Arsenal 3 Stoke 1: Robin van Persie proves his worth to Arsenal in gold
While Arsene Wenger and his club played their home games in Highbury, those in the helm of affairs at the club came up with a plan to move to a 60,361-seater state-of-the-art stadium not far away from Arsenal’s home for 93 years. The move was finalized in the start of the 2006/07 season and the club had gone on to play 99 games at the Emirates Stadium before Stoke’s visit yesterday.
For those that are fans of numbers, Arsenal had won 66, drawn 22 and lost 11 games in the ground they call home before kickoff yesterday. The Gunners had also smashed in 198 goals prior to the Stoke match averaging two goals per game at the Emirates.
Arsene Wenger made three changes to the side that won the tie at the Riviera in the South of France. Goal scoring hero, Aaron Ramsey returned to the side in place of Tomas Rosicky, Gervinho got the nod ahead of Andrey Arshavin but the most surprising change of them all was handing Marouane Chamakh a starting berth ahead of the red-hot Robin van Persie. The Moroccan had managed a disappointing two goals in his last 31 appearances and it was a decision that would have cost Wenger the game if he chose not to play van Persie at all.
With all captains, van Persie, Vermaelen and Rosicky all missing in action, Alex Song wore the armband for the first time in his Arsenal career since joining the club from SC Bastia in 2006. Arsenal hit the ground running when Mikel Arteta swung in a corner to the danger area and the ball met an unmarked Chamakh who made poor contact with the ball to nod it wide off the mark.
Song sent in a ball for Arteta and the Spaniard found himself free on the edge of the box because Stoke defended really deep. The crowd urged Arteta to pull the trigger but he feinted with his right foot before letting one rip with his left foot to send the ball wide.
Aaron Ramsey had a great game yesterday and he started by chipping a lovely ball for Gervinho. The Ivorian controlled the ball with his chest but he couldn’t capitalize on it because it was really close to Asmir Begovic in Stoke’s goal. Stoke knew that they couldn’t match Arsenal from open play so the crowd got weary when Walcott conceded the first throw-in of the game on Arsenal’s right hand side. Rory Delap did his thing but Per Mertesacker rose the highest to head the ball out to safety.
Ramsey fed Walcott on the right then the winger used his pace to get in behind Mark Wilson before sending a stinging cross that was stabbed away by Begovic. Ramsey lurked outside the area when Arteta had another corner but his effort missed the target by a lick of paint.
As Arsenal continued to press and probe Stoke’s defense, the breakthrough arrived when Ramsey cleverly chipped the ball over the defense to Gervinho who timed his run to perfection. The Ivorian brought the ball under control before finishing emphatically with his left foot. Gervinho was all over the place and he threatened Wilson from the right side after a pass from Arteta what ended up as a corner.
So much has been made about the poor officiating of the referees in the Premier League and this tie was to be no different. A simple over the top ball was challenged by Peter Crouch and Laurent Koscielny with the lanky Englishman uncharacteristically coming out as second best but Lee Mason blew his whistle for a free kick that looked more ridiculous with every replay of the incident viewed. Stoke, being a side that’s renowned for their set piece prowess executed a training move that came to great effect in the best possible way.
Glenn Whelan took forever to deliver the set piece but he chose to feed Ryan Shawcross who was relatively unmarked on the far side. Stoke’s captain headed the ball into Arsenal’s danger area and Jon Walters was on hand to come out on top in an aerial duel with Koscielny. Walter’s header was going in but Crouch made sure that it went into Arsenal’s goal and the tie was level from a Stoke side that was second best throughout the game.
That was Crouch’s sixth career goal against Arsenal and his first since his stunning hattrick against Wenger’s side in 2008. Arteta crossed a ball for Chamakh but Andy Wilkinson decided to swap jerseys with the Moroccan in the box even if Arsenal’s penalty appeals fell on deaf ears. At the sound of Lee Mason’s whistle, it seemed like one of those days and there were already cries for the inclusion of Robin van Persie.
Arsenal was very sloppy at the start of the second half with Song being the chief culprit of some mistimed passes. Gervinho and Arteta got involved in the attacking play with the Spaniard setting up Walcott with a lovely pass but his final ball couldn’t match Arsenal’s impressive build up play. This made the guys at the commentary box begin their barrage of criticism on Arsenal’s winger.
