After this weekend, Arsenal have mathematically been ruled out of the title race. However, Saturday was St Totteringham’s day, ensuring Champions League football once again.
Our title challenge has finally ended. After weeks of seeing Arsenal throw away the opportunity to catch Utd, fans can now accept that we will end this season without a trophy. We conceded from another set piece yesterday, which keeps up our fantastic percentage – over 50% of the league goals Arsenal have let in have been from set pieces. I thought set pieces is something simple that teams can just practice over and over again? Apparently it is too simple for Wenger to bother paying attention to.
Stoke vs Arsenal – A history
Stoke got promoted in 2008, and Arsenal faced them for the first time in November of that year, at the Britannia Stadium. Since then, Arsenal have rarely managed to convincingly defeat the Potters.
Stoke 2-1 Arsenal - Two Rory Delap throw-ins and a red card for RVP left Arsenal with three league defeats by November. Clichy grabbed his first goal for the club in the dying moments, with a shot that was deflected past Sorensen – what a waste of a first goal!
Arsenal 4-1 Stoke - Arsenal went 3-0 in 18 minutes in the final game of the season, but Stoke grabbed one back before RVP scored the fourth just before the break.
Arsenal 2-0 Stoke - Despite Cesc having a penalty saved, goals from Arshavin and Ramsey won the game for the Gunners.
Stoke 3-1 Arsenal - Another Rory Delap throw-in put Arsenal behind early on, but Denilson managed to level before the break. However, two late goals on the counter attack, as Arsenal piled on the pressure, knocked Wenger‘s side out of the FA Cup.
Stoke 1-3 Arsenal - You guessed it – a Rory Delap throw-in put Arsenal behind within ten minutes. Bendtner equalised before half-time, but the second-half was marred by Ramsey’s injury. Stoke fans can say what they like about whether Ryan Shawcross “is that kind of player,” but when Pulis tells his players to “get stuck in” because Arsenal “don’t like it up ‘em,” then I can’t help but disagree. The challenge was rash, and left Ramsey suffering for over a year. But Ryan must have suffered a lot of emotional trauma, so I guess Stoke fans singing “he’ll break it again, he’ll break it agaiiiin, RYAN SHAWCROSS, he’ll break it again” during yesterday’s match was perfectly acceptable. Two goals in the dying moments from Vermaelen and Fabregas won the match for Arsenal.
Arsenal 1-0 Stoke - Squillaci scored the only goal in a crucial win for Arsenal, as we moved within a point of Man Utd. However, both Cesc and Walcott went off injured, leaving the Gunners depleted for the cup final against Birmingham.
Stoke 3-1 Arsenal - Once again, poor defending was the problem as Arsenal lost at the Britannia Stadium. The first goal came from a set piece, the second from a deflection, and the third from a catalogue of defensive errors, shortly after RVP had given Arsenal a lifeline. However, after beating the league leaders only a week before, how did we lose?
What went wrong?
In my opinion, the team selection was a massive error. Although it is unlike Wenger to rotate players for tactical reasons, he should have done so for this match. Arsenal have always had trouble at the Britannia stadium, and yesterday was no exception. Starting Arshavin and Walcott ahead of Bendtner and Chamakh was a mistake. Despite the former pair having had far superior seasons, no one can doubt that (as in the Bolton game) Arsenal needed height and a presence in both boxes against Stoke. Our tall strikers could have provided such an option, and Walcott/Arshavin could have been great substitutions in order to bring some pace to our attacks as Stoke’s players tired.
Wenger’s man management has to be questioned. The players didn’t seem up to it. I can count on one hand the players that I thought had a decent input; Szczesny, Sagna, Wilshere, RVP. And even this quartet weren’t up to their best form. However, RVP did manage to extend his Premier League record to scoring in 8 consecutive away matches. His total of 20 goals this season, despite most of his goals coming in 2011, is thoroughly impressive, and I cannot wait to see him grace our team for years to come. Having reached 93 Arsenal goals (I was surprised that he had netted so many – I guess he has consistently scored over 10 goals for 7 seasons (apart from 9 in 2007/08)), our mercurial Dutchman is likely to go on to eclipse Bergkamp’s goalscoring record of 121. He is now in the all-time top 20 Arsenal goalscorers list – congratulations Robin!
The players may have lacked sharpness and commitment yesterday due to an end of season lull. However, with an outside chance to win the league, I was surprised at the shocking lack of determination to win. It was almost typical of Arsenal to follow up a win against Utd with such a lackluster performance which ended in defeat. As long as it is mathematically possible, the players should have given their all to get the three points. Apart from pride, the title WAS still up for grabs. Why didn’t Wenger instill enthusiasm and that ‘belief’ into his side?
Arsenal played some great possession football, as showed by the 74% stat in our favour. But how did we lose a match having seen such a lot of the ball (which is even more impressive given that we were away from home)? Once again, we didn’t work the keeper enough. We had a few chances, but the shooting was generally poor. Keeping the ball on the edge of the box is all very well if we know how to break down the defence, but that wasn’t often the case yesterday.
It was unfortunate to see such a lack of defensive authority and cohesion. Player for player, our defence is pretty good. But this is not true as a unit. Each player seems to play for themselves – Koscielny and Djourou don’t seem like a true partnership. We need communication and cohesion. We need the defence to know its job and work like a well-oiled machine. Essentially, like the new Macbook, not a PC running Windows ’96. A new defensive coach could fix this problem, but maybe the return of Vermaelen and a fantastic, established centre back would be better?
Could a summer transfer be possible? I very much doubt it, given that Vermaelen is almost ready to start matches again. Wenger will wax lyrical about our central defensive options; Vermaelen (“like a new signing” is likely to be Wenger’s choice phrase), Koscielny, Djourou, Squillaci, Miquel and even Song. I do think that Djourou and Koscielny have potential, but they currently lack the necessary attributes to win us a title. Miquel is far too young, and I haven’t seen enough of him to make an honest judegment. And don’t get me started on Squillaci.
Szczesny 6.5 – Poor defending by the whole defence was the reason for Arsenal shipping three goals, it wasn’t all Szczesny’s fault. Unlucky for the second goal.
Sagna 6.5 – Let Pennant waltz past him for the second goal, but showed the kind of passion and never-say-die attitude that we all love about him.
Djourou 4.5 - Had a shocking game, like his match against Bolton. I thought he had really come on this season, but his recent errors are beginning to worry me.
Koscielny 6 – Weak partnership with Djourou, but didn’t make any terrible mistakes. Should have defended better for their third goal.
Gibbs 5.5 - Didn’t take his opportunity to show that he can provide an adequate back-up for Clichy.
Song 6 – Didn’t close down off the ball in the way Stoke did. Needed to step up with his relatively inexperienced midfield team, but failed to do so.
Wilshere 6.5 Rarely has a poor game, and was one of our better players. But lacked his driving runs and ability to create space.
Ramsey 6 – Didn’t put in a great performance on his return to the Britannia Stadium.
Walcott 5 - Made some good runs but barely got in the game. Not necessarily his fault, but he should drift more central if he wants to make an impact.
RVP 6.5 MOTM – He wasn’t fabulous, but he grabbed our goal, so wins the MOTM award. And it was with his right foot.
Arshavin 5 - After a great substitute performance against Utd, his commitment was lacking.
Chamakh 6 – Made some good touches and held up the ball well. Good touch for RVP’s goal.
Bendtner 5.5 – Not as effective as Chamakh, but inadvertently set up RVP for a great chance which was well-saved.
Rosicky 6.5 – Provided some pace and ideas when he was brought on, but it was too little, too late.