Arsenal put Stoke firmly back in their place

I woke up late. I don’t know what happened to my early alarms but I got up when my 7:25am “panic” alarm went off. It plays I’ll Give You Something to Cry About by Big Business. As soon as I hear the guitar line start in, panic shoots through my body because if I haven’t already shut it off before the guitar starts, that means I overslept.

Worse than just missing the first 25 minutes of the match, I record the games so that’s not a problem, was the fact that I had to pick my friend up from the airport this morning. I was supposed to get her at 8:10, I needed to get my daughter up, and the airport is 20 miles away. So I was in a real state.

I made coffee and then checked my texts. Her connecting flight had been an hour late. I was let off. I turned on the game.

The first action I saw was a replay of Xhaka’s foul on Joe. I wanted to find a way to excuse what happened. I yelled “that’s not a foul” but it was only a half-hearted yell. I knew it was inexcusable. Xhaka was going for the ball, but Allen poked it away from him and Xhaka turned into him to block him off. Classic obstruction. Charming Charlie Adam dispatched the penalty.

I had missed the drama with Mustafi being subbed off, which happened just four minutes before the penalty, but it figures that Arsenal would get off to a panic start. I got off to a panic start to the day, why not Arsenal?

But everything worked out.

As Avie and I drove to the airport a State Patrol car zoomed up behind us with his lights blazing. “I think we are going to get pulled over by the cops” I announce. I had been speeding. Doing about 75 in a 60. So, I pulled over and the cop kept going.

We were still driving when Bee’s plane landed. She texted me and another mini-panic set in. I hate making people wait. That’s when another State Patrol car sped by me. Then all the cars in front of me started braking. Red lights. I’m at a standstill. I voice-text her back: we are going to be late, traffic jam.

But the jam broke up as soon as it had started: a car had a tire blow out and swerved off the road. But since it had happened 1/4 mile in front of us, the jam didn’t have time to fully form around us. We kept going, clear sailing.

Arsenal took 13 minutes to get back into the match. Xhaka collected a loose ball, passed to Alexis (who by now must be making some kind of pre-assist record), and Alexis found Bellerin with a perfect through ball. Bellerin played in a pretty mediocre cross but Walcott had gotten in front of his marker (kids, GET BALL SIDE) and slapped home the first goal. I yelled at the TV, YES! Avie told me I scared her.

Bellerin didn’t look well. He looked like a player who had been out for a few weeks with injury. His crosses were overcooked. He had a “shot” which I think went out for a throw-in. But Bellerin (and Xhaka, who fouled for the penalty – and let’s not forget that Walcott’s been out of form lately) don’t need to be full strength to help Arsenal.

I had to go two laps around the airport. Those airport cops are jerks about any kind of waiting. But with Bee safely in the car, we headed home. She noticed that Avie looked like she wasn’t doing too well in the back and sure enough, almost as soon as the car was under way, Avie told me she felt car sick. “Roll down your window and stick your fingers into the wind” it’s an old trick that my family came up with to treat all of us kids when we got car sick. I can’t read in the car. Or the plane. Or anything moving. Boats also make me sick. I’m one of those people. We turned off the freeway and found a park in Tukwila.

Bee let me in on a secret while we walked Avie in the park: she was still a bit drunk from the night before. She had had a beer on the plane that morning. Ha! I thought I smelled booze! I also wondered what kind of looks she might have gotten, cracking open a cold one on a two hour flight at 7am. I’m not one to judge, I hate flying and used to take Xanax — basically get high — before my flights. Avie wants to puke now but the bathrooms are closed: closed from dusk to sunrise and December to February. Why December to February? Probably to save money.

Avie announces that she’s feeling better. She’s hungry. I mention that there’s an Ikea nearby, half-joking. Avie and Bee agree that Ikea at 10am would be perfect. Damnit. Why did I have to mention Ikea?

Ox collects the ball from Xhaka. Ox chips toward Mesut Özil. Özil sees the keeper has come off his line. Özil heads the ball over the keeper. It’s an audacious goal. Something you might see Messi or Luis Suarez try. Who has the gumption to chip header a 30 yard chipped ball? Mesut Özil, that’s who.

