New World from Old Beginnings

Unless you have been hiding somewhere on a yacht, you will probably have heard about the coaching changes this summer.

Five days after winning the Champions League, Zinedine Zidane quit Real Madrid. He probably had a look at Arsene Wenger’s record at Arsenal, at how he won in his early years before presiding over a prolonged period of decline, and decided that enough was enough – he’d best get out while he remained the only Real Madrid manager to win three consecutive Champions League trophies, and all within two and a half years.

Arsene Wenger? Twenty-two years, zero.

Julen Lopetegui was sensationally sacked as Spain manager after agreeing to fill the void at Real Madrid and in his place stepped up Fernando Hierro. Meanwhile, Wenger’s place at the Emirates will be filled by former Paris Saint Germain manager Unai Emery, who despite spending a fortune on Neymar (did his salary top the GDP of Tonga?) couldn’t win the Champions League.

Lopetegui has never won anything major in his career. Neither has Emery.

And what about the younger class of managers? Steven Gerrard is off to manage Rangers, a great step up for him, while Frank Lampard takes the helm at Derby. Their former international team-mate, Wayne Rooney, is still deciding on his future, whether to head off to DC or not. I tell you what would be fun, though – Rooney off to China.

The hiring of managers who have been successful as players, and managers who have been successful elsewhere, in the hope that they can recreate the success seems to mirror the hope of winning through osmosis. In a way, it is like hoping to create a new world from old beginnings. Assemble winning players as managers, hope for winning teams.

But if you think previous success as a player rubs off, looking no further than Mourinho and Guardiola. Neither were successful players, but realise they could be winners tactically and became managers – the two most successful ones in Spanish history.

Enjoy the World Cup! Who do you think would be topping the charts of football after this is all over?

Near the summer

As we edge towards the World Cup, let us recap on what has happened in the leagues around us:

Arsene Wenger won his last match against Huddersfield. Finally a win! Mikel Arteta is one of those slated to replace him, and it could be a reality, seeing as Arteta has been learning from one of the best in Guardiola. Arteta also fits the bill in getting a young youthful manager to energise the old players, and he also holds some clout in being former Arsenal captain. Of course, it could be because none of the big names like Max Allegri wanted the Arsenal job. Rafael Benitez, in staying with Newcastle these past few years, is really one of the rare big names to stay with a mid-place team.

It has been reported that Arteta has even discussed his pay package and coaching staff and that Santi Carzola could be part of the backroom staff. Carzola, once part of Arsenal’s creative force, has not recovered from the Achilles infection and the Gunners have missed his presence and leadership in midfield.

Are the Gunners management moving towards a trend of ex-players taking over? They may be taking a leaf out of Manchester United’s book, when Ryan Giggs and other ex-players held the fort after David Moyes was sacked as United manager.

Moyes latest entry on his CV would be the “was” West Ham manager after he was dropped for the next season. He did pull the Hammers out of relegation, to his credit, but unfortunately is not seen to be the man to halt the decline since that magical season when Dmitri Payet played for them before he upped sticks to Marseille.

Marseille lost to Atletico Madrid in the Europa League. Payet lasted an hour before he had to be replaced. Was Atletico’s place as champions ever in doubt? I wrote a while ago that the road to Europa glory goes through Atletico, so while Arsenal harboured hopes of making it through, their Spanish conquerors saw them off quite easily.

Returning to Europe, Liverpool have a chance for glory against Real Madrid. While a lot of the focus is on Liverpool, I dare say Madrid have a lot to play for. Lose and they are, by virtue of their third-placed league position, in the Europa League next season? La Decima champions playing in the lower tier? That’s worse than Cristiano Ronaldo getting a zit on his face. Slightly.

The summer is approaching so what does it bring? The World Cup.

Now, if you are slightly overdosed on football as I am already a bit – there are other avenues of distraction. There is the Royal Wedding.

What?

Just kidding. Summer is the time of traditional beach parties, dancing, enjoying the sun, and music. If outdoor music is not your kind of thing, and you don’t really like the blaring music festivals, you can try something new. A piano teacher in Crouch End, London N8 suggests that you take the time to learn new skills if you have the time. And why not? Playing the piano is something that can give you some sense of joy, when – and this is tongue in cheek – your favourite team is going through a bad patch and losing against lesser teams, or teams are playing defensively and parking the bus, when the game is a dead rubber. Hell, you could even be playing on your keyboard while watching a match. Especially one of those where it is pass forward, pass back, pass side, pass, pass, and there is no decisiveness in the final third. Sounds like a team we know?

