Stoke City 3 Arsenal 1: Arsenal gets ‘stoked’
First things first, I was not surprised after Mark Halsey blew the final whistle but I still don’t know why Arsenal FC gives its ever faithful fans a very bitter taste in their mouths when it’s not even warranted. I had a hunch that the title was going to be out of our reach but I didn’t expect us to chicken out this way. This season has thought us a lot about the pros and cons present in this crop of players. I’ll start with the ads: rVp is a goal hungry demon, our passing play has become more dynamic, we know how to rally ourselves late on in a game and the team’s movement is very fluid. I can actually write a blog about our present flaws but I’ll stick to one. Our defense is utter shite. Not Sagna, Clichy, Djourou or Koscielny; the entire combo as one.
With Fabregas, Nasri and Diaby out of contention with doubts on the fitness of Djourou and Clichy, it was expected that replacements where going to play made because the last time I checked, AW registered 25 players. Clichy wasn’t fit enough to start so there was no need guessing who was going to play in his stead, Kieran Gibbs. I wrote in yesterday’s post that I would have preferred Bendtner to start in Nasri’s place but AW opted for the Russian pygmy called Arshavin. I also wrote in yesterday’s post that Stoke’s aerial threat might make AW give Vermaelen his first start in 7 months but Djourou passed his fitness test and was thrown back into the starting lineup. AW should have given the Verm the nod ahead of Djourou because Djourou went on to produce another stinker to add to the performance he put up at the Reebok.
Arsenal drew first blood through Arshavin but his shot went wide. rVp was the next player to get goal mouth action but he fired his shot way over the bar after a lovely pass from Ramsey. Arsenal kept on dominating the proceedings with an Arshavin corner that went straight to Koscielny but he fired his effort over the bar.
Stoke replied back with a teasing cross that was sent into Arsenal’s danger area. Szczesny jumped highest to get a punch to the ball but it went to Pennant who spurned his effort. The Britannia was the ground where Ramsey had his legs snapped like a toothpick so it was expected that tempers might flare from time to time. Dean Whitehead was the player that cost Walcott his place in the Carling Spoon with that bad tackle. He and Wilshere got stuck in for the same ball but both players started exchanging words after entangling with each other on the ground. As expected, players gathered around but the ref did well to gain control of the game.
Sagna then sent a left footed shot wide after he was fed by Ramsey. Gibbs was supposed to be Arsenal’s left back but he was caught out of position when Pennant was sent through on the right flank. Arshavin tackled the ball cleanly the first time but Pennant still had it with him. Arsenal’s left winger nudged John Legend a bit and he hit the turf like someone that has been shot at the back of the head. The resulting set piece by Pennant went straight to Kenwyne Jones inside the 6 yard box who wasted no time in guiding the ball into the net with his balls. The zonal marking was atrocious, the man marking even worse. Djourou was supposed to be the man ‘marking’ Mr. Jones but he was caught in No Man’s Land. Instead of heading the ball out of danger when it got to his direction, Gibbs chose to duck. Stoke City went 1 up at home thanks to criminal defending from Arsenal FC.
Arsenal had a corner which was wasted but Stoke wasted no time in launching a counter attack that saw Koscielny bracing himself up to mark Jones and Walters because Djourou was still far up the pitch. Walters sent a through ball to his strike partner but Arsenal’s sweeper did very well to stretch out his leg. This didn’t anticipate the ball completely but it took the steam off Stoke’s attack. Walters sent a shot goal wards but it was easy pickings for Szczesny.
When Stoke had a throw-in on the right hand side, all the fans took their remotes and tuned in to the Rory Delap show. The spring handed chap used his customary towel to clean the ball before pelting it straight to Arsenal’s danger area. Arsenal managed to quell the aerial threat Stoke posed but the ball wasn’t cleared convincingly. When it got to Ramsey’s path, he uncharacteristically gave the ball away to Pennant who was on the left hand side because Delap took the throw from the right. Pennant took the ball and was unmarked by the Arsenal defenders so he decided to let one rip. His shot deflected off Djourou’s leg thereby making the ball make a projectile-like motion over Szczesny into the Arsenal net. Stoke City were 2 goals to the good thanks to more criminal defending by Arsenal with Djourou the prime suspect. If he had gone forward to tackle Pennant, I wouldn’t have been writing this.
If 2-0 wasn’t embarrassing enough, Stoke almost made it 3 when Walters executed a nutmeg on Sagna before lashing his goal bound shot off the cross bar. Szczesny was rooted to the spot. The halftime whistle couldn’t come any sooner. As the saying goes, “While the monkey works, the baboon eats.” Arsenal had the lion’s share of possession but Stoke City had the goals that mattered. Same ol’ Arsenal.
