A third trip to the Britannia in three seasons brought with it some mixed emotions. The 2009/10 game was played in February, a month after being beaten by the Stokies in the 4th round of the FA Cup. Ramsey’s leg snapped like a twig but the team responded magnificently to record a fine 3-1 victory.
2010/11 at the Britannia saw Arsenal in end of season free-fall and another defeat ensued. What would 2012 bring? Stoke always raise their game against us, refusing to lie down to superior footballing ability. The touchlines are narrowed, local aircraft given warnings of possible collisions with footballs and Corporal Jones from Dad’s Army gives the pre-match, rabble-rousing speech. Could Arsenal resist the bite of the cold steel? Anxious and expectant, the Arsenal away fans gathered in the Potteries.
(photo courtesy of Stuart MacFarlane)
After an easy drive along the A50 we arrived in plenty of time to find a parking spot at a local bowls club which would enable a smooth getaway at the end of the game. A brief chat with a couple of Stokies in the pub before the game elicited the information that they were pleased not to be in Europe again as it had ruined their season. Mid-table mediocrity seemed to be the height of their ambition…..oh, and beating Wenger’s Arsenal, of course. Arsenal are lacking a player who puts his foot in was their considered opinion whereas none of their players minded being kicked!
We had a fairly good view but were much too close to the inbred hoards and soon realised the aggression between the two sets of supporters was going to colour how we would remember the game.
The first half began and it soon became obvious that only one team had any desire to play any real football. The first booking came in the first couple of minutes as Whitehead fouled Song. The Gunners began the game at a canter and Benayoun should have done better, scuffing a left foot shot after clever interplay with Robin. Then it was the Dutchman himself who drew a fine save from Begovic with a glanced header at the near post.
Stoke scored from their first effort on goal with a pinpoint cross from Etherington which found the head of the Human Pylon. Even with Vermaelen and Koscielny leaping front and back of Crouch, they still stood little chance of stopping the goal. “One Nil to the Rugby team” sang the Stoke crowd. If I was a Rugby player, I would have been offended.
Arsenal quickly responded with another straightforward goal in its simplicity, van Persie slotting home after good work from Rosicky. “He scores when he want” and “By far the greatest team” followed.
The first half petered out from that point onwards. Gervinho had a chance to shoot after a lovely through ball from Sagna but put his effort way over the bar. Another chance nearly came to Gervinho who just failed to get his immense forehead onto a whipped-in cross.
My brother went for a half-time pie and heard the following conversation in the queue in front him. Arsenal supporter, ‘What flavour pies have you got?’ Girl behind the counter, ‘Chicken Balti, Steak and Ale…. Arsenal Supporter, ‘Have you got any Meat and Potato? ‘Yes’ came the reply. Arsenal fan, ‘I had one of those last year and it was farkin horrible’. Cue the laughter from the serving assistants behind the counter. The news that Newcastle were getting thumped certainly improved the atmosphere behind the goal during the half-time break.
The second half began with the boys kicking towards us. Surely things would improve and we would earn the crucial three points. As far as the football is concerned, I thought the second forty five was pretty poor. Arsenal probed and prodded. Shots were blocked. Robin slipped on a couple of occasions when he might have sneaked a shot on goal. There were a few decent looking free-kick opportunities for the good guys but none really troubled the Stoke keeper.
At the other end Szczesny made a fine blocking save from a vicious drive and a long throw header was cleared close to the Arsenal goal line. There was a brief rendition of ‘We can’t spell his name, we can’t spell his name, Wojciech Szczęsny, we can’t spell his name’.
The other dominant impression from standing behind the goal in the second half was how hideous the Stoke fans were. They finally found their voice after Shawcross lunged in on Benayoun. They sang ‘He breaks things when he wants, he breaks things when he wants, Ryan Shawcross, he breaks things when he wants’. (It could have been ‘legs’ rather than ‘things’, it was difficult to understand the accent). Looking across at their fans there were gestures of breaking a stick in two hands which I found quite sickening. Hideous miscreants.
Yossi had a good shout for a penalty ignored by Foy who looked across at his linesman to see a totally blank expression and so he waved play on. The last twenty minutes were a pantomime starring Arsene Wenger. He began waving his arms in the air at the injustice of the penalty decision and other decisions which followed. The Stoke crowd began to imitate him by waving their arms in the air at every opportunity while singing, ‘ Let’s all do the Wenger’ and if an Arsenal player committed a foul singing, ‘He didn’t see a thing, he didn’t see a thing , Arsene Wenger, he didn’t see a thing.’
Arsène needed someone to tell him to sit down as he may as well have been the Stoke cheerleader, such was his influence in stirring the Stoke crowd to generate more noise.
At the final whistle, I felt disappointed that we hadn’t been able to rise above the overall poor quality of the game and produce a few moments of real class to win us the three points. A hard-fought point would have to suffice, a point which looks better in the light of Newcastle’s zero points. Whether it’ll look so good after Sunday’s fixtures, only time will tell.
I don’t really do ratings but I’d say that Benayoun and Rosicky seemed to have decent first halves. The defence were resolute throughout, Sagna looking dangerous assisting the attack in the first half, too. Szczesny couldn’t do much about the goal. Sometimes I wish he would catch instead of punch, especially in the second half when the aerial bombardment was in full force. I’d probably give them all a 7, with Tomas, Yossi and Bacary 7.5.
P.S. The Man of the Match was announced over the tannoy as Dean Whitehead. Sums it all up really!
Written by chas