Plenty to be positive about despite defeat

Posted by James Whittaker

Mark Hughes shout Arsenal StokePA PhotosMark Hughes barks orders from the touchline at The Emirates.

It was a case of role reversal at the Emirates as Stoke were undone by three set piece goals to lose 3-1, a result which sent opponents Arsenal to the top of the league.

Arsenal are the in form team this season yet in another example of just how parallel the universe was in this particular game, Stoke controlled large portions of play; clocking up over 60% possession in the second half of a match they lost all too easily. The defence certainly had an off day with poor marking and poor reactions for all three goals conceded. Asmir Begovic didn't exactly cover himself in glory but he has plenty of credit in the bank and perhaps struggled being re-acquainted with the ball following 180 minutes of sunbathing in his previous couple of matches against West Ham and Manchester City.

- Delaney: Arsenal out-muscle Stoke
- Cross: Arsenal on crest of a wave

It was certainly sloppy at times from the Potters, but even so they will be happy with their efforts as they get used to the new ways of working under Mark Hughes, who himself will have taken plenty from the game. The talking points were as follows:

Geoff Cameron - Another solid and influential performance from Stoke's makeshift right-back, who was second only to Steven N'Zonzi with the number of touches of the ball he had. He is getting better and better at knowing when to move forward and stay back and his passing is sharper (90% accuracy) with each game having displayed a tendency to be loose with his choices up field in the past. The goal itself was incredibly well taken, the finish personifying the player, not rushed and calmly assured. He was Man of the Match.

Charlie Adam - Had another poor game and not for the first time this season is becoming a liability in the middle. He is just too slow, both of foot and thought and when he attempts to tackle it makes me wince. In fact, it was his poor challenge that led to the freekick from which Arsenal opened the scoring and it wasn't too long after he gave the ball away (again) that Hughes took him off, before he did any more damage. Adam had the worst passing accuracy of any starting outfield player on the pitch (70%) and was shown up by his replacement Stephen Ireland, who you feel has been earmarked to replace the Scot once he is fully fit.

It's clear that Ireland is still not match sharp, as you would expect, but he brought much needed urgency and pace of thought to the middle making three times as many key passes than Adam, in less than half the time on the pitch.

Marko Arnautovic - I was delighted to hear Marko was to start and he didn't disappoint despite drifting out of the game towards the end. I had watched him play during the international break and wrote about being encouraged by his work rate. He continued in much the same vein for Stoke, making more tackles than any of his team-mates on the day. His influence moving forward was equally as useful with the most shots of any of his front line colleagues, as well as the most dribbles. He certainly looked a good option for the system Hughes is playing and didn't look like he was struggling at any point with what was being asked of him. I'd be surprised if he doesn't line up again next week.

Strength in depth - Stoke will be happy with the options they have on the bench as each substitution saw players of real quality enter the fray to positively influence proceedings. I was encouraged by a seemingly re-energised Wilson Palacios come in and look livelier than fans have perhaps seen from him in the past. He was more than happy to collect the ball from the defence and carry it forward when the opportunity presented itself and you get the feeling that Hughes sees him as an important player for him this season. Quite where that leaves Glen Whelan is yet to be seen, but the signs aren't looking particularly encouraging for the Irishman as he slips further and further down the pecking order in the eyes of the new regime.

Overall, the performance was encouraging rather than disappointing, if not the result. That level of assured dominance seen in the second half will produce better chances and outcomes against almost anyone else in the league, especially the level of opposition the side will be facing in the coming weeks.


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