AW reshaped his squad at the start of the second half bringing on Bendtner for Arshavin and Chamakh for Ramsey. While Arsenal continued with their predictable possession play, Stoke almost put number 3 when Chelsea reject Huth nodded the ball over from another Pennant corner. He and Song went in for the ball but he ended up tearing Song’s jersey during the tussle. Bendtner had a close shot that went wide after some good ball control. Chamakh did extremely well to evade 2 markers in midfield before giving the ball to Wilshere. The youngster returned the favour to Chamakh at the edge of the box. The Moroccan opened himself up to pull the trigger but the shot he fired was very disappointing.
Tempers flared again when Wilshere executed a dirty tackle on Pennant. The winger ran straight to the youngster and started exchanging body jersey sweat with him and probably some foul mouth odour. I expected him to have a Diaby moment by grabbing Wilshere in the neck then slamming him unto the ground but all he did was to exchange words like the sissy he was. With Arsenal 2 goals down it would have done our World a whole lot good if Pennant got a red card but it was not to be because the man with the whistle brandished yellow cards to the two blokes. Pennant was substituted moments after the incident because his boss felt that he might lose his cool as the game to goes on.
Arsenal created a golden chance that was wasted by the normally goal-dependable rVp. Wilshere started the move and fed Bendtner who did well to evade a few markers before teeing the ball for his captain. The initial pass didn’t get to rVp’s path but it deflected off a Stoke defender. With the whole net to aim at rVp fired the ball straight at Begovic.
rVp finally equaled his best ever Arsenal goal scoring tally that he achieved in the 2008/09 season which stands at 20 goals. He did very well to evade some Stoke blokes before lashing a low drive with his chocolate leg which went under the goalie into the net. Bendtner ran to the post to collect the ball and all the Arsenal players ran to the center circle because they felt another away 2-2 equalizer was on the cards. After Almunia’s horror show at the Hawthorns, Arshavin and rVp scored the 2 goals that brought Arsenal back into contention but it was not going to be in this tie. Djourou was at fault for Stoke’s first goal. Djourou’s foot also made Stoke’s goal a possibility. Djourou finally sealed his hattrick of mistakes that led to goals when he shockingly gave the ball straight to Walters with his attempted clearance. Walters poked it in to put Stoke 3-1 up shortly after rVp’s goal had brought anxiety to their game. rVp then had a shot that killed a hawk in the sky after the goalie failed to anticipate Walcott’s cross.
AW brought on Rosicky back from his injury exile to replace Song late on. Walcott had a late free kick that hit the wall and that was it from an Arsenal point of view. At the end of every game, the commentator always has something unique to say before announcing the final scores. The man with the mic said this,
“After all the wonderful football they produced this season, there’s nothing to show for it because some special ingredients were missing. It’s Stoke City 3 Arsenal 1”.
The special ingredient would have been the center back that AW didn’t sign in January. All 3 goals conceded by Arsenal were as a result of catastrophic defending. If Vermaelen had started in Djourou’s place because of his fitness, I might have been writing a happier post.
Szczesny (6.5) removed the ball from his net 3 times. Sagna (6.4) had poor delivery into the box. Gibbs (6.2) was too far up the pitch and was exposed on countless occasions by John Legend. Koscielny (6.5) did okay. Djourou (4.0) had a hattrick of errors that led to goals. Wilshere (6.7) was as combative as ever. Ramsey (6.3) played a major role in Stoke’s 2nd goal. Song (6.5) was okay but didn’t shoot when he had the chance. Arshavin (6.1) was quite poor. Walcott (6.4) ran at defenders to no avail. rVp (6.9) clawed one back for his team. Bendtner (6.8) and Chamakh (6.7) were very lively. Rosicky didn’t play long enough to get a Gooner Daily rating.
In Football Manager, the manager has the option of creating training schedules for his team depending on the position he has in mind. Defenders work with strength, aerobics, defending and tactics. The midfielders work with ball control and attacking while the strikers work with shooting and tactics too. If you sign a coach whose defensive coaching attribute is 20/20, he’ll add 5 stars to the defensive rating in the training schedules display. Everybody wants AW to sign a defender but Arsenal also needs good defensive coaches that will teach these blokes how to mark in a zonal manner and how to defend set pieces properbly because it has been our Achilles heel all season long and we have been punished for it times without number.
In a season that promised much, AW has been tagged as a frustrated figure because his children have brought shame to him in this campaign yet he claims that they have done well. I really hope he gets it right this summer because his ‘cup’ is getting full and the fans get more and more frustrated with every game we lose.
That’s enough written for one post.
I’ll save my frustration for another post