Mercifully, Arsene

It is coming to the end of an era.

Arsene Wenger’s second-last game in charge at Leicester ended in the same way as many of his games during his tenure. A defeat to a lower team, a bitter twist in a game the Gunners should have expected to do better.

One could explain away the disappointment by saying the sending only of Mavropanos twenty minutes in the game changed the face of things, but let’s not make excuses for the poor form. The Gunners played against ten-men Atletico Madrid a few weeks ago, at home, for nearly eighty minutes, and still drew. This failure to score, coupled with defensive frailty, remains.

It is slightly worrying that Arsenal have spent so much money importing a strike force of Lacazette, Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan; dismantling the old guard of Walcott and Sanchez, and didn’t do anything to replace an aging backline. Koscielny has been battling with Achilles problems for a long time, and his collapse in the Atletico game denied the Gunners of positive leadership that Callum Chambers and Rob Holding have not really filled.

The transfer market signs are fairly clear – the backline needs a solid leader. The leaders are past their best – Koscielny, Metrsacker – or not mature enough. Nacho Monreal is the only one who has been fairly consistent but his absence when he is injured is telling.

The Gunners have Bellerin and Kolasinac and a good thing to do would be to revert to a 4-men backline. At least this leaves two of the four positions in good hands, and if Monreal could double as a centreback of sorts it would help tighten up the back. All season long the Gunners have hoped to deflect from a centreback deficit but maybe they can sign Jonny Evans now that West Brom are on their way down.

Arsene Wenger walked out to a guard of honour somewbat sheepishly during a 5-0 triumph of Burnley, but that optimism from the game has evaporated and all that remains is the sense that finally, supporters of the club with one of the more-expensive club tickets will no longer have to fuel gliders or light aircraft in the sky to get their message across.

Mercifully Arsene Wenger’s reign is drawing to an end.

For the second successive season, the club have not got into Europe.

And they are still stuck with Mesut Ozil, who really needs to be shifted for his attitude.

French Connection

Ah, Arsene Wenger. Heading into the first leg of the Europa League, having announced his retirement, the Frenchman was living in the praise of the pundits, lauded for revolutionising the English game when he first took over Arsenal having managed in Japan. “Arsene Who?” was Gary Lineker’s reaction at the time. But the pundits, in the run up to the game, as well as the media personnel, just couldn’t get enough of Arsene Wenger. Perhaps it was because it was a quiet day for sports news. So it was Arsene here, Arsene there, Arsene out of every nook and cranny and inch of the woodwork.

I speculated in the last post that the timing of the resignation was perhaps linked to the Europa League and the end of the season, that perhaps it was almost designed to give them an emotional boost heading into the final part of the campaign. So while the journalists were still reproducing the “In Praise of Arsene” articles they had long written, and trying to get the full benefit of them, it was no surprise to me to see a few days later the “Win It for Arsene” cries from individuals such as Per Mertersacker.

The game began rather auspiciously for the home team. Cheered on by a large crowd in Highbury, there were no sign of divisions, as fans of both banners cheered their team on. And when I refer to both sets of fans, I don’t mean the Arsenal and Atletico fans, I mean the Wenger Out and the In Arsene We Trust fans. The manager had at least achieved his aim of eliminating some of the mental distractions for his players. They did not have to play an important game while their own fans fought among themselves.

Further luck was in store when French referee Clement Turpin sent off an Atletico defender with two yellow cards in the space of twelve minutes. Really? In a game of this magnitude? Now, experience tells you that referees try to set the tone of the game at the start, so you try to lay off a hard challenge at the start, no matter how you want to set the tone of the game. Give it ten minutes, let the referee and the emotions of the game settle, then make such challenges. Vrsaljko had obviously not had much experience and naively laid two hard challenges within a short span, believing he was helping his team set a tough tone. Unfortunately he did. He made it tough for his team, alright. Ninety minutes with ten men, away from home.

The visiting team held their ground defensively but withered and it was left to Arsenal’s record signing for a few months, Alexandre Lacazette, another Frenchman, to play his hand and assume his role in the plot. Latching on to a cross from the right, he powered home past Jan Oblak. Both sets of Arsenal fans cheered. Finally the Gunners could score a goal against a team with ten men in their own home ground!