Avie comes out of the bathroom, “I puked a little bit” she announces, “now I’m hungry.” Breakfast at Ikea reminds me of the Army in the 80’s. You grab a plastic tray and head into a line. There you have your choice of plates of cake and pie. Or the main course which is Army eggs, clearly reconstituted from a powder, which are scooped out and plopped on your plate. Then you are given two turkey sausages which look like dried up witch-fingers. And if you’re unlucky, you get some Swedish pancakes which taste like they are made from Elmer’s glue. The coffee is terrible as well but the half-and-half is dispensed at a voluminous rate. Avie gets cornbread, bacon, orange juice, soda, a plate of eggs, sausage, and hashbrowns. She will only end up eating the cornbread and a piece of bacon. I get the glue pancakes. Bee gets apple cider. Calm down, it’s only 0.1% alcohol.

Alexis is fouled. Charlie Adam, whose teeth turned 72 years old today, runs over and stamps on Alexis for the fun of it. It’s his birthday, he’s allowed to stamp on people. Ironically, if he had played the ball instead of stamping on Alexis he might have prevented Iwobi from collecting the loose ball. But Charming Adam didn’t. He intentionally stamped Alexis. It’s pretty clear from the video replay that Adam kicks out to catch Alexis. Will he get punished? No. It looks like referee Lee Mason, who – to be fair – is the worst referee in England, plays advantage. I bet he says he saw the incident.

The Stoke away boys are showing true class now. Imagine that you’re a fan of a club that has never won the League. A club whose last real trophy was the League Cup in 1971. I imagine if I was a fan of that club and I was watching my team get beat 3-1, I’d suck my last tooth and cheer on my team’s most glorious moment: breaking Aaron Ramsey’s leg. I mean, Arsenal won the League at Old Trafford and White Hart Lane. Arsenal won back to back FA Cups two years ago. Aaron Ramsey scored the winner in the FA Cup two and a half years ago. Arsenal are top of the League. What do Stoke have? Breaking Aaron Ramsey’s leg. Merry Christmas, Stoke.

Aveline eats her cornbread. She’s happy now. She’s headbutting Bee with her unicorn horn. She’s wearing a unicorn onesie. In public. She’s also got a “circle-line Trump” button on. I get uptight about people wearing sleep-wear in public but Aveline broke it down for me one day: what’s the difference between this cotton outfit and the cotton outfit that you’re wearing? One is for sleep! I reply. I want to defend my old man ways. It’s pointless. She’s right. It’s clothes. I’m the one with the hang-up.

I’m not alone. People in Ikea are staring at the three of us. Bee is Irish and so she looks nothing like Avie and I with her short, straight black hair and brown skin. We make a strange party. Me with my bright green Polo beanie and crazy Santa beard. Avie with her unicorn onesie. Bee drinking cider behind smiling Irish eyes. “Let’s go Avie, Bee is tired from her flight, she’s been a trooper.” Avie is sticking Bee with her unicorn horn “grab me by the horn!” she laughs. “If I had a dollar for every time someone said that to me” Bee replies.

Qq

Post Script

We’ve teamed up with Art of Football to give away one of their Arsenal t-shirts or prints just in time for Christmas. They have a range of Arsenal designs including Henry, Bergkamp, Ian Wright, Sanchez and that Michael Thomas league winner. You can see the full range on their web site. Winner chooses the prize! To enter simply answer the following question: how many goals has Thierry Henry scored for Arsenal in all competitions. There are two correct answers!  Email your answers to competition@art-of-football.com

Competition closes on Monday 12th to give them time to ship your winnings!

29 comments

  1. You do know a book written in this vein will be a bestseller *if* you ever decide to write one? We know your little one is clearly your top priority but still, love your work 7am.

    Feels as if the penny has dropped for certain players. Ox is playing with his head up, and the way he shaped his assist for Ozil’s header was textbook Sanchez. Theo has clearly been working on his movement and combination play. Those sharp runs off the ball (but in wide areas) gave Hector space to do damage in. Wenger took Alex Iwobi out of the firing line for a few games but today it looked like that silky touch was back and his passing even better than before. Gabriel Paulista’s been huge in a tough period for him but he didn’t let us down again today and while I weep for Shkodran Mustafi’s hamstrings we can’t begrudge Gabriel some game time over the next month. And then there’s Xhaka. That left foot is a surgical instrument and he operated all over Stoke’s face today.

