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Arsenal 3-1 Stoke: Analysis & Video Highlights

Arsenal overcame a resilient Stoke City at the Emirates this afternoon thanks mainly to substitute Robin van Persie, who came off the bench to bag a double. Here’s an analysis of the game and video highlights…

Szczesny, Djourou, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Andre Santos, Song (C), Arteta, Ramsey, Walcott, Chamakh and Gervinho started in a somewhat surprising line-up with Song taking the armband after in-form Robin Van Persie was rested despite Arsene Wenger saying he would probably play – there was speculation the Dutchman had a minor thigh injury. The Potters played Begovic, Wilson, Shawcross (c), Upson, Wilkinson, Delap, Whelan, Whitehead, Etherington, Crouch and Walters having lost 3/3 league games at the Emirates; the match came after midweek wins for both Stoke and Arsenal, with the majority of the visiting 11 playing against Maccabi Tel Aviv just three days ago.

The visitors had the early impetus as the game started with good possession and the opening shot, a Matty Etherington daisy-cutter which flew wide. Arsenal fashioned their first chance with a big Djourou diagonal, similar to his one against Marseille, which Santos miscontrolled and Djourou’s follow up was poor – it took the Gunners about five minutes to settle down with a gorgeous Ramsey through ball looking for Walcott’s incisive run just tantalisingly too long. Tactically, Stoke were playing intended ’4-3-3′ resembled a conservative 4-5-1 and only Peter Crouch played in our half with counter-attacks and set pieces seemingly on the menu. Out of form and favour Moroccan striker Marouane Chamakh was gifted a chance when Mikel Arteta’s out-swinging corner found him alone 12 yards out after he had out-muscled Walters but he made a completely mess of the header, knocking it wide and into the pitch. Arsenal had a solid 70% of the possession after 15 minutes but had absolutely no incision: as is always a good barometer of early form, “Come on Arsenal” chants were already in full flow.

Theo Walcott was providing the real flair and intent as he totally had the beating of Wilson down the right flank, but Chamakh lacked both the predatory instincts and confidence to link-up or make use of the England winger like Van Persie does. After Gervinho teed up Aaron Ramsey on his favoured right foot on the edge of the box you’d have bet your mortgage on him scoring, with his shot marginally wide of the post. Fortunately the two linked up again soon after: Aaron Ramsey, the match-winner in midweek, ignored the baying calls from the crowd to shoot and dinked a cute ball over the massive Stoke back-line for the mercurial Ivorian Gervinho to control and finish surgically in the 27th minute after being rested for the Marseille game. Soon after Dean Whitehead received the first booking of the game after 31 minutes for a hard challenge on Arteta and you sensed this card was the first of many. Laurent Koscielny beat Peter Crouch in the air 40 yards out and this was incredulously given as a free-kick – as soon as this happened the deja vu you get an Arsenal fan told you “equaliser” having seen this sort of thing happen time after time.

Spotting that Gervinho was marking Shawcross, Whelan played the free-kick deep to his captain who header across to Walters, the Irishman then hitting it across goal and Peter Crouch poking in from close in the 34th minute to score for his new team: 1-1 but questions have to be asked about the free-kick itself as well as the marking. Arsenal tried to bounce back with a great bit of skill from Mikel Arteta which precipitated a ball in to Chamakh, who looked clearly pulled back by Wilkinson but nothing was given as the ball into the box was always getting away from him. Both teams proceeded to play very tentatively up until the break, with neither side looking more dominant over the other before Basque midfield general Mikel Arteta looked for a final bit of magic, megging Whitehead and his ball to Chamakh was knocked away at the last by former Gunner Upson – unfortunately Gervinho’s follow up shot was high, wide and definitely not handsome: half time.

The Gunners started the second half brightly with quick attacks from midfield and the second bicycle kick attempt in consecutive home games by Koscielny going wide. Gervinho looked good attacking one-on-one and consistently beat Wilson and Wilkinson whatever flank he was on – Park Chu-Young and Van Persie received rousing applause when out warming up during the opening stages to a second half where both teams looked a bit leggy and uninspired. Stoke’s second booking of the game was for Wilkinson when he pulled back the quiet Theo Walcott but this didn’t prove to be the catalyst for attacks down the left; a stoppage ensued when Walters and Song collided, with the former twisting his knee. The Potters didn’t attack whatsoever, but Arsenal were pegged back by the compact five man Stoke midfield and had to play a lot in their own half – Alex Song tracked Crouch and defended excellently, but his distribution was poor. Delap, unsuccessful with any of his long throws, was replaced by midfield enforcer Salif Diao in the 60th minute; captain Alex Song had an excellent chance 20 yards out just after this but chose to pass rather than shoot.

In a poor game where each side only had one shot on target in the first half, chances were absolute gold and Arsenal were failing to convert the few they had fashioned. Captain fantastic Robin Van Persie received the biggest cheer of the afternoon when he came on for the once again disappointing Chamakh in the 66th minute – within two minutes he had been integral in two great chances and took a big elbow to the face from Arsenal hate figure Ryan Shawcross off the ball.

The Gunners were now trying to crank up the pressure but passing was sloppy and movement was predictable – with a solid looking back four and Van Persie in lethal form up front, a little bit of magic was needed to make our quality count; Arsenal’s second change to try to find this was Arshavin for Walcott with 20 minutes left. Stoke were now playing 11 men behind the ball and when Gervinho’s run to the byline found its way to Van Persie, the Dutchman’s flick went in to make it 2-1 despite Begovic seemingly saving it – it was an absolute howler for the Bosnian keeper and it dribbled in. Tony Pulis piled on two strikers in the form of Jones and Jerome for Crouch and Ethrington in order to fight back for another equaliser.

Another questionable freekick for Stoke was taken short and then powered in to Kenwyne Jones, who headed it across the face of goal before Jerome bundled Szczesny over and the ref stopped play. Arsenal were still definitely the better team with Arshavin, Song, Ramsey and Santos all putting in good shifts going forwards and in defence – the Russian captain played in Gervinho who ran down the pitch linked up with Van Persie once again, who’s shot was again straight at Begovic but again over the goal line: 3-1, with everything that Van Persie touching turning to gold. This goal really helped the atmosphere and Arsenal looked nothing less than lethal with the first choice attacking three on the pitch -however, you do have to say that we’d never get away with this play away from home and Stoke really were disappointing not to even test the defence from open play, especially Djourou at right back.

Sensing our physical vulnerability, Wenger brought on Manu Frimpong to shore things up in the closing minutes and Gervinho thoroughly deserved his standing ovation for a man of the match performance when he came off before the four minutes of injury time which wasn’t memorable.

At full time the greatest elation came from the fact United had lost 6-1 at home to City and people who said this was Arsenal’s best performance of the season thus far have to consider how jaded Stoke were and how poor they were in attack – perhaps the only thing we should really take from this is how crucially important Van Persie is to this Arsenal side. In my opinion, we seriously need another £20million+ creative forward in order to expand our attacking options because world class teams will have world class man-markers, taking RVP out of the game; maybe even another winger to allow the often quiet Walcott to play solely through the middle, as a strikeforce of RVP, Chamakh and the Englishman is definitely good enough to propel Arsenal to where we want to be: at the top of the league.

Watch highlights from Arsenal 3-1 Stoke


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