The Europa Cup final in Lyon, Lacazette’s home town. French manager Arsene Wenger’s last campaign. Clement Turpin, French referee, helping to engineer a cup final with Marseille, another French team, in the French suburb of Lyon.

The introduction of former Liverpool and Chelsea striker Fernando Torres threatened to throw a spanner in the works. Was it because it was Torres’ last season at Atletico, as well, and he would be fired up to give his best? Was it because during his time in the Premier League, he had known how to work his magic at Highbury?

No, silly. It’s because in a game riddled with French connections, Torres is Spanish.

It was left to French centre back Laurent Koscielny, for so many years under the wing of veteran Metersacker and now leader of the defence, to put his hat in the game. Letting an innocuous pass get by him, it was picked up by Antoine Griezmann who with one of Atletico’s few chances managed to get the advantage for the second leg. Griezmann, in case you have not noticed, is also French.

So. One Frenchman’s bid to make it to a final in France in his last managerial season, aided by a French referee and French striker, foiled by a French defender and opposing French striker.

Laurent Koscielny revealed that during a team meeting he had broken down when his children asked why the Arsenal team were so bad.

Wonder what he has to say now?

FArewell

So what’s been going on this week?

Unless you have been hiding in a cave somewhere without electricity, you would have already known that this evening Manchester United beat Tottenham 2-1. The Spurs have now drawn one and lost one game since that game¬†where Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane claimed the same goal, Kane one that had a dubious brush off his shoulder obscured by a goal post. The Spurs’ poor run of form since that game can really be attibuted to slightly strange statistics; a breakdown of team spirit caused by Harry Kane doing his team mate in, in a quest to become the top scorer of the Premier League (give it up Harry, because Mo Salah will ensure it never happens), as well as – slightly odd – a team wanting Harry to do it, and hence threading every ball to him in the hope that he can bolster his tally. The problem with statistics, as every player who has been on one can tell you, is that you become so focussed on the numbers it alters and eventually ruins your game. You try too hard and end up losing the natural form of your game that gave you the attention and recognition in the first place.

In the National Basketball Association (NBA), one player was so desperate to continue his streak of getting double-figure rebounds (that is, ten or more), that he deliberately shot at his own team’s basket and missed in order to get the tally!

But the story of the week is not Tottenham Hotspur, nor is it Manchester United, who on balance, will be meeting Mourinho Old. That’s right, I predict a Manchester vs Chelsea FA Cup Final. Mourinho vs Conte. Lukaku vs his old team – one of them anyway. But that’s not the story of the weekend.

The main story is that Arsene Wenger is retiring. And what a way to announce it. On the eve of the FA Cup semi-final, which in itself for so many years had been the saving grace of the losing Arsene regime, the Gunners revealed that he would be leaving at the end of the season.

But while most waxed lyrical about how Wenger revolutionised things in England with his approach, one should not get too caught up in the plaudits. Instead, Wenger leaving Arsenal is like the deathly end to a terminal disease. You are sad, but you are also relieved because the pain and suffering can finally be over.

And let’s be cynical. Why did the Gunners choose such a time to announce this decision? Let’s play devil’s advocate here.

Wenger and Mourinho have never got on well. The latter calls him a specialist in failure, and Wenger famously shoved the Portuguese on the touchline in a game against Chelsea. Announcing it on the eve of a semi-final, where Mourinho would likely advance (and he did), would be like stealing Mourinho’s thunder. The fact that it was Spurs playing as well would be a way of undercutting their neighbours, the Gunners overshadowing the build up to Saturday.

This coming Thursday and next Thursday Arsenal play Atletico Madrid over two legs. The first is at the Emirates this Thursday. Deciding the manager’s future and publicly declaring it means that players go into Thursday’s game wanting to do their best for the manager, wanting to win one big competition for him, and the fans can be united behind the team, because whether you like him or not, there will be no more Wenger Out banners, no light aircraft, do battle lines among the fans.

They will need that against Atletico Madrid; I’ve said before, the road to Europa League glory goes through Atletico Madrid.

Wenger’s announcement is a way of leaving on his own terms. He will not let the result against Atletico be seen as influential in him leaving, had he decided to announce it later. He’s set it out, now he hopes the team can rise to the occasion by beating Atletico, however hard it may be.

