Right from the moment the starting line up was announced it was clear this one was going to be an uphill battle. Things got worse right in the first minute as Stoke capitalized on their first salvo. Delap fired the only real weapon in the hosts’ arsenal and Fuller made sure it found the target.
The worst part of this goal was that it was down to poor awareness on the part of Arsenal defenders and the keeper. In other words, Stoke were fired up and ready from the word go whereas Arsenal were tentative and caught on the back foot.
Given the way Fabianski handled the rest of Delap’s throws there is no reason to believe that he couldn’t have handled this one had he been prepared to attack it and catch it at the highest point. Unfortunately for us, it took a goal for the realization to sink in. Since he is not a regular starter, you have to wonder if the coaching staff and the manager had prepared him well for the task. The rest of the game tells me they had but Fabianski was not switched on early enough.
The other complaint against the young Pole is that he should have at least caught Fuller arriving from the corner of his eye and made an attempt to reach for the ball. Maybe the goal was an eye opener for the Arsenal number two!
Similarly our defense was caught unawares. We had four players marking two Stoke players with both central defenders really close to one attacker. To me it seemed like it was Silvestre with his man and Sol Campbell in no man’s land. Once again, he has been out for so long that it’s all matter of preparation rather than a question of ability.
When the first goal went in, I was really worried if this might turn into a rout. As it turned out, it was a scrappy game with Stoke hassling us all over the park but offering little threat of their own (kicking our players with intent is not counted!) In the first half they had fifteen attempts at putting the ball in our box, but apart from the first one Arsenal were able to hold fort.
After initial pressure from Stoke, we settled down and started getting into the game without creating any chances. To me, the main reason we struggled was that our defensive midfielders completely failed in their job and we got control of the ball only after Cesc dropped deep. With Walcott and Vela forced back to cover for the inexperienced full backs we hardly had anyone forward as the debutant JET cut a lone figure.
Neither team dominated the first half as Stoke’s strength was their destructive ability and Arsenal failed to get their game going.
For the second time in two games at the Brittania, we scored via a double deflection. Denilson the beneficiary this time. Unlike some others, I didn’t find anything controversial about the free kick decision.
The second half was a continuation of the first and I thought Arsenal looked more and more in control as the game went on. When Le Boss made the triple substitution I felt this would be the killer blow for Stoke. For a while Arsenal looked more in control as Ramsey imposed himself in the middle and gave Cesc the freedom to move forward. We also had more control in the final third.
Unfortunately, Ramsey in his enthusiasm picked the wrong pass, especially given the fact that Traore had made a good run forward. It was a really poor pass but shouldn’t have been a source of concern as Sidibe was five yards inside the Stoke half when possession was lost. The big striker glided into the right channel effortlessly as a hopeless Denilson chased shadows.
Firstly, the Brazilian failed at something that is his strength – reading the danger and nipping it in the bud. The run from Sidibe and the pass to him were really obvious and the only choice Stoke had from that position. Secondly, he was beaten for pace by a hardworking Sidibe highlighting his physical incapability for the job. Finally, he didn’t have the awareness to commit a professional foul and help the team recover it’s shape. Thus showing his mental incapability for the role.
Silvestre was at fault for not rushing out to cover for Traore. He is not very quick but at one point he stopped his run as if expecting Sidibe to cross or cut inside. This gave the Stoke striker a clear run to our box and an unchallenged opportunity to cross. At this level, even Stoke players are good enough to take such a gift.
Even after the second goal we should have recovered and equalized. I thought the problem was that Arshavin and Eduardo took a long time to get into the game and that allowed Stoke another chance to pressurize our defense.
A long kick by Sorenson was missed by Campbell and Denilson but Eastmond was in the right position. Unfortunately, the youngster failed to keep his balance and Tuncay was able to nick it off him. Once again Denilson was standing and watching as Etherington got a free run with the Right Back out of position. His cross was similar to that of Cole’s from the Chelsea game. Once again our central defenders were guilty of not making an attempt to clear it and Traore unaware of Whitehead’s presence. The hapless Fabianski left with no chance of making a save.
One worrying aspect is that Arsenal do not have the ability to lay siege at the opposition goal while chasing a game. I have said this often in the past, if Chelsea or United were chasing the game you can be certain the opposition defense will face a barrage of attacks. We don’t know how to maintain our attacking shape and more worryingly we tend to leave the back door open for counter attacks. Champion teams convert defeats into positive results but how often have we seen us losing from a position where we looked like we can win!
Fabianski: Bad mistake for the first goal. Struggled with some crosses but had a decent game overall. I don’t blame our goalkeepers for our defensive problems.
Coquelin: Baptism by fire for the young man. Worked hard and made some good tackles. Looked a bit nervous and lost the ball on occasions but overall an excellent effort given his age. Big prospect for the future.
Campbell: Was at fault for the first goal and to some extent for the third goal. Got some good tackles in. Clearly in need of match practice.
Silvestre: Almost gave away a penalty and was partially at fault for the second goal and third goals. But I never expect him to be impeccable.
Traore: Was excellent going forward and put some great crosses in. Did a decent job defensively.
Eastmond: Was useful on set pieces early on and did a good job at Right Back. Doesn’t have the ability to impose himself on such a physical game but we can’t fault him for that.
Denilson: Really poor. It’s not often you feel that the only goal scorer was the worst player on the pitch. It’s three games now and he is not good enough without a strong DM.
Cesc: Tried hard. I would love to know his genuine thoughts on playing in such a team in such a game. I think Wenger should have started him in a deeper role.
Walcott: Totally out of sorts. There is a simple problem – he is not a natural footballer. Without regular games he will always struggle.
JET: Decent debut for the youngster. I thought he looked better when he dropped deep. I felt he would have been a better choice for the center three.
Vela: Worked hard and had a few good moments. Another player who needs some games. Provided decent cover for Traore.
Subs: Ramsey looked lively and it’s great to have him back so soon. Eduardo and Arshavin failed to get going.