We all know about Stoke at this point. They're rough, physical, occasionally dirty, and score a great many of their goals from set pieces. And a great number of these come from their best offensive weapon, the freakishly strong throw-ins of Rory Delap. It is from these that we are most at risk of surrendering goals, and not surprisingly, it is with these throws that I must take issue. I'll explain.
The process that Stoke take whenever they get a throw-in in the opponents' half is a exercise in stealthily bending if not breaking the rules of the game. Firstly, once the ball is out into touch, one player will pick up the ball. This player almost always dicks around with the ball before giving it to another player, who will in turn give it to Delap. By the time this charade completes, Stoke have moved the ball 5-10 yards upfield before taking the throw. Then Delap takes a towel and wipes the ball clean with a towel for about a minute. Then he begins massaging the ball with his shirt, as though the towel didn't do the job. And eventually, after a good 2 minutes of time-wasting and sneakily moving the ball upfield, Delap takes his throw, launching it into the box (and occasionally without his rear foot touching the ground). On Arseblog's Arsecast today, John Cross from the Daily Mirror brought up the potential illegality regarding the rules of the sport of using foreign objects (towel) for each single throw-in. I'm not opposed to players using them when the weather is especially bad, but despite the reputation for consistent rain in England, there is no need for this ritual every time. It wastes time and cheats the fans of actual football.
Now, realistically I don't think we can expect the referees to do anything about it tomorrow, which means we will need to defend these lobs better than we have done. Gallas remains out, and apparently has had a bit of a setback in his recovery from a calf injury, and Sol has had enough rest to recover from his 90 minutes against Porto, so we should be a bit more capable in dealing with those long balls. Gallas is a bit of a worry though. We know his tendency to pick up injuries late in the campaign, and this season seems to be no different. And with him out, we're reduced to musical chairs between Sol and Silvestre, the latter inspiring... what's the opposite of confidence? Yeah, that.
On a positive note, we should have Eduardo back in the side, although most likely on the bench. I would anticipate a starting XI very like the one that faced Sunderland last Saturday. We may see Sagna return at right back, and certainly Sol for Silvestre, but I would expect to see Bendnter up front with Theo (or perhaps Eboue, being that we are away and more likely to stress defense) and Nasri, certainly Cesc and Song in midfield, and while I'm very much in favor of Ramsey in again, I fear the manager might revert to using Denilson again. Almunia will certainly get the start in goal, and since Mannone seems to be out of the question, at least Almunia is preferable to Fabianski. Which isn't saying too much. In all, we should have enough to take all three points, but I've said that before, and the Brittania seems to hold some mystical sway over Arsenal, having lost our last two matches there. Let's hope that we can break that trend. The season is resting on it.
It's official: Pompey have been placed into administration. Having gone through several different ownerships this season alone, and as a last-ditch effort for one last ownership bid fell through, this was really the only option left to them. It's a sad state for any club, let alone one with such long history and one that won the FA Cup a mere two seasons ago. But it also speaks to the value of financial responsibility in football, and we are quite lucky to be supporting a club that is in such wonderful financial shape, especially with the news that Arsenal have reduced the debt on Emirates Stadium by 40% due to sales of the Highbury flats. Even if we do wish the club would spend some of those massive profits on some new, established players. Like a goalkeeper. Or a goalkeeper. Or, even, a goalkeeper.
Finally, I'd like to close with one of the most uplifting stories about football that I've come across in some time. As reported by the BBC:
Tottenham Hotspur's preparations for Sunday's Premier league clash with Everton have been hampered after the Spurs dressing room was hit with a virus.
Wilson Palacios and Vedran Corluka have already been suffering from the sickness and diarrhoea bug while several others are believed to be ill.
Following the outbreak Spurs boss Harry Redknapp confirmed that the club had been forced to close its training ground.
"We've closed the training ground. Everything is off limits – the offices and cafeteria. We're just going to train there and that's it," Redknapp said.
That's right, Tottenham have gotten the shits. AGAIN. Ladies and Gentlemen, I expect to hear loud and numerous outbursts of that song on Saturday and throughout the rest of the season. LASAGNA, WHOOOOOOOOAAAAA...
Until next time, mon Arsamis, don't eat the leasagna, and as always, stay classy.