Either way, it’s the end of an era. Question is, if Arsenal lose over two legs to Atletico, would it make any difference to you if Wenger had stayed or whether he had left?

Team Breakdown

I know what you’re thinking.

You’re thinking that in a week with Champions League football, exciting comebacks galore, that much of what I’ll be writing about is either something out of one of the following teams:

Manchester City’s and their successive failings, losing three in a row

Liverpool and their Champions League success – now up to face Mo Salah’s old team, Roma

The decline of Barcelona and Messi

How Real Madrid nearly got tossed out by Juventus

How Juventus and Gigi Buffon’s career in the Champions League came to a sad run.

Actually, I’m talking about none of the above.

Aha! Wait a second. You think I’m going to write about Arsenal and how they nearly lost it in Moscow, how Arsene Wenger’s life flashed before his own very eyes.

Nope.

Instead I’m going to write about Tottenham.

Tottenham? You say. They haven’t done anything note worthy. They haven’t really been in the news for anything special.

Well, in fact, before tonight’s game against Man City, which saw the Spurs lose 3-1 at White Hart Lane, you could have predicted that the Spurs would lose. Really? One might have been forgiven in thinking the boys in white could have snatched one from the boys in blue, coming off a bad week for Manchester City, with successive losses at Liverpool, Manchester United (the enemy from town!) and then Liverpool again … maybe City were suffering from fatigue? What better to strike them while they were on a losing roll? Spurs might have fancied their chances.

Actually, it didn’t really matter who Spurs played. They could have played West Brom and lost. They could have played Southampton and lost. Heck, they could have played any team in the Premier League and not got a favourable result.

And you know why?

Because the Spurs are imploding.

Imploding? How so?

You can date it back to the game where Christian Eriksen, Spurs’ talisman over the recent two months, swung a ball in from the left corner of the field, which then slightly out of form striker Harry Kane claimed to have grazed his shoulder on the way in. The replays really were inconclusive, because if you watch the replays, the goal post is in the way right at the crucial moment that Kane claimed it brushed his shoulder. The Spurs striker swore on his daughter’s life that it had touched his shoulder and should have been awarded to him. During the game, the goal was credited to Eriksen but after a goals panel (all English) reviewed it, Kane got the nod.

What does it do for team spirit?

Really, Harry Kane should have let that one go. Sure, he is chasing Salah to be top scorer, and he wants to be the league’s top scorer three years in a row. But he should understand that Salah is in exceptional form, and is likely to run away with the award. Would you bet against Mo Salah to win the Player of the Year? Not even Kevin de Bruyne is in with a chance now. It’s all Salah, Salah, Salah.

Kane’s whingeing about how the goal was his instead of Eriksen’s really is unsporting. What do you think it did to his team and team mates?

To also swear on your daughter’s life that a ball grazed your shoulder in mid flight and ended up in a net is really a case of a selfish player putting only himself in his own frame.

If you wish to score, seek to make your teammates better first. Then when the opposition clamps down on them , you will have your chance. Look at Salah against Bournemouth.

But for Tottenham, unfortunately, every one knows the road will pass through Harry Kane. And his team mates feel obliged to help him. Stop Kane, and you stop Tottenham winning. They are too focussed in this selfish dream to think about winning now.

Which is why they are imploding.

 

Red and Blue

Did he or didn’t he?

Paul Pogba’s agent claims that in the January transfer window he offered his client’s services to Manchester City. Really?

Remember this is Mano Raniola, who reportedly does not get along with City manager Pep Guardiola. Their disagreement stems from the criticism of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, whom Raniola also represents. When Ibrahimovic was at Barcelona, he accused Guardiola of buying a Porsche but driving it like a Fiat. Further digs have included comments such as “Mourinho brightens up the room, but Guardiola draws the blinds”.

So why is it that Raniola, who does not like Guardiola, would offer Pogba to the sky Blues?

Firstly, you have to remember that whatever agents do, they work for money and a cut of their star’s contracts. So it doesn’t really matter what he thinks of Guardiola. Raniola isn’t going to play wingback at City. If Pogba went there, he would get a share of the transfer fee.

