Thursday, 24 February 2011

Arsenal v Stoke 23rd February 2011

On paper, a clean sheet and a win that brings us to within one point of Man United seems like a perfect day for the Gunners. However, in life, Sod’s law dictates that nothing is perfect and something will ruin a seemingly perfect situation. So, during a very important match against The Violent Scumbags (some people call them Stoke), we lost two important players to injury.
Firstly, Cesc limped off after just 14 minutes. Later, at 70 minutes, Theo went off on a stretcher. The damage has been assessed and while Cesc is still a possibility for the Carling Cup final on Sunday, Theo is definitely out. Arsenal fans were troubled – after all, it was only a year ago when Aaron Ramsey was the victim of a career threatening tackle by Ryan Shawcross, who suffered an incredible amount of abuse from the fans, who booed his every touch.
To use the old footballing cliché, it was a game of two halves. In the first half we completely dominated them, as they threw every player save Carew behind the ball. The only times they got the ball in our half was when their goalkeeper kicked it upfield, and he took his time doing so. When they did win those aerial balls, their passing was dismal, and we broke down their attacks. We played our usual fluent, attacking football to our usual standard, but it is very difficult to play against a team whose only intention is to defend. We found it a Herculean task to break them down with our passing. Despite this, a goal came very quickly, in the 8th minute. Oddly (for an Arsenal team) it came from a corner, and from a defender who can barely head the ball out of his own box, let alone into the opponent’s net.
I’m rather sceptical of Wenger’s signing of Sebastien Squillaci. In my opinion, he’s simply a rather average defender. While Koscielny proved himself with some outstanding performances, most recently against the Catalans, Squillaci has yet to do so. He has been rather shaky in almost every game he has played. So imagine the astonishment in the stadium when Wilshire’s corner was sent back across the box by Bendtner, and the person to head it home was none other than old Seb. The stadium was soon alive with chants of ‘One nil to the football team’.
Yet, in the second half the only team that looked like scoring were the rugby team. Delap’s 'lineouts' were, as always, a worry. They actually managed to string some passes together and turned them into half-chances. Pennant came close with a free-kick in the dying minutes of the game. While we  maintained possession fairly well and created some chances, our attacking edge seemed very blunt without the whetstone of van Persie. However, the defence played well, not to mention Song and Wilshere doing some fine work protecting the back four, and another brilliant performance by Szczesny. He has proved time and again this season that he is the real deal. He did so again last night, pulling off an incredible save from a speculative Carew half-volley, and neutralising dangerous balls. He’s also fantastically built for a goalie – tall and imposing. Let’s just hope he can maintain his fantastic form.
Following the final whistle that put a stop to every Arsenal fan's nerves, I wanted to see all the players rejecting Shawcross. Unfortunately, I then saw Djourou shaking his hand. I’m sorry, but if almost ruining a player’s career (and by extension his life) does not deserve a bit of hostility, I’m not sure what does. Shawcross will now forever be hated by Arsenal – he must accept that, and stop whinging about Wenger having a vendetta against him. His challenge on Ramsey was unforgiveable –the players need to show it.
Now we can look ahead to the next few games. We’ve got the Carling Cup final and the replay against Orient. The Carling Cup final is a must win in order to put an end to this ‘you haven’t won a trophy in five years’ crap. So what if it’s a rubbish competition? It’s a trophy all the same.  As for Orient, we’re at the Emirates. We’ll play them off the park; show them how the professionals really play (Bendtner doesn’t count). An important few matches for keeping the quadruple hopes alive.

Author - LT

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