Sunday, 3 February 2013

Gunners overcome Stoke's negative tactics

Arsenal 1-0 Stoke

As the Emirates crowd sang “One-nil to the football team” yesterday, you couldn’t help but feel a sense of vindication. Only one side had gone into the match seeking to secure all three points while attempting to play the beautiful game the way in which it was intended. The other team had started the match simply hoping to steal a point, by sitting deep, having eleven men behind the ball and employing every dirty trick in the book.

Why Stoke City and Tony Pulis bother to participate in the Premier League is beyond me.
Their only tactics are to lump long balls forward and attempt to bully the opposition through rough tackles as they do everything they can to disrupt the flow of the game and spoil it. As supporters of a team who have played some of the most attractive football in the world over the last 15 years, the Arsenal faithful must surely despair each and every time the fixture list pits the Gunners against the Potters. I simply cannot fathom why anyone would pay for a season ticket at the Britannia Stadium to watch the drivel served up by Tony Pulis week in week out.  

With Stoke sitting so deep yesterday, Arsenal struggled to exert their passing game. The Gunners front three didn’t offer a great deal of movement and so the Stoke defenders were never really moved out of position as every time the Arsenal midfield were in possession, they didn’t have many forward options and so invariably passed the ball square or backwards. Consequently, although the home side enjoyed the lion’s share of the ball, as Stoke provided no attacking threat whatsoever, the Gunners found genuine goal scoring opportunities hard to come by. Whenever they did manage to break through the Stoke backline, Arsenal were thwarted by the excellent Asmir Begovic.

It took Wenger’s side until the 31st minute to have their first shot on target, as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain controlled Jack Wilshere’s delivery right in front of goal. Unfortunately he could only hit his shot straight at the goalkeeper and Begovic made a simple save. Had the Englishman diverted his shot into the bottom corner of the goal, the Gunners would surely have taken the lead. Begovic was forced into action again a few minutes later as Koscielny met Walcott’s cross with a powerful headed effort at the back post which the Serbian goalkeeper was equal to. With five minutes of the first half remaining, Arsenal produced the move of the match, as quick, incisive passing, coupled with excellent movement, enabled Wilshere to slide a perfectly weighted ball through to Oxlade-Chamberlain on the edge of the box. However the Englishman’s wonderful effort, as he attempted to curl the ball inside the far post, was excellently saved by Begovic.


After a solid if unspectacular first half, the Arsenal faithful were expecting the Gunners to crank up the pressure and take full control of the second period. However, although the entire second 45 minutes were played in the Stoke half, Wenger’s side struggled even more than they had in the first half to create chances. On numerous occasions, the home side would work the ball wide and then cross it into the penalty area. Although it is understandable that the Gunners would employ such tactics in an attempt to stretch the opposition defence, as it was becoming more and more difficult to get in behind the Stoke back line, they were really playing into Pulis’ hands. Stoke are a side full of giants and so it would be extremely unlikely for an Arsenal player to connect with such a cross. Furthermore, the fact the Gunners were not committing men into the box made winning such a header even more difficult. With only Giroud in the Stoke penalty area, it would have taken a perfect delivery to break the deadlock and unfortunately, such a cross never arrived.

Yet with only 12 minutes remaining, Arsenal finally broke the deadlock. Theo Walcott, who was a menace all afternoon, was felled on the edge of the box by Andy Wilkinson. From the resulting free kick, up stepped Lukas Podolski to fire a powerful effort on goal, which struck the legs of Geoff Cameron, wrong footing Begovic, who could only look on as the ball rolled into the back of the net. As the Gunners celebrated, they soon realised that the linesman had raised his flag, indicating an Arsenal player had been offside. However as that man had been Walcott, on the other side of the penalty area, the linesman’s decision was completely ludicrous as there was no way Walcott was interfering with play. The Arsenal players were furious but after a short discussion, the referee overruled his assistant and correctly awarded the goal.

Pulis suggested after the game that the Gunners shouldn’t have surrounded the linesman, but surely these were merely sour grapes from a man who had tried to steal point and had to go home with just what he deserved; nothing. The Stoke manager even tried to sarcastically proclaim he no longer knows what it means to be offside, maybe he should have asked for a copy of the footballing rule book for Christmas!

Having taken the lead, the Gunners were now in total control of the game. Stoke’s players had tried to rough them up and bully them throughout, but Arsenal’s players admirably rose to the challenge and gave as good as they got. However Ryan Shawcross was extremely fortunate to stay on the pitch following a horrible tackle, very reminiscent of his infamous leg breaking challenge on Aaron Ramsey, while Michael Owen also lashed out at Mikel Arteta after a strong tackle by the Spaniard.

Arsenal easily saw the game out to take a fully deserved three points. While they had struggled to create goal scoring opportunities, the Gunners were superior in every department. Nacho Monreal’s debut was another positive to take from the game as the Spaniard was more than a match for Stoke’s physical approach and although he wasn’t tested at all defensively, he showed the speed, passing ability and awareness required to support the attack on numerous occasions. Hopefully the Gunners can now build on this victory and with other results having gone their way, make a real push for a top four finish.

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