Secondly, realistically you have to remember that agents do whatever they can to place their player in the limelight. So ahead of a derby between two Manchester clubs, it would have been a good time for Raniola to draw attention to his client, and mention that he was good enough to play for both. Not only does it draw attention to his client while the world is watching, it also is a message to the United hierarchy better not to take his client Pogba for granted.

Pogba had not been on good terms before the derby with Jose Mourinho. Until Alexis Sanchez turned up, Pogba was an influential player. But with the focus turning to the piano playing Alexis Sanchez – is it really him or does he have a body double? – it is dangerous to any football agent to have your client’s worth diminished. Think Cristiano Ronaldo when Gareth Bale arrived at Real Madrid. The world could have been enamoured with Bale, but Ronaldo found a way of maintaining his omniscience, making sure that his name still remained in the headlights. Pogba had been criticised by Mourinho and the press reported that they had fallen out. Raniola’s claim that his client could have gone over to the Blues is a way of hitting back at Mourinho.

Pep Guardiola is certainly a fan of Pogba. He will be more of a fan now that the Frenchman led a rejuvenation against his Manchester City team, taking them from 2-0 down to 3-2. What did Guardiola say to Pogba at the end of the game? “Well done, you played well, you have good skill, you and de Bruyne would really take us into the dazzling heights of Europe”. Did you see how the City boss fawned over him and tried to plant a seed of doubt into the Frenchman’s minds? Mourinho gives scathing criticism, Pep gives encouragement. It was so obvious it gave me the creeps!

And did Pogba really entertain a move across town. Don’t count on it. The way he taunted the City fans, telling them to be quiet and not to talk so much essentially means he is not interested. He probably wasn’t in the first place – it might have just been Raniola agitating for a bigger contract. But that blue hair dye would have annoyed the Man United faithful though!

David and Goliath

Do you remember the story of David and Goliath? Little David, with his little slingshot and stone, seemingly pit against the mighty Goliath, who could ______ (fill in the blanks with superlatives here) and ______ and crush ten men with a sneeze. Yes, that story. The mighty Goliath, up to the point where he had to be confronted by David, was seemingly unbeatable, invincible. And then little David toppled him with the humblest of weapons, that story was big news and made him a worldwide sensation.

I repeat this story because it was perhaps not so much David’s prowess more than the unfailability of Goliath that kept people talking. Had David taken out any other opponent with the same amount of pizazz he would have probably received less publicity. It was not so much David, but more Goliath. Even if it had been bad news for the latter, it was what sustained conversations for weeks to come.

So when you read about how Liverpool destroyed Manchester City in the Champions League match at Anfield last night, this fact is underpinned by the supposed Premier League giant being toppled by a lesser neighbour that fuels the news. The Mancunian Blues got toppled by an opponent sixteen points below them in a league which they are expected to win. Can you name what Liverpool did right? True, they had a great attacking first half, and then sat back in the second. And if you read the morning papers, while some of them go on about little David’s conquest of Goliath, some write about how Goliath was dismantled. It is still all about Goliath.

City did miss the experience and guile of talisman Sergio Aguero. In him they have a proven champion and winner who is not fazed by big events. Remember who won City their first Premier League title with what was essentially the last kick of the game? The Cup was almost being flown across town to rivals Manchester United before being called back at the last minute. At least that year the engraver could have made a head start with engraving Manchester on it.

City miss Aguero for various reasons. When they were behind, they would have tried to contain. It has been said of Aguero that had he been playing, he would have known not to make those runs in deep behind the centre back, but would have dropped back to help his midfield. Gabriel Jesus and Leroy Sana lack the experience to monitor the game like that.

It was also unfortunate that the City bus came under attack on its journey to Liverpool. Now, say what you like about it, but you cannot disagree that the City players were shaken on their journey in, and would have been shaken on the pitch too. But Pep Guardiola has a point. The attack had been mooted on social media days before and the police did nothing about it. Or at least, they did not take it seriously enough. What would have happened if the City players merely had a typical journey into the grounds? They would undoubtedly have played a better game and would have been more focussed.

The unfortunate thing is, after all that has been written about how the Liverpool fans suffered at Hillsborough, incidents like these, and the ones at Heysel Stadium during the UEFA league clash with Juventus, paint a darker picture.

You can almost be certain that on the return leg, the Manchester City fans will not let it go and there will be crowd trouble.

