Arsenal fought to a well deserved 1-0 victory against Stoke, but the encounter was no less tough than usual. Wenger joked afterwards that it was the biggest ‘cultural shock’ possible for Monreal, who was thrown in to the first team after just one training session at Arsenal on the Friday against the most physical side in the Premier League.
Perhaps it was partly for this reason that Podolski and especially Cazorla started on the bench. After playing many games throughout January it’s also understandable they would need a rest, but Stoke provides a good opportunity when stronger players like Diaby are an obvious choice for the physical battle. It prevents these quick, nimble players getting the living daylights kicked out of them, as Walcott received, with Wenger perhaps having one eye on the Champions League encounter coming up and not wanting any more injuries to key players after Gibbs was ruled out. However, it became necessary at 0-0 with half an hour to play to bring them on and inject the pace and urgency necessary to get the win.
Arsenal dominated the game, how Pullis can say his side deserved something is beyond belief. Arsenal played some good football and if there had been some better finishing it would have been a comfortable win. On the other hand, Begovic did have a great game, making many great shot-stops, especially from close range.
Arsenal had 23 attempts to Stoke’s 7, with only 1 of theirs on target; a long shot and easy save for Szczesny. With an expected 64% of possession in our favour. Plus the fact we got the all important goal. Yes, Pullis, you definitely deserved something. Delusional.
Walcott looked sharp again, despite not getting a goal to add to his great record of 18 starts and 18 goals, now 19 starts. Against Stoke it was obvious they would try to bring him down and stop him running. This was exactly what happened, and Wenger claimed that Shawcross should have been sent off for the number of yellow card fouls he committed. Walcott was subjected to most the bad tackles, but did earn the free kick on the edge of the area that led to the goal from Podolski. It was a deflected shot, but off of Stoke player. The linesman put his flag up for offside as well; the only man offside was Walcott and he was furthest away from the play, therefore not ‘interfering with play’. The goal deservedly stood.
Monreal had a good debut, making many good runs and delivering some excellent crosses. Defensive-wise there wasn’t much to do in all honesty, but what there was he did well, we shall see how he does in that department over the coming weeks. I expect him to start at Sunderland and Blackburn while some may be rested at Blackburn in view of the Bayern clash 3 days later, while Nacho is ineligible.
We move on with the important 3 points. Everton dropped 2 points. Chelsea dropped 3 points. Hopefully Tottenham can drop some points too. We are left 5 points off of 3rd, which isn’t too bad and considering we still have Tottenham and Everton to play and there are many big games amongst rivals, it’s certainly all still to play for.
We have a home game in the FA Cup against Championship opposition Blackburn, an expected win there will see us reach the FA Cup quarter-finals, and a big game in the Champions League against Bayern, going in as underdogs means the pressures off and if we play like we can (minus the slow starts) I don’t see why we can’t put up a good game.
Reason to be optimistic I think. Come on you reds.