GUNPOWDER REVIEW: ARSENAL COME FROM BEHIND TO EDGE STOKE CITY AT EMIRATES
Another Matchday another 3 points. This is just what we need to keep doing to the Midtable teams like STOKE City, beat them convincingly with minimal fuss because that’s what they are there for.. to be eaten like Lions eat Zebras in the wild.. I admit i was quietly confident of victory going into this One . Yes Stoke city had ruffled a few feathers in the league already this season (Notably Manchester United) but i had watched them a few times and genuinely saw no reason to lose sleep ahead of their tie with us.
Off the back of our qualifying in 1st place in our Champions league group on Tuesday by thrashing Basel, Many had feared there may be a hang over..Well if there was, it didn’t really last past 10 mins because we were soon in our rhythm and bossing the game.
Stoke City are more of a threat to us in their home turf but here in London? different story. They are winless at our home for 34 years. And in a rain swept Emirates stadium we were not in the mode to change that statistic. Right before us was a game where a win could provide us a chance to go Top of the League (if we win by a 2 goal Margin).This must have been uppermost in the minds of the players and the Manager as the kickoff approached.
Our starting 11 filed out thus:
Cech ; Gabriel, Koscielny, Mustafi (Bellerin 25, 8), Monreal ; Xhaka , Coquelin ; Walcott.
Quite a few changes for Arsenal from Tuesday night were Lucas Perez being replaced by Walcott, Gibbs was rested for Monreal,and Young defender Rob holding returning to the bench.
Stoke began better than us and looked to take advantage of Arsenal’s mental unpreparedness. Joe Allen and Anaurtovic combined several times to trouble the gunners but the rear guard remained shut.
Then came a moment of worry for Arsenal that we hope won’t proove to influential to our chances to win the league, an injury to key central defender Shkodran Mustafi led to him exiting the game. It is a suspected Grade A Hamstring injury and we are looking at a possible 1 month lay off, A bad blow.
Nonetheless, fans can be comforted by further evidence that this team finally look to have the backbone to go with their panache. Replacements for his position abound in the form of Brazilian Gabriel and Youngster Rob Holding. But when you have a defender whom has not tasted defeat in any of his games he has featured in, you start to fear if it truly wasn’t a case of him being that good that his absence now may lead to a defeat. fingers crossed that wont happen.
Back to the encounter, both teams could easily have taken the lead inside 10 minutes.
Arsenal were a little sluggish in the opening stages of the first half and Stoke were able to get a firm foothold in the game. And it was the visitors who almost got a spectacular opener, 35-yard volley from Marc Muniesa that Petr Cech tipped over after Arsenal half-cleared the second of three early Xherdan Shaqiri corners.
Alexis Sanchez then fired wide in the 5th minute after some loose passes in the Stoke engine room before Shaqiri dwelled too long on the ball when he should have shot in the box after a rapid counter attack.
Mesut Ozil and Sanchez then combined to set-up Walcott in the seventh minute but the England star’s shot was blocked by a sea of Stoke bodies.
Walcott was denied again in the 12th minute, his low angled shot saved by Lee Grant after Shkodran Mustafi’s defence-splitting pass.
The pace was blistering from both teams and kept things lively on the pitch…
But Stoke continued to pose Arsenal’s defence huge concern; Joe Allen missing the target with time to pick his spot from just inside the area after brilliant build-up play from Arnautovic.
There were more problems for the Gunners in the 25th minute when Mustafi limped off with what looked like a hamstring strain to be replaced by Hector Bellerin, who took his role at right-back as Gabriel moved inside to centre-half.
The new defensive set up had barely had time to settle before referee Lee Mason awarded Stoke a controversial penalty.
Granit Xhaka and Allen both careered towards each other inside the Arsenal area, the Gunners midfielder won the race but contrived to miss the loose ball bundling into Allen instead – catching the Wales international with an elbow in the process.
It was ugly more than malicious, nonetheless Mason pointed to the spot.
Arsenal’s players were incensed, so was Wenger who vehemently vented his anger to fourth official Paul Tierney on the touchline.
Perhaps it was a tad soft, but Xhaka only had himself to blame for the mess he created.
The Switzerland midfielder was relying on Cech to dig him out of trouble, but Adam – on his 31st birthday – showed no sympathy as he sent the goalkeeper the wrong way to fire Stoke ahead.
Arms folded, Wenger shook his head on the touchline. Deep down, though, he knew his side were far from their best, the fluency of their demolition of Basel on Tuesday night nowhere to be seen.
Had Arnatuovic been more clinical in the 40th minute after some brilliant work from Allen then the Gunners would have been two-down.
Instead, somehow, they were level at half-time after the most incisive of moves. Sanchez to Bellerin to Walcott. Goal. So simple. The passing sequence featured a particular pass iv now seen more than once which the team uses to devastating effect. Its a pass from inside that locates the on-coming fullback (Bellerin) with a diagaonal that meets him at the edge of the box ready for a pull out. I first saw it for the 2nd goal against Chelsea at the Emirates. On that Occasion Iwobi was the passer. Today it was Alexis who located Bellerin out wide to do the damage.
Questions will be asked of how stoke defender Bruno Martin Indi allowed Walcott to nip in front of him to poke home Bellerin’s low cross for his 100th Arsenal goal. Not that Wenger will care. His side had got away with a below-par first half.
Indeed, had Sanchez or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain been more accurate with their finishing in the dying moment of the opening half then they’d have been ahead at the break.
You felt for Hughes; his side were doing well yet were pegged back. The fear for Stoke, though, was would Arsenal be as poor in the second period?
The short answer to that question was: no. Arsenal took the lead in the 50th minute thanks to a move as simple as their first.
Oxlade-Chamberlain was afforded too much time in midfield to play a lofted pass into Ozil, who ghosted into the area before looping a header over Grant to put Arsenal ahead. It was a goal reminicent of Ex-gunner Van persie’s Goal at the World cup in Brazil. And you bet Twitter was agog with Arsenal Fans debating whose header was better.
Hughes will bemoan the fact Erik Pieters wasn’t in position to track Ozil’s run after re-entering the field following treatment.
That wasn’t Arsenal’s concern, though, as they looked to power past shell-shocked Stoke.
Oxlade-Chamberlain saw his effort from 20 yards saved by Grant in the 58th minute before Muniesa produced a vital block to deny Sanchez as he wriggled his way into a dangerous position.
That’s not to say Stoke had given up the fight. Far from it.
Gabriel was forced into a vital challenge to deny Mame Biram Diouf in the 61st minute as the Stoke striker charged through on goal. The introduction of Peter Crouch in the 72nd minute brought its own problems for Arsenal.
And the Stoke centre forward nearly made an impact his first touch, his powerful downward header from Shari’s corner excellently saved by Cech.
Three minutes later, though, Stoke were dead an buried. Alex Iwobi had only been on the pitch for six minutes when he was played in by Sanchez.
That didn’t matter to the Nigeria international, however, as he cooly stroked past Grant to extend Arsenal’s advantage.
Wenger took the opportunity to give Alexis Sanchez a rest, replacing him with Giroud with 12 minutes left on the clock. Not that the Chilean looked impressed by it, mind you. You can understand he wanted to get a goal to stay in the Top scorers running, But this game was well and truly won; and being a valued forward Sanchez will be fresher for his brief rest.
So job done. We won with the exact margin to enable us top The league before Chelsea host West brom. We look in really confident form. And with Welbeck returning back to training and Mertasacker too. The squad will look even better for the spring.