As fans embark upon the new Premier League season, Arsene Wenger’s description of Stoke’s “rugby tactics” offers a frank similarity to the last campaign -cast your mind back to November 2008 and you may recall almost identical remarks regarding the physicality of the same opposition.
Wenger said: “I saw some footage last Sunday; you cannot say any more it is football, it is rugby on the goalkeepers [rather] than football” on the eve of his sides game against Blackburn who play in a similar way.
And whilst, many may scorn at Wenger’s comments, concluding that they stem from a fear of Arsenal’s soft under belly being exposed once more, perhaps Wenger is justified in his criticism and Stoke will be found out this season.
Last term Stoke created fewer shooting opportunities than any other side in the league last season, averaged less possession per game than anyone else (39.6%) and although the Britannia remains a tough place to go, I feel teams have wised up to their robust approach. Combine those stats with a dependence on set-pieces and long throws and you have yourself a dismal style of play.
Wenger continued to say “When a team plays long ball and head the ball and become physical, I accept that completely and I respect that – but it has to be in respect of the rules,”
They will face another stern test against Blackburn tomorrow managed by a man at the opposite of the footballing spectrum to the Frenchman and Big Sam will look to emulate the physical style in which he orchestrated a 2-1 victory against the Gunners’ last season.
One thing is certain, Arsenal have to toughen up and show the mental fortitude Tottenham did when they visited Stoke-on-Trent last weekend if they are to overcome sides of a similar description.
Whilst I agree with some of Wenger’s comments, maybe he should be taking note of how Blackburn and Stoke “win ugly” instead of criticising them, for is it not this that has reigned Arsenal back in a bid to secure a trophy for the first time since 2005.
Former midfielder Emmanuel Petit added to this notion when describing a victory over Derby during his time at Arsenal saying:
“It was a tough match and Derby gave everything. But we won. That was the crucial thing. Now this Arsenal team must learn to do the same thing. Win ugly, if you like”.
It is sure to be an interesting affair at Ewood Park and if Arsenal can record victory, they may be able to dispel doubts about the soft side which detracts away from their beautiful footballing philosophy.
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