Going around, coming around

Brighton missed the chance to advance further up the table this weekend, losing 2-0 to Leciester City. Question though, does it matter much? Further down the table, both West Brom and Southampton lost today, so as things stand, we’re all no better or worse off, but there is one game less to play.

The Seagulls hosted Leicester at home, facing Leonardo Ulloa’s old team, the team which he felt had not treated him right – remember his tweet saying he would not play for the team again, in the time of Ranieri? Ulloa transferred back to his even more previous team, the team he had played for during the Championship, but Brighton were unable to make it past Claude Puel’s team. No matter. Claude Puel’s old team, Southampton, were soundly beaten.

Wonder why Southampton let Puel go? He apparently was doing well enough. But since his departure Leicester have rode their way out of the relgation zone, while Southampton has slid into it. Bet Puel is laughing now.

Southampton lost 3-0 to West Ham at the Wembley Stadium. Fans will remember the chaotic scenes weeks ago when the Hammers played Burnley – who incidentally showed class by allowing West Ham kids to watch the game from their subs bench. The Hammers did well on the back of a stellar performance by Marco Arnautovic, facing his old manager Mark Hughes. In the previous meeting, when Hughes was still at Stoke and Arnautovic at West Ham, the Stoke home fans gave their ex-player a torrid time, and as he was substituted even Mark Hughes had a go at him, telling him to go off. Arnautovic obviously remembered this, gesturing at Mark Hughes after he had scored the Hammers’ second goal. Perhaps Hughes presence with his new club was the motivation for the ex-Stoke player’s magnificient performance. The Hammers seemed galvanised and the events of a few weeks ago were forgotten.

Mark Hughes current team are a place ahead of his old team. Now, Opta does not probably keep track of this, but is he the first manager to manage two of the bottom three that – on the current state of things – end up relegated?

Everton lost to Manchester City at home, with two old Man United boys, Wayne Rooney and Morgan Schneiderlin playing in the middle of the Everton field. Rooney had a stellar career with Man United but against City he was way past his best and one fan remarked that he should retire to America for a golden payday on that form, where he would end up playing with Bastian Schweinsteiger and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Did you know that Los Angeles was The Zlatan’s preferred destination instead of Manchester United? After his signing was complete, Zlatan claimed that America had been his preferred place but he signed for United instead. What a stab in the back for the Reds fans who had sung his name from the terraces and supported him during his rehab! But that is what arrogant players do.

Romelu Lukaku, formerly of Everton, helped Manchester United close the gap on the league leaders, but let’s face it, you should count on City picking up the title now. They are one point away from the Premier League points record of Chelsea, Lukaku’s previous team, and could better that.

Isn’t it strange how ex-teams and ex-players merry go around in this little world of football?

Lack of English representation

Should we take it to be a conspirital snub? For the World Cup in Russia in 2018, there will be no British referees for the first time in 80 years.

Those of you open to conspiracy theories may link this to the recent British government’s decision to expel Russian diplomats after a critic of Vladimir Putin was found assassinated in a quiet British countryside town. It is as if the Russian establishment is trying to say “Mess with us and forget any chance of a quiet life”. After a British expulsion of Russian civil servants, the Russian followed with a tit for tat response that triggered a world wide anti-Russian foreign service backlash.

So – the World Cup next year will be held in Russia. Do you think that any pressure was put on FIFA, a governing body plagued by corruption, to not have British referees?

One person perhaps not fussed by the decision is Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. The Frenchman has always been critical of English referees, saying they don’t work hard enough, and as we have seen from past examples, always criticising them when the odds are against him.

There will also be no British referees running the unpopular VAR system.

Arsenal face Stoke this weekend and are hotly expected to win, but don’t put it pass Stoke to pull off an upset. Arsenal traditionally don’t have a good record against hungry teams – you can debate if you like if this reflects on the lack of mental strength, or complacency – and often when you expect Arsenal at home to win against lower opposition, they disappoint, and the Wenger Out brigade returns. Remember Ostersands? Arsenal had a 3-0 first leg lead and then lost 2-1 at home to the minnows. Stoke is arguably tougher than Ostersands, and are an incredibly physical team who will try to resort to put Arsenal off their beautiful passing game with a bit of Northern welcome.

It appears more make or break for Arsene Wenger than Paul Lambert. Lose this one to Stoke, and he can really forget about a top four finish, and the fans won’t let him off for a poor result.