Ryan Shawcross Is a Big Dumb Animal

They say time heals all wounds, and judging from the performance on Sunday's win over likely champions Manchester United, it certainly seems that physically, the leg broken by Ryan Shawcross on 27 February 2010 has been fully mended. Psychologically, so far as anyone can tell, Aaron Ramsey has proven resilient. While our title hopes this season appear to be realistically, if not mathematically, gone, that win gave us another look at the player we truly have in Ramsey and what a special talent he is.

A little over 14 months gone, and the image of Aaron Ramsey writhing on the ground in pain still hasn't left me. For the Welshman himself, I don't suppose the experience will ever leave him. This Sunday however provides a great opportunity to put all that behind him; indeed, behind all of us. Clashes between Arsenal and this Stoke team have been heated since a two-footed tackle from behind beyond the touchline put Adebayor out for 3 weeks and put Ryan "He's a Big Dumb Animal, Isn't He Folks?" Shawcross in Arsene Wenger's doghouse, not for the last time. The "tackle" on Ramsey that put him out for a year, and the subsequent Arsenal response in that match, obviously ratcheted up the intensity level for future contests between the sides. And, based on the reception given to Ryan "Lenny" Shawcross and his master Tony "George" Pubis when Stoke visited the Emirates, taken with the rather sensitive nature of Stoke fans (I don't doubt their trolls will be all over this post), I would expect the home crowd on Sunday to be... unkind. At least a small portion of the Brittania faithful will have some song celebrating Ramsey's injury (the travelling support will hear it, the press and Stoke will deny it happened), and the Potters' fans will look to start trouble outside the ground for any Gooners they encounter. On the pitch, expect no niceties to be exchanged: it's clear that the managers and players don't like each other. Rightly so.

We've got every reason to be up for the fight. Beyond the obvious tension due to Ramsey's return, we're still fighting for second place which, like it or not, remains an important thing. Yes, I know it's not a cup and it's not the league, but it's better than 3rd, no? Also, if anyone really wants us to tank the rest of the season in some misguided way to force Arsene to buy players or in some blind hope that we'd sack the manager, you really do need your head examined. For me, the United win, while it made things look a bit sunnier, didn't eliminate the issues in the squad. What I want to see before anything, as in any match, is a full-on effort from Arsenal players. But if you can actually sit back and cheer against Arsenal, then I congratulate you on realizing you're not a Gooner. I couldn't cheer against Arsenal if they were playing my immediate family.

As of this writing, I'm not certain who will and won't be available for the match. Nasri and Djourou both came off injured against United, and Cesc missed out entirely due to a knock picked up in training. I personally hope Cesc will return and allow Ramsey to start the match on the bench given the situation; as much as I want Rambo to put a hat-trick in at the Brittania, it's better that way. If Nasri can't go, Arshavin will likely get the call. The return to reserve action by Thomas Vermaelen last week gives Arsene an interesting choice to make at the back. If Djourou doesn't pass fit, does he go with the much-maligned Squillaci (who in fairness played pretty well his last few times out), or does he select the Verminator who may or may not be match-fit? Otherwise the lineup picks itself.

UPDATE: Nasri and Fabregas are both out of this weekend's match. Expect Arshavin and Ramsey to start in their places. Also, shockingly, Diaby isn't fit for the Stoke match either.

I don't know about you, but I'm definitely up for this one. There will be excitement, at least when Arsenal have the ball, and there will be a plodding Stoke side trying to knock the ball into touch off our defenders so that Rory Delap can dry the ball for 5 damned minutes before throwing it into the box. Our defenders, and particularly keeper Wojciech Szczesny (VOY-check CHES-nee) will know this and will have to cope with that fluid, attacking football for which Stoke are so well-known. Our forwards and midfield will need to control the ball while being mindful of the counterattack, and break forward without being, for lack of a better word, broken.

Football's a strange game, but the object is always very simple: score more than your opponent. If Arsenal can make good on that, I'll be a happy man come Sunday afternoon.

And if Aaron Ramsey were to get himself a hat-trick, I'll be ecstatic.