I cannot remember the last time I felt so proud of an Arsenal performance. A fantastic day in which we clawed ourselves back to within three points of Chelsea after a dogged, determined display against Stoke, marred only by the tragic injury to Ramsey.
Rumour has it that we had been training all week in preparation for Stoke’s predictable aerial threat — and it showed. I am not talking about the goal we gave away after only seven minutes; I am talking about preparing ourselves for a determined fight back in the event that we went behind. And boy did they respond well, led notably by the team’s paternal leader, Sol Campbell, who may not be the armband wearer but he certainly is Arsenal’s proud standard bearer.
Stoke’s goal came predictably from a throw in conceded by Song who should have known better and given away a corner rather than a far more advantageous throw in but instinct kicked in. Delap sent the ball in with predictable menace which bounced off one of a cluster of heads and fell kindly for Puke, or what ever his name is, to head home. The commentators pointed the finger of blame at Eboue who certainly deserves his share of it but where was Sagna and who had been designated to protect that post during all the supposed mid-week preparation?
Stoke’s tails were up; they were fighting for every ball as if their lives depended on it and I for one feared the worst but there was one man who was not going to say lie down and role over: Sol Campbell was determination personified. Fabrégas may rightly get the man of the match award but it was Campbell maturity that shone through when the chips were down to rally the rest of the team when they needed it most. His infectious determination to throw himself at fifty-fifty waist high headers lifted the team to drive forward in search of the equaliser.
Arsenal poured forward using the most potent weapon we have available: our quick passing game. The interplay between Fabregas, Nasri and Ramsey was impressive; the problem was that the ball, having been thread through the eye of a needle, found its way to Bendtner who compared to world class Cesc does not have the ability to control it, the result being that the ball would pop up and we would lose possession.
It is a mark of Fabrégas’s own determination that he did not let that put him off and simply switched to using the Dane’s aerial ability. Our Catalan Captain sent in a superb cross for Bendtner who somehow managed to out jump three tall Stoke defenders to send the ball over Sorenson and into the net. The goal took the wind out of Stokes sails, their mid-week exertions started to take their toll and it was now Arsenal who with renewed belief were chasing everything down as if their lives depended on it.
The break enabled Stoke to catch their breath but that didn’t last long there was now only going to be one winner. Arsenal came out with all guns blazing, pouring forward with images of Premier League medals in their minds and then it happened. I am going to make clear that when Eduardo had his leg broken I didn’t think it was a red card offence, I thought it was a hanging offence, so I am no liberal, but having the use of Sky plus I have replayed the incident ten times and I do not think that it was intentional. Ramsey was unlucky, that break was a result of his commitment to the cause of Arsenal winning the league and boy I want to see him lift that trophy.
Many of the Arsenal players were understandably distraught by the sight of one of their friends groaning in agony on the floor and I for one wondered if they were capable of lifting themselves up. This job fell to Clichy: the image of the Frenchman determinedly encouraging the players to refocus will stay with me for a long time. The introduction of Rosicky and his experience helped; he led by example, driving forward in search of a winner but nagging thoughts started to enter my mind and I wondered if it was going to be one of those days when everything goes against us. Enter Nikki, his quick thinking changed all that, aiming a clever little chip at Puke’s hand, the referee decided we deserved a bit of luck and awarded a penalty, could you watch?
Fabrégas stepped up and in the face of what must have been incredible pressure slotted the ball into the corner, we were ahead. It was time for a bit of keep ball. The icing on the cake came in injury time when Rosicky drove a low rasping shot towards the Stoke goal, Fabrégas anticipating the rebound was there to knock it calmly across the goal to our fox in the box Eduardo to score one of his trade mark tap ins. Cue unbridled celebration and relief to finish off what was very nearly a perfect day.
Almunia: it has to be said that he had a good game, ok there was one flap but in that kind of game if it doesn’t lead to a goal then I reckon it is forgivable. I have been trying to work out where his new found confidence has come from and the only thing I can come up with is that being dropped for the Porto game and assuming his days at Arsenal were numbered he then watched Fabianski and said to himself: I may be crap but I am not that crap. 7
Sagna: another warrior like performance from our Bacari, I reckon he has been practising his crosses because they were a darn site better today, not great, but better. 7
Campbell: inspirational performance from the paternal captain his job is to get the team past the winning post at the end of the season. Take a look at his celebration after the Vermaelen goal, committed to the cause or what. 8
Vermaelen: has learned how to play with Campbell now and because of it gave a very commanding performance, what was he doing on the goal line four minutes into injury time? 8
Clichy: back to his absolute best today, he ran tirelessly down that left flank, was always available and had the best right foot low pile driver I have ever seen him send in. 8
Ramsey: he drove forward as hard as any other player on the field; the thing I noticed today that was different was how he had gained the respect of Fabrégas; our Captain won’t pass to anyone, for instance he will pass to Walcott as a last resort but today Ramsey was as good as anyone in the mid field. I obviously hope he recovers quickly. 8
Song: ridiculous yellow card, totally undeserved, we will miss his commanding presence in the midfield. 8
Fabregas: world class performance from a world class player.9
Eboue: sadly not as influential as I hoped, his job was to run with the ball into Stoke’s area, he was slightly better when he came out in the second half but still no where near as good as he needs to be to keep his place on the right mid; I expect him to be replaced by Walcott next week. 5
Bendtner: if he was half as good as he thinks he is he would be brilliant, still that was a fine header for the equaliser so credit where credit is due. 7
Nasri: put in the kind of performance he usually saves for the Emirates, skilful and determined. 7.5
I don’t know how you are going to believe us; we are going to win the league.