Stoke preview: A time to heal mental scars

by JAMES CURTIS – Stoke will test Arsenal’s nerve as much as any game this season. On their day, the midlands club can plaster over the most threatening of attacks, conceding 15 goals in 14 games this season, a record better than Arsenal, Spurs, Liverpool and Manchester City. Stoke have lost just once in their last seven game and the Gunners haven’t registered a goal in their last three domestic games.

A win is vital for Arsenal, if the team is to rid of their Chelsea hangover. Currently the Gunners lie 11 points behind the league leaders. Falling any further behind Ancelotti’s blues anytime soon might force Arsenal to concede their position in the Premier League race, not because it is mathematically impossible, but because it will say everything about Arsenal’s strengths this season not being up to standards.

AFC: 123 years proudly treating the worlds most mentally damaged footballers

Recently, one insider rightly pointed out Arsenal’s mental disadvantage as the source of their woes. Over the past couple of weeks, the team’s technical and tactical frailties have been unearthed by Sunderland, Chelsea and Manchester City, yet this is a short-term problem that Wenger will solve, whereas the psychological predicament is a continual disease which needs tackling immediately, once and for all.
 
Sometimes, the Emirates looks more like a psychiatrist’s institute than a professional football club. There are two ways this can be stamped out. Either Wenger cracks the whip on players who have a tendency to mope around, or he injects some much needed toughness in the shape of new players, ending this emotional carnival.

How can Wenger’s sense of belief turn into shiny silver trophies when his own players have such fragile psyches? At times Wenger’s raft of faith finds itself swimming against the tide because of the limited drive from his very own squad. One of them has to change direction, and fast.

Jose Antonio Reyes didn’t like the British weather, Sol Campbell went AWOL when Bobby Zamora gave him the slip on the stroke of half-time that year, Alexander Hleb didn’t like the bright city lights and William Gallas was considered for sectioning after his tirade against Birmingham on the day Eduardo broke his leg.

The doctor will see you now Mr Arshavin 

The latest patient in need of therapy is Andrey Arshavin; apparently not happy with the tax he is paying in England and the lack of expensive signings at Arsenal. And after Russia failed to make the 2010 World Cup, he said:

“Nothing revives me so far. When Arsene Wenger asked me what state I was in, I honestly told him that at the moment I just do not want to play football at all.

“He talked to me for a long time. He said, too, that I need to switch my attention. But I cannot do it yet.”

No wonder he was a passenger last weekend and there is worry for his future if not even Chelsea at home revives the little wizard. Hopefully his World Cup misery with Russia is done as his rehabilitation ended yesterday when the summer draw was made.

Winning isn’t down to Arshavin alone. What Arsenal need is one season of fully focused footballers, professionals, resolute and unwavering men of men. May they need reminding of the Arsenal saying: ‘Victoria Concordia Crescit’, meaning of course: ‘victory comes from harmony‘, not from a circus of raving loonies.

Dance into the fire

Stoke today is the perfect opportunity to start showing why £13 million was forked out on bringing Arshavin to the club and why Wenger has stuck by his young squad. Wenger spoke yesterday about rebuilding confidence, bouncing back and a positive reaction when Tony Pulis’ team visit.

It would better if Arsenal never had to keep proving there resolution by simply winning in the first place. Nevertheless, this is the position the team are in and focus must be on the game at hand.

In the absence of Abou Diaby, Robin van Persie, Nicklas Bendtner, Theo Walcott (hamstring) plus the suspended Alex Song, it is important Arshavin sees plenty of the ball.

Stoke defender Ryan Shawcross, who has been registering points for fantasy football teams across the country with solid displays this season, looks doubtful to play. The idea is to get Arshavin one-on-one with his replacement.

A win today would complement Cesc Fabregas’ 250th appearance for Arsenal, Wenger’s 500th game in charge and the 100th fixture at the Emirates.

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