Stoke City 1 (Walters 76 (pen)) – 0 Arsenal
Man of the Match – Steven Nzonzi (Stoke City)
Arsenal were condemned to a 3rd defeat in 6 games, leaving them in a precarious position in the title race, with just 10 games to go, against a physical Stoke side, cheered on by their unruly hooligan bunch of fans.
Club captain Thomas Vermaelen made a return to the side and was named on the bench, alongside Mesut Ozil. Kieran Gibbs was adjudged fit to start after injuring himself in the 2-0 loss to Bayern Munich. Elsewhere there were starts for Tomas Rosicky and Lukas Podolski.
In a scrappy and dull affair, both sides were unable to string any set of passes together, with Stoke looking to stifle any sort of creativity from the Gunners, and themselves inept at creating anything. The first few minutes were as dull as ditchwater. Stoke forwards Jonathan Walters and Peter Crouch were looking to impose themselves on Arsenal’s centre back pairing of Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker.
There were few chances between the two sides. Jonathan Walters saw his header go narrowly wide, before Cazorla’s effort went too high. Then, Olivier Giroud failed to get required contact from a Kieran Gibbs cross. There was a lack of conviction and creativity from Arsenal, as they failed to get past the two banks of four that Stoke had employed. Olivier Giroud was being given a tough ride by Arsenal’s most hated player, Ryan Shawcross and Danny Wilson. He saw his header being easily saved by Asmir Begovic, before Lukas Podolski’s effort was poor.
Austria international Marko Arnautovic, former teammate of Per Mertesacker at Werder Bremen, looked to create something with his well timed runs, through Arsenal’s midfield, and set up Glenn Whelan, whose drive from the edge of the box went just wide. Santi Cazorla, then found himself in a good position to play a pass to Lukas Podolski, free on the left, but decided to shoot himself, a shot easily collected by Begovic.
Giroud, bearing the brunt of Stoke’s aggressive hardmen, especially Whelan and Wilson was cleaned out by the rash Dutch international left-back Erik Pieters, who earned a yellow card for his challenge near the half way line, just before the half time whistle.
Stoke appeared more urgent in the second half, creating some decent opportunities in the opening few minutes. Szczesny had to scramble away a shot or cross with Walters and Crouch looking to crowd out the Arsenal goalkeeper. Peter Crouch, known for the bizzare as well as the spectacular, attempted an overhead kick, that went just narrowly wide. Tomas Rosicky then conceded an unnecessary foul on Pieters. Charlie Adam whipped in the resulting free-kick that Peter Crouch should have done better with rather than just toe poking it. Arsenal escaped yet again.
Arsenal looked to counter on the breaks, with Stoke looking comfortable on the ball. Steven Nzonzi was the driving force taking the home side out of some soupy situations and distributing the ball intelligently, something which Mikel Arteta and Jack Wilshere were able to do only sporadically. Stoke were the ones still creating more attempts on goal, with Szczesny the busier of the two keepers. Crouch’s glancing header forcing the Pole to a stop, before Cameron could only head wide off the resulting corner.
With 65 minutes gone, both managers sensed that only 1 goal could decide the game. Mesut Ozil came on for the subdued Podolski, while former Manchester City and Aston Villa midfielder Stephen Ireland was sent on for the Charlie Adam, the ugly cheating bastard, who got away with numerous stamps. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain too came on for Tomas Rosicky.
However, moments later, Stoke were awarded a penalty. Harsh decision on Arsenal and Koscielny. The French defender and Jonathan Walters challenged for the same ball inside Arsenal’s penalty area, and the ball struck the defender’s arm from about a yard away, with almost no time to react. It was an unfair and hard decision, which would have been given probably once in 100 times.
Walters stepped up, sent Szczesny the wrong way to set up Ogre celebrations at Mordor. Yaya Sanogo came on for Jack Wilshere, before Giroud set up Ozil, whose effort scraped the far side of the post. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain infused some life into the attack, beating Pieters few times. On one occasion, he set up Giroud, whose attempt was pathetic in the least.
The board showed 5 minutes of extra time, and Arsenal’s best chance of the match came in these 5 minutes. Chamberlain again rounded off the Stoke defence, to set up Sanogo, who had time and distance to put the ball into the roof of the net, but his effort was woefully over. It ended 1-0 at the Potteries.
A disappointing afternoon for a disjointed Arsenal side, who can have no complaints over the result. There was a week to rest and recuperate, and with 11 games to go, it makes every match all the more important and gives lesser scope for dropping points. It was an uninspiring performance all around.
The result leaves Arsenal now in 3rd, joint on points with Liverpool, who have a goal difference of 38, compared to Arsenal’s 24. The Gunners however could soon be condemned to 4th, with Manchester City, newly crowned winners of the League Cup, having 2 games in hand. Should City win them, they will go on top, joint on points with Chelsea, but with a better goal difference.
There’s little time to reflect on the defeat now, with games coming thick and fast. The FA Cup provides a great platform to break our trophy drought, with Everton visiting the Emirates on Saturday. That is before the daunting trip to Munich, as Arsenal look to overturn a 2-0 deficit. Oh, that’s before we face Tottenham, Chelsea and Manchester City in the league.
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