Arsenal threatened again with another Arteta corner kick but after some scrambled headers, Koscielny attempted a bicycle kick that was miscued though. Arsenal continued in the driver’s seat in the game but their activity in the final third was put under question.
When Wenger felt that Chamakh had played to his full capacity without any great effect, he unleashed the Flying Dutchman to the Emirates that was appreciated by roars from the Emirates faithful and if you’re a fan of numbers, here’s a tip for you. Robin van Persie had scored four in four against Stoke, 23 goals in his last 25 league games and he had also amassed 28 goals in 35 games in 2011.
Van Persie was involved in the thick of things with some lovely movement before sending a cross that was missed by Koscielny in the far post. Arsenal almost produced a horror moment when Johan Djourou headed a ball back for Wojciech Szczesny who was far away from his box. Jon Walters challenged the young goalie but he did well to shimmy the striker before passing the ball to another player.
Andrey Arshavin replaced Walcott who was still looking for his first goal at the Emirates in 2011. The forward’s last goal at home was recorded in the 3-1 victory against Chelsea in Boxing Day of 2010. In the turn of the New Year, Walcott has scored away in the 3-0 victory of West Ham at Upton Park in January, the embarrassing 4-4 draw against Newcastle at St. James Park in February, the enthralling 3-3 draw against Tottenham at White Hart Lane in April, the 2-2 curtain closer against Fulham at Craven Cottage in May and the 8-2 humiliating loss to Manchester United at Old Trafford in August.
The Arsenal crowd awaited the 200th goal at the Emirates and it was only befitting that such a goal would be scored by the man of the moment, Robin van Persie. Gervinho was involved in the attacking play again and he did well to evade the threat of Wilson before teeing van Persie in the near post where the intelligent striker had a quick snap shot that beat Begovic in his near post. With the game easing off, Gervinho popped up again on the left to send another assist for van Persie whose effort couldn’t be stopped despite Begovic’s hand on the shot.
That was van Persie’s sixth goal in Arsenal’s last nine. That’s a striker that’s as hot as supernova.
Emmanuel Frimpong came in for Gervinho and the Ivorian received a standing ovation from the Emirates faithful.
Szczesny (6.5) was faced with a scary moment that would have cost him his place in the side but he excelled admirably in the situation.
Djourou (6.5) deputized well at the unfamiliar right back position n place of the injured Bacary Sagna and Carl Jenkinson.
Andre Santos (6.5) did well to support the attack and showed his Samba touches on the left hand side.
Mertesacker (6.5) did okay in defense.
Koscielny (7.5) was more than a handful for Peter Crouch.
Song (6.0) was very sloppy in the midfield and gave many balls out. Not a good captain’s performance.
Arteta (8.0) was heavily involved in Arsenal’s attack and sent in a lot of good corners that were not utilized by the Gunners.
Ramsey (7.5) sent a peach of a pass for Gervinho’s first goal at the Emirates.
Gervinho (9.0) put up his best performance yet for Arsenal. He gave Arsene Wenger his best birthday present today, a goal and two assists.
Walcott (6.0) was disappointing.
Chamakh (6.0) failed to justify the decision to bench van Persie.
Arshavin (6.5) showed good movement with the ball.
Van Persie (8.5) had two well taken goals that showed his intelligence and sharpness as a striker.
Frimpong didn’t stay enough to get a rating.
This weekend ended well for the Red half of North London. It was fabled that Arsenal always struggled shortly after some European encounters and it seemed to be one of those days till Robin van Persie proved his worth to Arsenal in gold.
I also witnessed some brilliant football this weekend with my picks of the bunch being AC Milan’s amazing 4-3 victory at Lecce despite being 3-0 down at halftime. Kevin-Prince Boateng scored a brilliant hattrick but the team of the weekend was the Arab Money backed side from Manchester.
Manchester United won the Premier League last season thanks to their amazing home form that saw them win 18 of their 19 games at Old Trafford but their ‘noisy’ and oil-rich neighbors ran riot with six goals to send them five points clear at the top.
The quote of the day goes to Ogbonna Nwodo,
“From the makers of Sex and the City comes this thriller from Old Trafford Cinemas: Six and the City”