    Most importantly, all of these guys can still improve. We’ve got another couple of gears to go.

  2. What a dirty fucker that Adam is. Stamped on Sanchez in the build up to Iwobi’s goal and as Mason played advantage Adam cannot now be charged retrospectively with violent play.
    The penalty was fair, but tough on Xhaka as he was too slow to get out of Allens way and elbowed him in the head. Any other player and it would have been the chest.

  3. Aveline, you go girl!

    Love your spirit and your smarts.

    Tell your Dad to keep writing many more entertaining stories about you and yeah, maybe about the Arsenal too once in a while.

    Much Love,

    Uncle Mort

  4. Good performance, wresting control of the game after a slow start, and taking our chances when presented.

    Theo’s transformation has been spectacular. He’s become the sort of wide midfielder whose work rate means that even when he’s not on top form, he contributes. Him and Hector on the right are a fantastic duo, long may it continue.

    Xhaka put in another quality performance in midfield, controlling tempo and supplying the forward line without shirking defensive responsibility. He’s doesn’t have Cazorla’s mesmeric dribbling ability, but his ability to link and spread play in build-up unbalances the opposition defenders and contributes to our chance creation. Its telling that our most effective midfield partnerships sans Santi feature him quite prominently. I hope Ramsey is alright, I hope he starts alongside Xhaka against Everton.

    Bit worried about the defense. We gave away a few too many headers today, and Stoke could have really punished us. I’m not sure if I’d rather see Gabriel or Holding vs Everton and City; I think the boss will go with Gabriel, and he’s looked decent at right back, but I have doubts about his positioning that I fear might get exposed against Lukaku and KDB, whereas Holding’s been impeccable but also hasn’t really been tested this season.

    On a broader note, would love to see that defensive analysis you’ve been working on. I’ve felt this season that we’ve been getting away with giving up a lot of big chances defensively, and I wonder if the numbers bear that out.

  5. The Telegraph has a piece on a sports psychologist that Wenger has engaged this season to deal with the team’s lack of mental toughness and that explains why we’ve all noticed a different Arsenal this season. How refreshing is it to know that if we go one nil down, we are mentally still in the game and we will bring games to a successful conclusion.

    Dear Charlie, you sly devil you. Left your mark on another superior player and that and that 60 yard goal will be you’re only legacy in the game.

    I bet Lee Mason would have carded someone like El Hadji Diouf if he had done that stamp.

  6. Started following 7am somewhere between April and June this year and I have read every single post…..and comment since the first day. It seems this is the first time you mentioned her name – Aveline.

    Out of interest, does she know you relieve many moments with her here? Does she know there is more than a handful of people rooting for her here? I also wonder if that will have any sort of impact on her life in any way (the positive thoughts and goodwill from an extra 100 people) My culture says yes but then I am skeptical.

    Gunner Joe is perplexed that you ate at Ikea and had the temerity to leave out meatballs (my singular favorite dish at Ikea). In my mind it’s because we made minced meat of Stoke.

    Go behind at home by giving away a penalty and then lose a key defender who has been ever present in a match where we wer3 under pressure to not just to win but by 2 goals to go top and still win! That psychologist deserves a raise. Now if s/he can just make Ozil and Sanchez realize how much they want to sign…..

  7. The story of this Arsenal squad, as with your beloved daughter, is GROWTH. Growing up can be painful but invariably, if superintended with patience, it’s beautiful and ultimately fulfilling. Carry on your paternal task with the tender care and devotion that we can feel from afar despite the insulation of the internet. It’ll yield pleasant fruit beyond your imagination.

  8. And Tim, what’s Arsenal’s record for penalties conceded over the past 5-6 years? Whatever is the worst season tally, we seem hell-bent on breaking it! Especially since Cech is pretty hapless at saving them. According to Squawka, Cech has failed to save the past twelve penalties he has faced since 2011/12. Szcezny, Fabianski and Almunia all had reasonable success with penalties.

