark last week that our game at St Andrew's was "not football as I know it". In short, last week they watched Villa and Messi, this week they've got a team that signed John Carew from the Villa and scores really messy goals.

There are a number of myths perpetuated by the media around this particular game. One of these is that Arsenal find it difficult to play against Stoke. Indeed their results at the Britannia Stadium have been patchy – a win and a loss in the league, and a thumping in the Cup – but both times we've been to north London we've ended up being well beaten.

A second myth is that Stoke City are "difficult to beat" or "well organised". The facts do not back this one up. This season has largely been OK. We would all, I think, have settled for being tenth in the league with 12 games left and with a favourable home draw in the FA Cup quarter-finals, but we have lost half our games. We have seemingly lost the ability to draw – the game at St Andrew's being a case in point, a shocking match that was never going to produce a goal until Birmingham were gifted one in the 93rd minute. We are still in a relegation fight. I say this as I remain convinced Blackpool will go down but after last night's result they are just a point behind us.

What is true about this fixture is that the two clubs do not like each other. But even the origins of this are clouded in mystery. The modern rivalry (there was one in the 1970s over a couple of FA Cup semis) is said to stretch back to Arsène Wenger's post-match comments after his side were beaten in November 2008. Again this is inaccurate. "The Frenchman" as Tony Pulis generally calls him was pretty complimentary about us that day. It wasn't until Thomas Sorensen, who had been subject to a challenge by Robin van Persie that led to the striker being sent off, accused Arsenal of lacking backbone a couple of days later that it all kicked off.

Things got nastier last year when Aaron Ramsey sustained a broken leg at the Brit. Wenger said some pretty derogatory things about Ryan Shawcross after that (and has attacked him in the press since) and this upset us all greatly. You see, to paraphrase the old Millwall song, at Stoke City, no one likes us, and we do care.

So, can the Potters pull off a shock tonight? Well, West Brom and Newcastle have proved it's possible and they just might have their minds on the Carling Cup or that second leg in the Champions League. Or they might be busy scouting Orient players so they don't take them so lightly next time. Whatever happens, though, don't expect to see a feast of football this week – or the managers to have a warm embrace at the end. Andy Thorley

Comments (9)
Comment by bearlion 2011-02-23 11:41:24

Pots and kettles from McLeish there - everyone behind the ball and hope it bounces in off Zigic in the last minute. Worked against Stoke, worked against Villa in the League Cup, nearly worked against Villa in the league. Even his own fans were chanting against his tactics last season.

Comment by HighburyJD 2011-02-23 11:49:26

what was the derogatory comment that Wenger made? All I can remember him saying was that the challenge was 'unacceptable' - pretty hard to argue with that, no...?

Comment by Paul Rowland 2011-02-23 12:52:50

I never watch Stoke games, for obvious reasons. Not even the, er, highlights. So I don't really know a lot about Stoke, or their players. Here's a question - if there is anybody out there who does actually watch Stoke games, maybe they can answer for me: do any Stoke players wear snoods?

;-)

Comment by Lincoln 2011-02-23 13:49:48

I am off to this game tonight,what annoys me with Stoke, or rather the comments I hear when they are playing on TV, is the comment they play some good stuff. No they don't. They almost always play some plainly dull and drab football making the most of crosses into the box by any means possible. They have a team of giants and play football that is not in the right way, ie not entertaining which at one time I thought was the purpose of football rather than just something to nail your colours too so you can snear at others and bask in some form of reflected glory.

Comment by jameswba 2011-02-23 14:47:36

One thing I know is that, however they play, whoever the coaches are, whatever the respecttive league positions are,whatever the critics say, Stoke always, always beat WBA.

Comment by Houdi Elbow 2011-02-23 16:34:48

Stoke were pretty violent in their Championship promotion season and from the available evidence they haven't changed much. Wenger is dead right about Shawcross.

Comment by coyotl666 2011-02-23 22:34:34

see, there's not much mystery: as yoy say, pubis always refers to wenger as "the frenchman" - a feeble attempt at winding up by a little man in a baseball cap with little wit; ramsey didn't "sustain a broken leg," he had it broken for him by your captain, who is not that kind of player yet has broken three legs we know of; your idea of football is to herd together mutants and have them grapple wrestling style with those in the box in hopes that thing attached to the neck can do what it's supposed to, no not think but find the round yellow thing falling through the air and hope it finds the net, said net unprotected given all defending it have been knocked down ... great concept for a wii game, shite one for football. so, one nil to the arsenal, but as is usual for playing stoke, how many players survived.

cheers. mark

Comment by reddybrek 2011-02-24 11:18:19

Its priceless how fans of Arsenal now preach the gospel of passing football and turn their nose up at so called long ball merchants. Stoke have an excuse to play like that being a small club competing with monied clubs such as Arsenal who spent most of thier history playing excactly the same kind of football now played by Stoke. As aesthetically pleasing and as commendable as the football is currently played by Arsenal is under Wenger, the club who accumalted most success playing long ball is in fact Arsenal. Wimbledon with bells on was the suitable term for George Grahams ugly brand of football if I remember correctly.

Comment by Djjwalsh 2011-02-25 16:35:43

Arsenal under the guidance of George Graham was such a dull affair. I remember catching up on some sleep during an uneventful 0-0 draw at home to Wednesday in the mid 90s. But then again, season 1988/9 stands out (Michael Thomas' last minute goal at Anfield to win the division), arguably one of the most climatic and entertaining ends to a league season ever. Then there was the 1990/1 campaign. Again, another league trophy, but this time only one defeat, a 7 point margin (even though the team were deducted 2 points) and 74 goals for and only 18 against. Which, I'm sure you'll agree, sounds very much like Wimbledon and Stoke.

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