Matches against Stoke are always special. Two styles of football – one team that actually plays football and their opponents who are more into rugby – have been clashing ever since Stoke got promoted.
This one came in a period that wasn’t the best for us. After a promising December, our January in the Premiership was disappointing with only 5 points won out of a possible 15. Furthermore, we didn’t sign the reinforcements we were hoping for in defensive midfield and attack. Kieran Gibbs and Thomas Vermaelen were absent due to injuries while Ignacio Nacho Monreal was set to make his debut.
Arsene Wenger made more than a few changes to our starting 11. Laurent Koscielny and Nacho Monreal took their place in the back four next to Bacary Sagna and Per Mertesacker. Mikel Arteta returned from injury into central midfield, Abou Diaby came back as well after he was rested against Liverpool while Oxlade-Chamberlain replaced Lukas Podolski on left wing.
We were dominating in the first half with Theo Walcott making runs at the expense of Wilkinson. However, despite attempts from Wilshere and Giroud, we couldn’t make a clear-cut chance against a well-organized Stoke defense who were giving a typical Stoke away performance. Still, it is a bit ironic that our first chance against the tall lumberjacks from Stoke came after a corner. Wilshere crossed the ball inside the six-yard-area and it fell to Oxlade-Chamberlain who was all alone. The youngster tried to score with a low shot but Begović saved it with his leg. Our next chance came very soon and again it was from a corner – Walcott sent a cross into the box and Koscielny tried with a header but Begović was excellent all game. Our third big opportunity in the first half wasn’t rewarded with a goal either. Wilshere threaded a wonderful through ball to the left side to Oxlade-Chamberlain who tried to curl the ball into the far corner, but Begović pulled another brilliant save.
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We entered the second half in the same gear, trying to find an opening goal that would do the job for us given the lack of attacking ambition from our opponents. Giroud tried on couple of occasions but he couldn’t put the ball behind the net today with an excellent intervention from Robert Huth to prevent him from scoring. Wenger sent the heavy artillery on the field in order to find a goal – Podolski and Cazorla replaced Oxlade-Chamberlain and Diaby. Theo Walcott, who had a quiet second half due to the fact Wilkinson had permission from linesman to use everything in order to switch him off the game, had cut inside from the right but was taken down by Wilkinson just outside the penalty box. Podolski took the free-kick and his shot went in with a help from Geoff Cameron. The linesman Bryant flagged something (offside?) and signalized that our goal shouldn’t stand despite the fact our only player that was offside was Theo Walcott, far and away from influencing any of the play. However, referee Chris Foy said that our goal was a regular one and, hopefully, suggested Bryant visit an eye-doctor ASAP.
That goal made us all relieved despite Pulis sending three strikers on the field. We made our only true attempt before the end of the game – Cazorla made a chance for himself by going into the heart of the box. The ball deflected from the Stoke defenders to him but his shot wasn’t precise enough as Begović pulled another brilliant save. There was a brawl between Arteta and Owen after the former English international hit our captain and another horrible tackle by Ryan Shawcross that nearly performed a vasectomy on Koscielny, yet only given a yellow.
This victory should be a good sign regarding our February performances and Nacho Monreal’s qualities. Our next match will be against another side that prefers football with a small number of goals – Sunderland – and we should finally start scoring in both halves of the game. There is a bizarre thing: if only first halves of the games had been counted, we would be on 13th place. Had only second halves been taken in account, we would be second!
on the performance…
They made it difficult for us, they were well organised, defended very deeply and we didn’t find the space but kept going. We were a bit lucky on the goal but overall we deserve this win. We had chances, their keeper made some saves. We played in one half in the second half especially and overall we deserved to win the game.
on the linesman flagging for the goal…
I haven’t seen it. Honestly, from the bench I couldn’t see what had happened. I thought the linesman gave offside, or maybe one of our players handled the ball – that is all I could think of. In fact, I heard Walcott was offside but not interfering with the game, so it was a goal.
on some flashpoints at the end…
There were some heated moments, I don’t think there was anything exceptional in the tackles. Theo Walcott got good treatment today, but I am very happy because the way he responded to it was with full commitment and desire to impose himself. That is where you see that Walcott has become a different player recently.
