Some thoughts on the game (some of which I have wantonly culled from comments I posted earlier this morning):
1. Arsenal looked laboured at times, but they held their concentration facing a Stoke side that did virtually nothing with the ball but which held its shape without the ball extremely well. We were too often forced to cross the ball, which only plays into Stoke’s hands, even with Giroud up front and despite the fact that Walcott put in a few very good crosses. It was certainly not a pretty spectacle, but that had everything to do with our opponents. I’m just pleased our players and fans didn’t panic, and stayed focused and patient. The substitutions were made at the perfect time, and being able to introduce a fresh Cazorla and Podolski with 25 minutes to go worked very well. It was good to see some genuine squad rotation, with Cazorla and Podolski starting from the bench.
2. How the linesman even thought there was a possibility of an offside (whether for Theo or the deflection, if it had come off one of our players) is beyond me, it was clearly not offside. Well done to Chris Foy for putting him right. As for the complaints to the officials, both sides were doing it, so Pulis’s whinge about us being out of order is just one more example of his hypocrisy.
3. Begovic would be an excellent signing as a second choice keeper if we did try and rescue him from his purgatory in the summer. And with Butland joining Stoke then, one of Sorenson and Begovic will surely move.
4. Did anyone notice that Shotton (the new Delap) has a special piece of material fitted in his shirt to substitute for the towel he gets to use at throw-ins at the Britannia?
5. You remember that “Same old Arsenal, always cheating” we routinely get treated to by the enlightened souls of clubs like Stoke? It’s funny, when Matthew Etherington (a player I happen to quite like) dived to the floor right in front of the Stoke fans, to earn Stoke one of their very few attacking opportunities, the Stoke fans didn’t complain. And I don’t seem to hear much from Pulis when his rugged, muscular, it’s-a-man’s-game players dive to the ground in the mode of Filippo Inzaghi. Funny, that………
6. The Stoke time-wasting was ridiculous, starting in the 15th minute. Chris Foy’s laid back approach to refereeing is good in many ways, but there are times when you have to get a grip on cynical behaviour like that. A couple of early yellow cards, for example when right in front of the ref, Huth threw the ball away after fouling Wilshere, and the time-wasting would have ended there. And of course, once Stoke were a goal down, they suddenly started doing everything much more quickly. It was funny to see Ryan Shawcross complain in the 91st minute about the speed we were taking a free-kick. Well Sweet Little Ryan, if you hadn’t wasted so much time in the remainder of the game, you might have been able to get more attacks in when you were chasing the game.
7. As the pundit on Arsenal TV said (was it Stephen Hughes?), Stoke deserved nothing from the game and they got nothing. Playing ten men behind the ball the whole game is pathetic from any team, a real admission of weakness, but from a side that has spent tens of millions of pounds and has qualified for European football, it is even more ridiculous. Of course, it’s up to the opponent to deal with it and break it down, which Arsenal did – 1-0 was a pretty measly scoreline given that we carved open numerous good chances yesterday: as well as the goal, Ox, Kos, Giroud and Cazorla all had excellent chances to score. 3-0 would have been about right.
8. Any right thinking person of course hates Stoke and detests Pulis. So it was enjoyable to read that he’s been whining about unfair treatment, and tried to play the “we’re so poor, we can’t expect to win these games” card. It’s been a source of a lot of frustration for me that the journos lap this stuff up, saying in effect that it’s fine for Stoke to play the style they do, even when it verges on the violent, because they’re a poor, itsy bitsy club. The trouble with that theory is that Pulis has spent vast amounts of money. Stoke are about 6th in the list of spenders over the past five or six seasons, yet are allowed to say they are David to our Goliath. It was therefore good to see on newsnow that someone had done some sums and concluded that Pulis has spent £120m more than Wenger. Not a level playfield? On your bike, you prat, you’ve had an incredibly soft ride and, given the resources available compared with the likes of Swansea, Everton and West Brom, Stoke should be doing much better than they are.
9. In recent weeks, the prices sometimes charged for away fans at Arsenal have become a subject of controversy. Here’s a thought: perhaps the prices should be linked to a creativity index, so that the more creative or engaging the opponent, the cheaper the tickets for their fans. So Stoke would still be able to play their desperate version of the game, but their fans would be financially punished for it, while Swansea’s fans would be able to attend for about £3.50. I’m going to start writing to Ivan Gazidis now.
Some rough and ready ratings:
Szczesny: 7 – For staying awake.
Sagna: 6 – Did nothing wrong but didn’t show a lot when going forward either.
Mertesacker: 6 – Did fine.
Koscielny: 7 – Battled well, including pressing in midfield areas, and had a good effort on goal.
Monreal: 7 – It’s impossible to judge from one game but first impressions are good, especially given that he was playing against a side about as far from Spanish football as one can imagine. He was energetic, good with his passing, judicious about his overlapping runs and always seemed to track back. Of course, yesterday was hardly the most testing of attacking opponents, and we’ll have to see how Monreal goes in the coming weeks, but other than one terrible long-range shot he did well.
Arteta: 8 – Great to see him back, he makes such a difference. His tidy passing from deep in midfield is excellent.
Diaby: 6 – Was OK in the first half but tired early in the second.
Wilshere: 8 – Very sharp, often looked dangerous, his thinking was always ahead of his opponent. And lovely to see tomorrow’s England man tell yesterday’s England man, Michael Owen, where to go after the set-to with Arteta.
Walcott: 7 – Pretty dangerous at times, and managed to get behind the defence a few times. But then he was facing the weakest player Stoke have, Andy Wilkinson, so it would have been disappointing if he’d been completely played out of the game. Walcott clearly felt he wasn’t given enough protection by the referee – I’m not sure about that, we’ve seen worse, and it was a Wilkinson foul on Walcott that earned the free kick from which we scored.
Oxlade-Chamberlain: 6 – Had some good moments, especially when he had a shot saved well by Begovic, but overall didn’t manage to make too many inroads on Stoke.
Giroud: 6 – As ever, worked hard, but he didn’t have the same impact in terms of lay-offs etc as he has done. Also made a poor choice to chest the ball for someone else when he had a clear chance to have a header on goal from close range.
Cazorla: 8 – Lifted the pace of the game at the perfect moment and found lots of awkward pockets of space. Should have scored when through on goal.
Podolski: 7 – Typically teutonic energy from Poldi. Got the goal of course, albeit via Cameron’s boot.
Written by 26may89