Arsenal 3 – 1 Stoke City

Morning all,

Last Monday I commented on how Monday’s always seem brighter when the Gooners have had a win at the weekend, but three wins in the space of a week, climbing to the top of our Champions League group and now 7th in the Premier League has given me a real case of the Happy Mondays…

I foolishly suggested yesterday that we all knew what Arsene Wenger’s starting eleven would be. You would think that after fifteen years I would know better than to try and second guess the man.

The back four was as expected, Johan Djourou came in at right back whilst Mertz, Laurent Koscielny and Andy Santos all kept their places *Well obviously they did, the trio may be in fine form but it’s not like we’re blessed with defenders right now, not any who can stand up anyway. Aaron Ramsey came back into midfield in place of Thomas Rosicky to link up with Mickey Arteta and Alex Song while Theo Walcott kept his place on the right and Gervinho started on the left flank. The biggest surprise was the omission of Robin Van Persie. Wenger may have alluded to resting the front man during his pre match press conference on Friday but I’m assuming not many people took that seriously because it certainly wasn’t widely reported. So with Robin amongst the subs Marouane Chamakh was given his first league start of the season.

There were no defensive replacements on the bench (see above comment marked by *). We’ll assume that the boss considered he could sufficiently re-jig if required.

The two goals aside the first half didn’t provide much in the way of talking points, Stoke seemed fairly happy to dwell in their own area, sometimes sending Peter Crouch forward to test the miasma free air. I guess it’s the kind of thing they work on in their training cave.

The Arsenal saw plenty of the ball but until the 27th minute didn’t seem overly sure what to do with it. Our front line was incredibly static and devoid of inspiration particularly Walcott and Chamakh. I’m not suggesting neither man tried, in fact I thought the Moroccan worked quite hard but without him starting to put the ball in the back of the net or at least show some sort of creative spark he’ll continue to carry that monkey on his back and I’m pretty sure that it’s not at all easy to play football with a monkey perched on your shoulders. Perhaps had Jenkinson been playing he could have picked the forward out with his crossing? In fact down the right hand side we really could have done with either Jenkinson or Sagna, Djourou doesn’t have the pace nor the nous to bomb on in the way our regular right backs do and without a man running on in front of him Theo looked even more lost then has done of late.

Just before the half hour mark the Gunners jolted into life. An Arsenal move on the edge of the Stoke box broke down and the ball fell to Aaron Ramsey who played a lovely ball over the top of the Potters defence for Gervinho to take it down and slot past Begovic to make it one nil. The pass from Rambo was exquisite and the finish by Gervinho was equal to it.

It seemed that we might go on and apply some pressure on the visitors but just five minutes after the opener Stoke were back on level terms.

Referee Lee Mason, who was as consistently poor as he always is, decided that Laurent Koscielny had fouled Peter Crouch even though the defender had cleary out jumped the beanpole and won the header cleanly. Crouch pulls this trick so often that I can’t believe officials haven’t clocked on to it yet, any time anyone jumps above him he collapses to the ground and claims to have been fouled. From the resulting free kick the Gunners decided to parody recent defensive blunders and once the ball had pinged off of a few heads without ever being in danger of being cleared it dropped to Crouch who continued his good scoring record against us.

We should have had the chance to regain our lead from the penalty spot but as I said, Lee Mason was consistently inconsistent and whilst in his eyes a defender cleanly winning the ball is an illegal manoeuvre, flinging two arms around a players neck and hauling him to the ground within the penalty box is perfectly acceptable. That is just what happened when, I think it was Shawcross, performed the kind of tackle on Chamakh that would be deemed high and illegal in Rugby, not that Stoke are that kind of team or Shawcross is that type of player…

So the half came to an end and it all seemed a little flat about the place and when the second half kicked off we were initially treated to more of the same.

It took the initial introduction of Van Persie, on in place of Chamakh, to add some spark and bring us to life. The Dutchman instantly give the team and the crowd a lift, putting Pulis’s knuckle dragging giants under more pressure in the space of sixty seconds then Chamakh had done in sixty-six minutes, and once Arshavin replaced the ineffective Walcott five minutes later meaning a shift to the right for Gervinho, the Gunners really kicked into life and in the 73rd minute regained their lead.

Gervinho made a bursting run into the Stoke box before pulling the ball back for Van Persie who continued his incredible scoring run squeezing the ball between Begovic and the near post. Nine minutes later the pair combined again, this time Gervinho collected from Arshavin, who just like the game against Sunderland was impressive coming from the bench, the Ivorian again stormed into the box and cut back for Van Persie to add to his ever-growing goal tally.

So amongst all the suggestions this morning of us now being a one man team, Van Persie will take all the plaudits and perhaps rightly so but that does seem a little unfair on Gervinho who undoubtedly had his best game since joining the club. A goal, two assists and a 100% pass completion rate backs that up.

I’m not suggesting we don’t need to see other players chipping in with a few more goals because we certainly do, but it is a bit of a double-edged sword with Van Persie. We’re now being lauded as a one man team, but if the skipper wasn’t in such a rich vein of form, 29 goals in his last 36 outings for the club, we would be drowning in the weight of newspaper columns telling us we need a prolific striker.

Hopefully Gervinho will be boosted after his performance and can now replicate that form week in week out. I would be interested to see him start on the right in place of Theo but the question becomes ‘Who plays on the left?‘ Despite his impressive cameo appearances in our last two league games Ashavin did nothing during his start in Marseille to suggest he would make the most of a regular starting birth.

It seems that Ju will get a chance to slip on his shooting boots against Bolton in the Carling Cup tomorrow night, we could do with him bagging a goal or two and pushing for more first team involvement. He certainly isn’t going to be overtaking RVP but we do need another striker finding the back of the onion bag when called upon.

Koscielny and Mertesacker were once again fantastic at the back, the boss really will have a big decision to make once Tommy Vermaelen returns. Aaron Ramsey impressed me again, the boy has such a fantastic work ethic and it was brilliant to hear his name ring out around the ground a few times yesterday.  Andy Santos continues to improve and whilst Djourou didn’t set the world alight at right back he certainly didn’t let himself or us down.

It’s all very positive at the moment, not perfect but positive. All any football team wants to do is win games and we’re doing that, as fans we can ask for little more. Of course we will ask for more, we’re never content, but let’s enjoy the positive progression of this side.

I’m taking no joy out of the United result because it came at the hands of City, had Fulham or Everton pitched up at Old Trafford and hammered Fergie’s side I would be in raptures but City… Merh! I’m also not fussed about the Chelsea result because I don’t like Warnock and I don’t like Barton. I’m glad Drogba will miss our game against the blues at the weekend but that’s about as much as I care and anyway our most important game is tomorrow night against the Trotters.

Our form, NLD aside, since the Blackburn defeat has been frankly magnificent and whatever the line up, whoever the oppositions and whatever the competition we need that to continue because it keeps spirits high and helps us improve.

I’ll be back tomorrow morning with a look towards that league cup match but for now let us bask in the warm glow of yet another victory and dream of those that are to come.

Thanks for reading.

Paul.

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