Stoke City 1 Arsenal 1
Stoke away has come to represent a fixture I both relish and dread in equal measure. I like the cauldron style atmosphere and the genuine dislike between the teams. But then prolonged exposure to Stoke fans, Stoke players and that wazzock in the stupid baseball cap and his moronic dribblings make my blood pressure go doolalley. Nevertheless, with our four packs secured, we boarded the train from London Euston to Staffordshire. Kris decided that our inconspicuousness would be aided in the Potteries if he wrote "TONY PULIS IS A C**T" in permanent marker on his baseball cap. When two of our party also had the same idea to "surprise" us all with a bottle of jaigermeister, the tone was set.
After a few more pre match beverages in the Staffordshire student union, we were ready to board the park and ride bus to the Britannia. The atmosphere inside was as heated and idiotic as you`d expect; nevertheless, there was a game to win and Arsenal set about trying to win it early on. Crouch gave Arsenal a portent warning when he stopped to head Pennant`s cross wide. But the away side got amongst their hosts. Benayoun closed down the very poor Ryan Shotton (like Delap, his only athletic talent is in his shoulders) and fed van Persie on the lip of the area; van Persie nudged the ball back into the Israeli`s path, but he just couldn`t get enough purchase on his shot which was comfortably saved by Begovic.
Soon after Rosicky eked himself out some space before curling a good cross to the back post, which van Persie met with a downward header. Begovic was down smartly and equal to the effort. Having not taken those early chances, the Gunners were caught cold by the Potters. Etherington was allowed to cross the ball from the left far too easily by Sagna, the ball drifted to the back post where Crouch outleapt Vermaelen to head the ball down into the bottom corner. But far from licking their wounds, the away side set to the business of equalising. Once again, Benayoun ferociously closed down the terrible, terrible Ryan Shotton and played a reverse pass to Rosicky on the left. Rosicky delivered a sumptuous cross into the area, which van Persie read like a book and diverted into the net from close range. The Dutchman`s first goal from open play since March 12th.
Another cross should have yielded another goal for Arsenal, when Sagna swung in a precise delivery from the right which was inch perfect for Gervinho, but the Ivorian feared a clattering from Begovic and took his eye off it, missing the flight of the ball entirely. Gervinho was giving Wilson a bit of trouble at left back. Koscielny`s measured ball down the line saw him outpace Mark Wilson, but off balance the divine forehead blasted the ball well over. All level at half time but you felt the Gunners were trying to win the game that little bit more convincingly than Stoke.
That said, in the second half, despite territorial dominance, Arsenal struggled to break through a well drilled Potters back line. Stoke were happy to force Arsenal wide, and it was from wide positions Arsenal looked most threatening, if only occasionally. Rosicky worked wide to Sagna, he put in another teasing cross, finding van Persie, who headed goalwards, but couldn`t quite summon the power to get the attempt past Begovic. Arsenal had a shout for a penalty when van Persie collected Song`s pass in the area and cut the ball back for Benayoun, who appeared to have been nudged in the back in the area. Replays suggested a penalty would have been a very harsh award indeed. The Gunners toiled to little effect with the sort of fatigue that has been so evident of late looking increasingly like it`s hampering the end of the season. Stoke rarely threatened save for the last few minutes. Jerome forced Szczesny into a save at his front post, before substitute Rory Delap tossed a long throw into the area, Crouch beat Szczesny to the ball, but Sagna brilliantly hooked away with John Walters lurking. Walters then curled Shawcross` long ball wide with the outside of his right foot in stoppage time. Diaby predictably limped out of the action shortly before the full time whistle. I`d suggest this may have been his last game in an Arsenal shirt, which will be a shame but probably necessary at this stage.
In the end, a point was just about fair with neither side really showing the necessary spark to win the game. Arsenal offered more as an attacking threat, but we just don`t have enough players that look like scoring goals at the moment. The likes of Ramsey, Rosicky, Benayoun and Gervinho are performing to varying levels in the build up, but none really look like helping van Persie out with the scoring burden. We showed a slightly increased propensity to shoot from rage with Ramsey and Vermaelen coming close, but the impression that we`re crawling over the finishing line remains. Newcastle`s defeat made it a better point and we keep our destiny in our own hands at least. LD.
13.SZCZESNY, 3.SAGNA, 6.KOSCIELNY, 5.VERMAELEN, 28.GIBBS, 17.SONG, 16.RAMSEY (2.Diaby `73), 7.ROSICKY, 27.GERVINHO (29.Chamakh `78), 30.BENAYOUN (11.A.Santos `83), 10.v.PERSIE (c). Unused: 15.Chamberlain, 18.Squillaci, 21.Fabianski, 39.Coquelin.
1.BEGOVIC, 22.SHOTTON (20.Upson `56), 4.HUTH, 17.SHAWCROSS (c), 12.WILSON, 16.PENNANT (33.Jerome `74), 6.WHELAN, 18.WHITEHEAD, 26.ETHERINGTON (24.Delap `84), 19.WALTERS, 25.CROUCH. Unused: 9.Jones, 10.Fuller, 29.Sorensen, 33.Palacios.
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