on Shawcross’ tackle on Koscielny…
I have to look at it again. I am not completely objective when it comes to Ryan Shawcross! That is why I am bit cautious with my statement.
on bad blood between the clubs…
They know that we try to play a game based on movement and technique and they oppose us with a very strong defence. You have to give them credit for the way they defended today, but overall I don’t think too much happened. Apart from Theo Walcott, he got a few bad tackles that maybe deserved a yellow. Overall it was a physical game with a team who tries to get some points and we expected that. We prepared mentally for that.
on grinding out a win…
We are a team who can create chances, and score goals. Today it was not the case – we created chances but could not get the goals. But still I am happy that for a long time now, we didn’t concede and the defence looked solid. The satisfaction is that Nacho Monreal had a good start for a player who just arrived yesterday and is in the team today. He did not have time to think about it, but he got stronger and stronger during the game.
on Monreal’s thoughts on English football…
There is no better culture shock than Stoke when you come from Spain! They had a very physical game and I think he dealt well with it.
on the race for the top four…
I said before the West Ham game and the Liverpool game that we are in a position where we can’t drop points. We dropped points against Liverpool but we couldn’t do it again today. What is more important is the quality of our performances is there, the spirit is there and the target to be in the top four is very important now because we have strengthened our belief and confidence.
Sagna Mertesacker Koscielny Monreal
Arteta (c) Diaby
Wojciech Szczesny | 6.5: He could have brought newspapers to read. It’s nice to see Sczszesny without any problems to solve. Made one save when Walters took a shot.
Bacary Sagna | 7.0: Very solid performance from Bac, much better than the previous one.
Per Mertesacker | 7.5: Peter Crouch hasn’t been exactly the most desirable opponent for Arsenal defenders in the recent past but Mertesacker switched him off today.
Laurent Koscielny | 7.5: Decent performance from the Frenchman who made one crucial tackle to prevent a Stoke counter-attack after Arteta made a poor pass. Survived a horrible tackle made by the worst of all Pulis’ Orcs. Had an opportunity saved by Begović.
Ignacio Nacho Monreal | 7.0: Our only January signing should be called our only January reinforcement already. His debut wasn’t without mistakes (unsuccessful clearance in the second half near our corner flag that he instantly fixed or awful shot with right foot) but he did his job in both departments properly. His ability to cross properly might make him Giroud’s favourite team-mate. There is a lot of space for improvement, especially for his co-operation with Lukas Podolski (there was a huge gap between those two) but I think Kieran Gibbs will have to work very hard to break back into the starting 11 once he gets back from injury.
Mikel Arteta | 7.0: The vice-captain is back and that is good news. He looked a bit rusty on a couple of occasions but his presence makes our other players more calm.
Jack Wilshere | 7.5: The driving force as usual. Made a wonderful pass to Oxlade-Chamberlain that wasn’t rewarded with a goal thanks to brilliant save from Begović. Showed the spirit of a leader in Arteta-Owen incident.
Abou Diaby | 6.5: His physical presence was good as we controlled the middle of the park, but he made our attacks too slow on some occasions. Still searching for his form from the start of the season.
Theo Walcott | 6.5: Was more dangerous in the first half than in the second and that has to do something with the linesman Bryant who tolerated Wilkinson’s football philosophy. Still managed to grab himself an assist thanks to the fact Podolski scored after the free-kick he earned.
Oxlade-Chamberlain | 7.0: Looked lively in the first half and had two great chances, but both of them were saved by Begović. His game declined a bit in the second half so Podolski came in to finish the job instead.
Olivier Giroud | 6.5: Ended his streak of three consecutive games in which he had scored. He was fighting with Stoke central defenders, especially Huth who prevented him from scoring in one occasion while his first chance was spoiled by his decision to pass the ball instead of heading the ball toward goal.
Lukas Podolski | 7.0: Scored a winner with a help from Geoff Cameron. His free-kicks should be one of our assets when we can’t score from open play.
Santi Cazorla | 6.5: Created himself a great chance but missed it. It seems like he was keeping his best for forthcoming matches.
Aaron Ramsey | N/A: This match had an emotional meaning to him but he didn’t have too much time to show it.
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