STOKE ON TRENT, ENGLAND - AUGUST 26: Robert Huth of Stoke City challenges MIkel Arteta (R) during the Barclays Premier League match between Stoke City and Arsenal at the Britannia Stadium on August 26, 2012 in Stoke on Trent, England. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
Neither Stoke nor Arsenal is ready for the season to start and what happened when they met was just horrible.
Some interesting things happened near the pitch, I suppose. Arsenal’s fans, in an admirable show of defiance against the excruciating dullness of yesterday’s game (which narrowly surpassed the only frustrating levels of dullness of their side’s last match, at home to Sunderland), tried to amuse themselves by counting how long Asmir Begovic held onto the ball. They made it to 19 once. The locals sang, in what is likely to become a constant soundtrack to Arsenal’s season (at least until Olivier ‘The Brain’ Giroud starts banging them in, as Arsene Wenger’s record at signing centre forwards indicates he will): ‘Robin van Persie, he would have scored that’. That is quite amusing, for now. Stoke fans, meanwhile, booed Aaron Ramsey. I don’t know why they do that. They should stop.
On the pitch, however, there was nothing. There was no ‘dancing’. No bottle-kicking. No leg-breaking. Nothing bad happened. Nothing good happened either.Stoke City versus Arsenal was the most boring football match of all time. Think back to yesterday’s game; what do you remember? Sure, Arsenal’s purple shirts were quite nice. Jon Walters nearly did a goal. Robin van Persie didn't play. That. Is. It.
It was the worst game in the history of football. But then, maybe, we should have seen it coming.
I wrote before the season started that it was absurd (if EXCTING) for the transfer window to extend into the season itself. Noted Premiership managers Martin Jol and Roberto Martinez have added their voices to my call. (We remain unheard). But the point is an obvious one, "We need more" said Arsene Wenger after yesterday’s song contest. He’s right. And Stoke do too: two games into the season and these teams have two points each and one goal – thrown home by Reading ‘goalkeeper’ Adam Federici – between them.
Fans of these two teams should be worried. They’ve poured their moneys into a home and an away match each and have almost nothing to show for it. My heralding of Arsene Wenger’s Essential Rightness may have been premature, despite wrapping acquisitions up early in the summer his Arsenal side looks half-formed and ill-balanced. Yes, as Mikel Arteta has pointed out, the new players need time to gel and the old time to get used to the RVP-shaped hole in their tactical plan, but addressing these issues during the season is not, as two draws and no goals shows, ideal.
Still, at least they haven’t conceded. But that is as much to do with Stoke’s failings (and Sunderland's phenomenal lack of ambition) as it is to their own progress. Talk of Steve Bould’s positive impact on the defensive feels premature given the level of test passed thus far; Liverpool and Luis Suarez (and Nuri Sahin, most likely) will provide a sterner test next week. Stoke, meanwhile, also appear to be a lesser version of themselves.
The Potters (the Potterers more like! BOOM!), their noisy supporters notwithstanding, were entirely devoid of the physicality/brutality with which they usually frighten points out of Arsenal. Without Alex Song and with Vito Manone in goal Arsenal were ripe for an aerial pumping, but this never materialized. Geoff Cameron even eschewed a long throw opportunity entirely towards the end, a paradigm shift which frightened Jermaine Pennant into tickling the ball neatly out of play.
Previewed as the classic clash of opposing styles, neither team was itself yesterday. Cazorla flickered, Crouch flicked, Cameron chucked (mostly) and Arteta was neat. There were individual assertions of selfhood, but nothing coherent. Neither team (could? tried to?) impose itself on the other and the result was an ugly, disjointed and ill-formed spectacle that should have taken place behind closed doors, in the dark. Neither side was ready for this, to show its face in public. It was, in short, an abortion of a game, the likes of which we can all agree should never be repeated.
Both managers professed themselves happy with the point in what is, objectively, a difficult game for both sides. Subjectively, though, it was a horrible game and as Pulis and Wenger retreat to their own personal hells this week (Hello! Is that Arsene Wenger? Michael Owen here, I wonder if you’ve had time to flick through the brochure my… hello? Arsene?), both will likely be wondering what was the point of that match. And, hopefully, of what they can do to make sure that it never happens again. Then Stoke can buy someone tall, Arsenal someone small. We can all move on. And forget yesterday ever happened.