Welcome to Talking Heads.
Before and after every first-team fixture, our co-commentator and an Arsenal blogger will have their say on the game.
Arsenal take on Stoke City in the Premier League on Saturday and our Talking Heads for this game are former Gunner Nigel Winterburn and Julian Harris from Gingers For Limpar.
NIGEL WINTERBURN, CO-COMMENTATOR
I thought Arsenal controlled large periods of the first half and it needed three great saves from Asmir Begovic to keep them at bay. It would have been nice to build some confidence by taking the lead before the break and I thought it got a bit scrappy in the second half.
It was tense, then Arsenal scored a controversial goal - controversial in the eyes of the linesman at least. As we saw on the replays, it was clearly a goal. Then it became more exciting because Stoke had to go for it and it got a bit heated late on when Michael Owen clashed with Mikel Arteta.
But overall it was an important victory for Arsenal. They haven't done well enough against the top three clubs this season but they aren't dropping many points against the next tier of Premier League teams.
Once you’ve had a couple of results like Arsenal have had, you can always be nervous. It’s very difficult to try and come back from a goal down, but when you go two goals down, it’s almost impossible. They’re making it much more difficult for themselves in terms of being able to sustain a strong challenge for a top-four finish. If they can cut out the individual errors and start strongly, they’re capable of beating a lot of teams.
I think Stoke have changed their style slightly, and are trying to play more football through the middle of the park. Most people look at them as being strong, quite physical and well organised defensively, though they have started to concede more goals of late.
It’s always nice to see new players like Monreal coming into the Club. When you see a player with obvious quality join, it can give you a lift and I think most Arsenal supporters will agree that the left back position was one that Arsenal needed to address.
Back to Saturday’s game, I think Arsenal will come out on top and win 3-1.
JULIAN HARRIS, GINGERS FOR LIMPAR
Unsurprisingly, Stoke ended the game having had more yellow cards (three) than shots on target (one). They also committed more fouls (13) than clean tackles (eight), according to Opta data. The two Danish fellas I sat alongside at the game were baffled by the visiting side’s aggressive antics, time-wasting, and reluctance to play the game. I would quote their post-match summary, but doubt it’s printable on a family-friendly website.
Yet no one should have been surprised by how the game panned out, with both sides effectively playing up to several of the stereotypes with which they are usually associated. With their backs to the wall, Stoke deployed what is often euphemistically referred to as a “win at all costs” mentality - although perhaps “draw 0-0 at all costs” would be a more apt description in this case.
Arsenal, as I had feared, failed for most of the game to break the visitors’ resistance. Arsène Wenger has recently referred to the team suffering nervousness in the opening half of games, and this may have been culpable for several of our boys’ early chances being hit straight at their goalkeeper, Asmir Begovic.
There was perhaps some poetic justice in how the goal finally came about, however. Andy Wilkinson – who already this season has six bookings and one ban for violent conduct – stuck his studs into Theo Walcott’s leg, and Lukas Podolski hammered the resulting free-kick in off Geoff Cameron. A win’s a win, no matter how ugly the circumstances. The players must take confidence from their three victories in the last four games and look to push on.
Since being promoted to the Premier League nearly five years ago, Stoke have had a hard time when visiting our corner of north London - losing all four matches, and conceding 10 goals. This is due to several factors, including Tony Pulis’ notably more cautious approach when playing away from home, meaning that Stoke tend to be less intimidating opponents than when they play at the Britannia.
Our cause for optimism can also be boosted by Stoke’s recent league form, which includes a solitary win in their last nine games. Yet Arsenal this season have at times gone some way to proving correct the old cliché that there are no easy games. Also, the scores have been level after 90 minutes on a dozen occasions for the Gunners so far during the 2012/13 campaign - and thus the pessimistic side of my head fears what will happen if we endure another slow start and find our attacks stifled.
On the positive side, we could get to welcome two Spaniards, with Nacho Monreal arriving for a possible debut, while Mikel Arteta may return from injury. Aaron Ramsey has done surprisingly well filling in at the base of the midfield but I wouldn’t be too surprised if Arteta regains that role. Expect tall players to start the game too, with Arsène Wenger often deploying Abou Diaby to counter Stoke’s main - aerial - threat.
* The views expressed in Talking Heads do not necessarily reflect those of Arsenal Football Club or Arsenal Broadband LtdCopyright 2013 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 1 Feb 2013