Match Review: Arsenal 3-1 Stoke
Stoke suffered yet another defeat to the hands of Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday afternoon to the tune of a 3-1 loss. Charlie Adam’s penalty did give Stoke the lead midway through the first half, however Theo Walcott’s equaliser came swiftly afterwards and second half strikes from Mesut Ozil and Alex Iwobi doomed Stoke to yet another pointless trip to North London. Stoke had periods, especially during the first half, where they were displaying their best chance of nicking something from the Gunners in their own back yard for the first time in the Premier League, but Arsenal’s quality in abundance ended up to be too much for the Potters.
Mark Hughes was forced into a singular change from the side that beat Burnley the previous weekend: Jon Walters picked up a thigh strain in training, so there was a reshuffle to the attacking trident with Joe Allen filling in with Xherdan Shaqiri behind Marko Arnautovic who led the line. The space on the bench was filled by youngster Julien Ngoy, reclaiming his seat from the Watford victory after missing out last match. Once again, the bench contained no recognised defensive options, with the likes of Geoff Cameron, Ryan Shawcross and Phil Bardsley still unavailable.
As previously mentioned, Stoke started the match brightly and had the first near miss of the match. Marc Muniesa was lurking on the edge of the area and the ball sat up nicely for him, the Spanish centre back lashed a fiery volley towards the Arsenal goal and it needed the fingertips of Petr Cech to deny Muniesa a second goal in two matches. A chance for the home side followed minutes later, Shkodran Mustafi slipped the ball through to an unmarked Theo Walcott inside the penalty area, his shot was parried by Lee Grant’s extended boot, the goalkeeper looking for his third consecutive clean sheet. Back down the other end, there was a chance for Allen: Adam found the run of Arnautovic who collected the ball elegantly and cut back to find the unmarked Welshman, but the resulting shot was well wide of the goal when it really should have tested the Arsenal stopper.
And then, from out of what seemed like nowhere, Stoke were thrown a lifeline. Opposing midfielder Granit Xhaka’s elbow collided with Allen’s face inside the area and the referee saw fit to award a penalty for Stoke. After a significant delay, due to Allen’s recovery, Charlie Adam stepped up to the spot and blasted the ball past Cech and send his side a goal up! The breakthrough was followed by a chorus of “1-0 to the rugby team” from the away faithful, possibly the loudest the Emirates Stadium had been the entire afternoon. Arsenal looked to recover quickly and almost conjured up a swift reply: substitute Hector Bellerin’s effort at goal deflected towards a lurking Ozil, but Mame Diouf scrambled ahead of the German playmaker magnificently to deny an equaliser. But Stoke couldn’t keep the ball out the back of the net for much longer, it was Bellerin again who crossed into the area and Walcott got himself ahead of the defence, the outside of his foot onto the ball and divert it into the back of the net, leaving no chance for Grant. The mood within the Stoke crowd dampened instantly, considering that seconds earlier Arnautovic and Allen combined again and almost doubled Stoke’s lead. The Potters didn’t get their slice of luck and, on the balance of play, it was only fair that both sides went into the dressing room at half time with nothing to separate them.
It didn’t take much second half action for Arsenal to get their second goal of the match: Alex Oxlade Chamberlain dinked a teasing ball over the top for Ozil, who beat the offside trap and sent a looping header over the onrushing Grant and into the back of the net. A lack of organisation at the back was at fault for Stoke, Giannelli Imbula playing Ozil onside whilst trying to fill in for Erik Pieters who had been forced off the field temporarily with injury. In an attempt to get his side back into the game, Mark Hughes abandoned his new formation and put Mame Diouf back up front as a true striker. The Senegal international had his chance shortly after the switch, Pieters sent a cross in and it fell right to Diouf but his appalling header ended up coming closer to where the ball came from than the goal he was trying to score into. He was swiftly subbed for Peter Crouch who also has an instant impact: a Stoke corner found the veteran at the back post and his header was on target but Cech was there to deny him.
The game was finally taken out of Stoke’s reach with Arsenal’s third goal. Iwobi played the ball into Alexis Sanchez, who went down under pressure from a Stoke defender. The advantage was played with Iwobi picking up the loose ball and the young Gunners winger capitalised with a good finish after making his way into the area with Stoke caught napping. It sealed the inevitable: another Stoke loss to the hands of Arsenal away from home, despite having the best chance to change the recurring story in years. The loss could be soured further after TV footage picked up an alleged stamp on Alexis from Adam on the build up to the final goal, which could be exposed to retrospective action from the FA. A highlight for Stoke fans towards the end of the game would be the re-introduction of Ramadan Sobhi back to first team football coming off the bench AND a debut appearance for academy product Julien Ngoy: the first to make a first team appearance in the Premier League since Ollie Shenton a couple of seasons ago.
There would be many Stoke fans going into this game expecting no points at all and, despite a decent effort from a intermittently effective team performance, they were not disappointed. Positives can be taken from the game however: Stoke seemed to defend adequately on the whole under strong spells of opposing pressure and also had clear cut chances in a fixture that often bears no fruit at all. Fans will also recognise that December plays host to a nasty run of games which, at face value, may see Stoke acquire very few points. The concentrated run of fixtures and caliber of opponents will mean that Mark Hughes has no choice but to rotate his squad and give those who have missed out on game time recently another chance at staking a claim in the first team. It is worth remembering that this is only Stoke’s second loss in ten matches and the first time in that run that they have conceded more than one goal in a game, with this one happening to be against a side which climbed to the top of the table come the final whistle. There is still reason for optimism over the season of goodwill and it’s important the support for the team remains strong in, what could be, a season defining period.
We saw this coming. Now it’s time to make a statement of intent. Go’arn Stoke.
Lee Grant: 6 – made some important saves again.
Glen Johnson: 6 – although conceding three, defended decently.
Bruno Martins Indi: 6 – kept Arsenal at bay for the majority of the afternoon.
Marc Muniesa: 6 – that spectacular first half volley nearly gave Stoke the lead.
Mame Diouf: 6 – good defensive display balanced out by poor striking cameo.
Charlie Adam: 6 – scored a penalty but poor otherwise.
Giannelli Imbula: 6 – creative but not penetrating.
Erik Pieters: 5 – exposed by the pace of Bellerin and Walcott
Xherdan Shaqiri: 6 – one of his quieter matches but kept himself busy.
Marko Arnautovic: 7 – although out of position, still created chances.
Joe Allen: 7 – won penalty, pressed high, linked up with Marko well
Peter Crouch (20 mins): 5 – nearly scored from minute one, ineffective otherwise.
Ramadan Sobhi (10 mins): 6 – intent was there but no time to produce.
Julien Ngoy (5 mins) – deployed.
Written by Ben Rowley
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