  9. West Brom hung in tough. Didn’t concede until Darth Costa came on who it must be said, took his chance superbly.

    Cliche time: all we can do is look after ourselves and be responsible for our own results.

    And so far we’be done that better than we have in many a year.

    Hope I can say this without jinxing anything, but this is hugely enjoyable run.

  10. We must stay no more than 5-6 points behind Chelsea at least till February and hope for the best. At some point, they’ll drop some points. I just hope it won’t be like their last run to the title in which they set a blistering pace in the first two thirds of the season and then carefully managed the remaining games.

  11. Stoke fielded quite an attacking lineup but tried mostly to play on the counter with Arnautovic dropping in between the lines and looking to link up with Shaqiri, Diuf and, yes, Joe Allen bombing the box. Allen was the secret weapon Arsenal weren’t expecting; classically a regista who sits deep and recycles possession, in this match he showed off his stamina and range too and caused Arsenal problems with his movement even before he won the penalty off Xhaka. It’s not the first time he’s hurt Arsenal by crashing the box, loathe as I am to recall his goal against us in Liverpool colors which stole two points from us at the death. Arsenal should not have been so surprised; The Welsh Xavi has scored 4 goals already this campaign from his more advanced role under Mark Hughes.

    Arsenal, for their part, did what Arsenal has done so far this season: a) They pressed their opponents high up the pitch, forcing high leverage opportunities in transition (notably profiting from Charlie Adam’s mistake early on), b) They played out from the back while under pressure, managing to carve out more high leverage transitions on the occasions when they were able to beat Stoke’s (infrequent) pressing cleanly, and c) They looked for the throughball as often as possible, and found the space between the lines for all three goals with such passes (even if Ox’s assist was lofted, I consider that a throughball!)

    Arsene and Arsenal’s focus this season seems to be on quick transitions and focusing on creating as many opportunities as possible to quickly attack a back line which is not set up yet. This very Leicester-esque approach but suits our best players to a tee. Walcott and Ozil have always thrived on space, Ox is at his best when allowed to get into stride with the ball, Sanchez and Coquelin have an incredible appetite for the ball when out of possession, and Xhaka’s at his best breaking the lines with a laser pass. If you will, Sanchez plays the Vardy role, Coquelin the Kante role, Ozil is our Mahrez and Xhaka the Drinkwater. Only I think they are all better players than the ones I have just likened them to. We are also still capable of stellar combinations but are less reliant on them because of our ability and willingness to press and to break at speed. The result is that we are taking fewer shots and are thus accumulating less xG, but we are finding higher quality situations more frequently, leading to chances that are better than they look on an xG map because they occur without defenders in front of the shot. That’s my theory to explain the xG gap/actual goals gap between last season and this.

    1. Ok Coquelin may not be better than Kante, but I do think based on the way he’s been playing that it’s probably closer than people think.

    2. Coquelin can’t pass, except safely. A better range of passing and a bit of goal threat and he’d be some player. He’s miles off Kante. Was an occasion about midway through the second half when he spotted Theo in space on the right, with attack and defence bunched up on the left. What does he do? He wallops the ball straight out of play, for what should have been a routine pass to Walcott.

      All that said, he played well on Saturday.

      Absolutely spot on in your comparisons, and your analysis of the game, Doctor.

      Not enough is being spoken about Ozil cushioned header — an awareness of time and space and a technique that puts him in the same bracket as best strikers in the world. I use the term striker deliberately, because his composure in front of goal is pure ice. He’s scored the most sublime goals in the league (and out. see Ludogorets) this season. This, for beauty, technique and spatial awareness, may be his best yet. It’s my goal of the season so far.

