Week one proved shaky, but ultimately positive for the Gunners. The new star striker scored and three points were secured. The sentiment was that the offensive was ready to thrive, but the defense needed to improve. But regardless of lessons from week 1, the pressure will continue to be on this squad each and every week until they claim the title.
Arsenal entered the match having won their last six EPL matches in a row, but having only one win against Stoke City in their last six. Stoke’s style has always been counter against Arsenal’s, and that of anyone who enjoys the beautiful game.

Pre-Match & Lineup

Wenger made two changes heading into the away trip to Stoke City. Ramsey came into the midfield for Elneny and Mustafi joined the back three for Holding. Ramsey sparked the comeback against Leicester City in week one earning his chance to start, while Mustafi was a welcome return, but many thought it would be in place for Monreal rather than Holding.

It is a bit premature to evaluate this defense while Nacho Monreal is playing in the middle of the back three. He is out of position and the backline will struggle against strong attacks with height (i.e. Manchester United). Finally, the Ox got his chance to move over to the right wingback position, switching Bellerin to the left.

1st Half Analysis

Arsenal rocked the new black and pink 3rd kit for the first time and easily took home the jersey victory (how many points do we get for that?). As expected the match featured a lot of senseless booing by Stoke fans right from the start, presumably not enjoying seeing a team try to play attractive football. Add in the clueless booing of Ramsey, for you know, suffering that horrible injury by Shawcross years ago, and we have another classic Stoke City environment.

Overall, Arsenal had a solid first 15 minutes, especially for the defense coming off giving up those three goals to Leicester City. Jese had one early chance, but otherwise, the Gunners seemed to be settling into the match. As the first half went on Arsenal became more dangerous and forced a few quality saves from Stoke City keeper Jack Butland. Who, Arsenal should really consider as a signing next summer for the eventual departure of Cech. Bellerin had a call for the PK that was waved away and eventually the match settled into the predictable 10 men behind the ball for Stoke.

Ryan Shawcross had an easy chance to put Stoke ahead when Mustafi fell asleep on a set piece. The lack of another tall defender in the mix against this opponent was glaring throughout. But ultimately the defense held and Wenger’s frustration was shifted towards the attack not creating enough quality chances.

2nd Half Analysis

Arsenal started the second half asleep, and Jese put the Potters up a goal with Monreal out of position. One minor error, without the normal starting backup available, that ultimately cost Arsenal the match. The Gunners had the front foot from then on out, but who was the leader on the pitch rallying the team? A present issue for a number of seasons has been the lack on an individual who seems to be organizing and motivating the team to push on.

Giroud came on mid-way through the second half and almost setup up the tying goal with his first involvement. His height and ability to hold the ball were needed from the start against a pessimistic team like Stoke City. When playing bunker and counter attacking teams, Wenger should look to switch back to the 4-4-2 to get Giroud and Lacazette both up top at the start.

In fact, Lacazette went on the score in the 72nd minute but was incorrectly flagged for offsides by the line judge. The two were even, and on a call as tight as that one the advantage should go to the attacker, but instead, the home side got the favor. The usual last 10 minutes of surge and clear-away football ensued until the ref blew the final whistle. 1-0 to Stoke.

The Positives

• The defense. While they failed to get a clean sheet, did improve from week one, even with injuries and having to play Bellerin out of position.
• 77% possession. Controlled the game, even before the goal.
• Lacazette. He looks sharp and should go onto bag numerous goals this season as the team finds its groove.

The Negatives

• Even with a tough history against Stoke, it’s a poor loss. Arsenal simply didn’t enough to earn the points on the day, nor did they look to have the drive of a team wanting the title.
• After a stellar attack week one, the offense looked lost. Stoke is a frustrating team, and Sanchez is still a question mark, but the attackers need to quickly move between inter-change football and wide crosses to keep the defense on its heels.
• Given how close the race for 4th was last season, it’s easy to see each point lost as perhaps the point that moves Arsenal out of the Champions League spots again. Needless stumbles continue to hurt the team long term.

Next Time

Sitting 11th in the table and three points off the top, Arsenal needs a stronger performance on both sides of the ball to show their intentions this season. Week three offers an excellent opportunity – away at Anfield next Sunday. Liverpool will come out to play, which should result in an entertaining match. But Wenger’s setup will be key towards shutting down their attack.

Will Sanchez or Coutinho return for their clubs by next week? Either could make the difference offensively, but on the other side of the pitch, Wenger has to get Monreal out as the central CB, with Koscielny back from suspension. While unlikely, I’d like to see Arsene flip back to a 4-4-2 for this match, placing Giroud up top with Lacazette, Bellerin back in as right back and the Ox in front of him, Ozil in front of Monreal on the left. Of course, if Mr. Alexis would like to play again scrap all that.