A determined performance from Arsenal yesterday.
We deserved to win overall and it was imperative that we did, as Chelsea lost away to Man City. We started the game well, dominating possession-wise. Arsene decided to play Arshavin up front as lone striker as Eduardo was injured in training on Friday:
Sagna Gallas Vermaelen Traore
Denilson Fabregas Nasri
It became clear very early on that the important moments in this game would involve Arshavin. He was put through on goal by Cesc after about 5 minutes but a heavy touch meant that Sorenson had enough time to smother the eventual shot. He then set up Nasri who could only drive his shot at the legs of the Stoke keeper from a tight angle.
Midway through the half Arshavin created something out of nothing. Receiving the ball from Eboue outside the box, he evaded a reckless challenge from Diao before enticing Delap to make contact in the box, bringing him down as a result. The referee awarded the penalty. Cesc was to be the taker but his tame effort was easily saved by Sorensen. You could see from the replays that the keeper knew exactly where the shot was going, long before the kick was taken. On this point I must say that I felt Cesc had a difficult game yesterday (by his standards).
Nonetheless his ball to Arshavin on 26 minutes lead to the opening goal. It was the Russian who did all the work though, weaving his way to a decent position before poking the ball in off the far post. 1-0 and you have to say this was the least we deserved.
Within moments of taking the lead we had a golden opportunity to double it. Traore’s cross was deflected by Diao on to the post. The ball bounced out to Cesc about 8 yards out and, with an open goal, his driven shot was inadvertently blocked by Eboue. Very frustrating.
The half ended 1-0, and it seems that Rosicky had picked up an injury and was replaced by Vela for the start of the second. It wasn’t long after kick off that Eboue had to be replaced by Ramsey, who I must say was outstanding for the remainder of the game. We continued to look strong however the longer the game went on without us scoring the second, the more nervous you were that the late equaliser was on its way.
Having said that, I struggle to recall many chances for Stoke for the whole game. Their only real threat came from Delap’s long-throws, yet we seemed to deal with them well. Tuncay, who was always very good for Middlesbrough, seemed to be caught offside a hundred times, but he managed to time his run well on one move and was through on goal. Gallas was quick off the mark though and was able to block his effort, which bobbled through to Almunia.
Arshavin so nearly grabbed the second goal. A ball across the box by Vela found him at the back post. His shot was deflected up on to the bar and over. The goal finally came in the 79th minute. Ramsey picked up a loose ball outside the Stoke box, and found space to shoot inside Sorensen’s near post. It provided much-needed relief as the game ran out 2-0.
Arsene had this to say on the game:
On Arshavin playing centrally…
“When it works, they like it. I don’t think he was a fanatic to play centre forward but I am convinced because he has good body power and movement and good technique. He has intelligent movement and it worked today. He could have had two or three goals and overall he did very well.”
On Arshavin being the answer to Van Persie absence…
“I don’t know yet, I have to try it again and to see if it works at home, away from home and to find as well a balance because I had many technical players around him with Rosicky, Nasri, Fabregas, Eboue, and all penetrating from deep positions. That is needed when you have a player like Arshavin. We will see but at the moment we do not have much choice with Walcott out, Bendtner out, Van Persie of course. But we could get Walcott back, we could get Bendtner back in two to three weeks. We had as well Diaby and Song out today, they should be available next week.”
Getting the three points…
“It was needed. I feel we had a good first half and we should have been two or three up and then in the second half you could see that recent defeats had played on our mind because it was only 1-0 and we were a bit more restricted. But what I liked is that we didn’t give any chances away and we got the second goal that secured the win. You could see how we have a game based on initiative and if our confidence dropped we are in danger. That’s why we could not lose confidence.”
On today’s injuries…
“We had Eboue with a muscular problem, Rosicky with a groin problem, Traore a hamstring problem and Gallas a hamstring problem. We are hopeful that Eboue, Traore and Gallas are not too serious but Tomas Rosicky is out for a while. Eduardo has a thigh problem, he had to stop training yesterday. It is a little recurrence, the medical staff tell me he could be available next week.”
On Fabregas’ missed penalty…
“Yes I did think it might be one of those days, especially when you play against Stoke who are well-organised, mentally strong and they do not need many chances to score a goal against you because of the long throws or set pieces. If you make a mistake they take advantage of it. At the end of the day we scored the most difficult chance in the first half.”
On the relief of winning again…
“Yes it was a relief for the team especially. I want this team to be successful and we had two big disappointments recently. I do not speak about the Carling Cup but the defeat at Sunderland and the defeat against Chelsea was difficult to take. If we had not won today then you can question that mentally we have been touched but the fact we won was very important.”
Just how significant yesterday’s result(s) will be remains to be seen. However it was essential that we beat Stoke after two successive Premier League defeats, and we did exactly that. It wasn’t a wonderful performance by any means, but this team’s abilities rely on confidence, and we can only hope that yesterday’s victory has helped take us back to the form we had prior to the international break. There is a massive game away to Liverpool next weekend. We must win this, having lost all our games against top-4 opposition this season, and it would set us up nicely for the Christmas period.
For now though we can enjoy an Arsenal victory, and a Chelsea defeat. Enjoy the rest of your weekend.