      1. Coquelin has improved so much in possession. He’s still not close to what I’d call a “goal threat,” nor is he going to supply key passes every game, but he’s no longer the liability he was when we have the ball and while a big part of that is the way the whole team is setting up, he has also clearly made strides in that part of his game. When we camp out in the passive U shape around the opponent’s box, he is still mostly a spare part for the trash heap. But when we attack directly, press high and then try to win the ball right back, he is a weapon. And in those transition situations, he has shown he is now capable of close control and patience to find the right pass, even if it’s not flashy or incredibly quick. He also has an improving sense for when to dribble the ball out of trouble as well and is capable of beating a defender with the ball at his feet. That should sound a lot like the profile of N’Golo Kante because that’s precisely what he did for Leicester last season. Coquelin is better in the air than Kante but doesn’t quite have the same engine or geometric appreciation for closing down passing angles. Still, I believe it’s a close comparison.

    3. On Ozil, Wenger has made an already great player even better. None of his other illustrious has raised his all-round game in the way that Arsene Wenger has, and that is greatly to his credit. Ozil never wanted scoring responsibility as much as he does this season. If Mesut is the man we’d like to think he is, he would sign that contract extension. He owes Wenger. His bad games — where he has zero influence on proceedings in which we are tactically stifled — still occur more than we’d like. But the butterfly in full bloom. He’s a beautiful player.

  12. Doc, my reading of our current playing patterns fits smugly with yours. Obviously we are emphasizing quicker transitions, passes through the lines and that’s what makes Xhaka a critical factor for the team. We would be missing Musti while he is away because he is so effective at passing through the lines also.

    Quicker transitions help to create cleaner goal scoring chances, and that’s what has accounted for the higher conversion rate of our goal scoring chances. At the same time, for quick transition play, with its more numerous ball turn overs, we most likely would be conceding a little bit more frequently.

    Without doubt quick transition as opposed to slow horizontal build up, enhances Ozil’s talent and suits Walcott’s world class asset of off the ball runs.

    Meanwhile the Sanchez/Ozil combo represents a concoction that bamboozles defenses. Sanchez is irresistibly drawn to the ball. Ozil is irresistibly drawn to empty spaces. Yet Sanchez is #9, Ozil #10. Or is Sanchez #10 and Ozil #9 or are they a double false #10 or ……… that’s their (defenders’) headache, not mine.

    5-1, 4-1 and 3-1 wins in our last three games is nearly time enough for us to begin to feel really confident of our new found balance.

  13. Your stuff is always a pleasure to read, but this post is flat out wonderful writing. As the first person to comment says above – there’s a great book here. Art from the heart, etc. Can’t wait to read the next episode in the adventures of Tim and Aveline.

  14. Bayern!

    WTF is that, folks?

    We won our group and according to the script, did what we needed to to avoid the biggest of the big guns, no?

    Let’s make Bayern pay for not doing what they should have.

  15. Without doubt quick transition as opposed to slow horizontal build up, enhances Ozil’s talent and suits Walcott’s world class asset of off the ball runs.

    Meanwhile the Sanchez/Ozil combo represents a concoction that bamboozles defenses. Sanchez is irresistibly drawn to the ball. Ozil is irresistibly drawn to empty spaces. Yet Sanchez is #9, Ozil #10. Or is Sanchez #10 and Ozil #9 or are they a double false #10 or ……… that’s their (defenders’) headache, not mine.

    #IfOnlyThereWasANAwardForCommentOfTheSeason……..

  16. My gods I am sick to death of Bayern. Not just because they’ve eliminated us previously and they’re such a strong team but because dammit, we’ve played them so damn often. Really, I’d rather have drawn Madrid. This is the lingering after effect of Leicester winning the league. A couple of years ago, they would’ve been in pot 4 along with CSKA, the Russian league champs. If pots were determined strictly on UEFA coefficient, Athletico and Dortmund would have been in pot 1 and not in pot 2 to be drawn together with Athletico and Real. Well as someone said previously, let’s make them pay for not winning their group.

  17. Alright I am confused now. Weren’t you tweeting during the game :S
    Arsenal played well to come back. I remember Arsene credited Alexis on how he scores when the scores are level or, brings the scores level. Theo and Ozil did well to bring us back to the game.

    Just saw the clip of Adam stamping Alexis, what a tool that guy. And the audacity of Stoke fans to argue with gooners after their team of thugs play the way they did…morons. Riles me up!!!

    Tim, I hope Avie is feeling better now. We’ve got Bayern again so, hey ho !!!

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