Arsenal 1 Stoke 0: Football Prevails Over Rugby
What’s not to hate about Stoke City?
The fact that they are football’s rugby outfit? Their baseball bat wielding gaffer? Ryan Shawcross? You name it…
Despite the fact that Tottenham dropped points yet again to Norwich, Everton’s win against West Brom in midweek reshaped the destiny of teams vying for that coveted fourth place finish and every game has more or less become a six-pointer for Arsenal.
With another inspiring performance in midweek that failed to reap dividends, Arsene Wenger made five changes to the squad that shared the spoils with Liverpool. Newbie, Nacho Monreal was handed his Arsenal debut in Andre Santos’ stead, Laurent Koscielny replaced the injured Thomas Vermaelen, Mikel Arteta replaced Aaron Ramsey in midfield and there were spaces for Abou Diaby and the Ox as they replaced Santi Cazorla and Podolski.
The Ox was a constant thorn in the flesh of the Stoke back line and he drew first blood with a tame effort that went wide. Arteta carved open the Stoke rearguard with an inch-perfect pass to Theo Walcott but the Englishman’s cutback evaded his teammates in the box.
Arsenal’s wing play continued to flourish and another chance came from the right when Bacary Sagna flicked the ball to Diaby whose control was perfect as you would expect from the lanky technician but his cross to Olivier Giroud didn’t reach its intended target, as some pressure from Robert Huth made Giroud nod the ball wide.
Walcott used his pace to devastating effect against Andy Wilkinson but his cross was very poor to say the least. Jack Wilshere swung in the resulting corner and an unmarked Ox fired the ball straight at Asmir Begovic making a great chance to go begging. Arsenal continued to threaten Stoke with more cross and the Emirates crowd was shocked to see Giroud look for a teammate in the six-yard box when he should have headed his effort at goal.
Right at the death, Wilshere showed off his trickery to find the Ox with a pin-point pass and the winger wasted no time in latching his effort to the top corner but Begovic was on hand to make another superb save.
At the stroke of halftime, Monreal clashed heads with Jon Walters, which caused the Stoke forward to get wrapped up as he was second best in the challenge.
Arsenal began the second half with more urgency and new boy, Nacho Monreal, showcased his attacking prowess when he executed a neat one-two with Wilshere but his cross was blocked with Giroud lurking.
Wenger brought in reinforcements in the forms of Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski for Diaby and the vibrant Ox.
Sagna committed a needless foul on the right hand side and I feared for the worst when those goons from the Stoke rearguard came into Arsenal’s box but the Gunners defended the set piece well and launched a counter attack through Santi Cazorla. Glenn Whelan took one for his team by impeding the Spanish maestro.
Cazorla’s influence in the game continued to grow and he located Giroud with a perfectly timed cross but the Frenchman’s dipping header just glanced wide.
After huffing and puffing for the best part of 78 minutes, Arsenal got a break when Walcott was fouled on the edge of the area and after some discussions between the dead ball specialists, Podolski got the nod to take the free kick. The Emirates held its breath at the sound of Chris Foy’s whistle but went into raptures when Podolski’s effort deflected off Whelan to beat the red-hot Begovic in goal.
While the Gunners celebrated their well-deserved breakthrough, a moment of controversy arrived when the linesman, who was probably high on free-to-air weed decided to raise his flag for what he felt was an offside by Olivier Giroud. The livid Arsenal players surrounded the official and Chris Foy had a decision to make.
To the relief of Arsene Wenger, the players and Arsenal fans worldwide, Foy made the right decision and awarded the goal much to the delight of the home crowd at the Emirates.
Podolski almost turned from hero to villain when he uncharacteristically gave possession away but Cazorla did very well to intercept the ball and waltz into the 18-yard box before blasting his shot over the bar.
Wenger wasted some minutes by bringing on Ramsey for Walcott and the final whistle was like music to the ears of every Arsenal fan as the victory over Stoke propelled the Gunners into fourth place following Everton’s enthralling 3-3 draw with Aston Villa. To make things even sweeter, Newcastle’s Moussa Sissoko inspired 3-2 over Chelsea has put the Gunners just two points behind their London rivals.
A win for Tottenham will drop the Gunners to fifth place though.
Arsene Wenger lauded his team’s belief and confidence in his post-match interview (via Arsenal.com) and he also shared his thoughts about his new signing and that Ryan Shawcross tackle on Koscielny.
All in all, it was a very good performance for the Gunners and it’s okay to say that once again, football prevailed over rugby.
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