Arsh-enal Back To Winning Ways
Arsenal 2 – 0 Stoke City
1 – 0 Arshavin (26)
2 – 0 Ramsey (80)
By Arsene’s own admission, failure to defeat Stoke City yesterday may well have seen Arsenal’s season founder on the rocks of diminishing confidence. Injury to the last recognised first team centre forward, a missed penalty, good goalkeeping, sterling defensive work with some luck thrown in, all tried to conspire to make that happen; an inspired performance by Andrey Arshavin leading the line lifted Arsenal out of the rut into which they were falling.
Stoke’s recent run of results suggested that they might be obdurate opponents. They proved not to be as the point which had to be made was done emphatically, despite the scoreline. With Chelsea losing at Eastlands, it was a case of ‘as you were‘, the gap back to eight points and one game in hand. A win was vital for confidence ahead of the visit to Anfield. With qualification assured, it would be no surprise to see Arsene send an extremely young team to Athens, especially with more injuries mounting, reminscent of the victorious trip to Panathinaikos a decade ago.
Arsenal were bright yesterday without being spellbinding. Accusations grow of bullying, flattening teams of lesser technical ability, struggling with those who are not so pliable. Yet it is results such as yesterday upon which title challenges are built; winning against the rest of the top six counts for little if you founder elsewhere.
Two identikit goals, one-two’s sending the scorers free to finish with aplomb, sealed a performance built on defensive solidity. Stoke has built a reputation for being direct in their approach but such was the dominance of Arsenal, this threat was neutered, forcing the visitors onto the back foot for the whole of the 90 minutes, even if the second half performance by Arsenal was somewhat subdued.
The absence of Eduardo, joining van Persie in the medical room, suggested a tough afternoon for a team that had not scored in three of their previous four matches. Within five minutes of kick-off, that run seemed destined to end. Arshavin, not for the first time yesterday, out-thought and outfought the Stoke defence, his first touch too heavy allowing Sorensen to intercede. Moments later, a more assured effort as Arshavin fed Nasri whose fierce drive was saved by the custodian.
The visitors hinted that they were there to take something from the game as high balls entered the Arsenal area. The responses may not have been entirely convincing but cleared the ball was on each occasion, breathing confidence throughout the back four and in Almunia. The game swang entirely in Arsenal’s favour as the first quarter of the match approached. Diao nibbled at Arshavin outside the area, Delap took a chunk inside. On a day when Hreidarsson produced a tumble equal to that of Hoelzenbein in the 1974 World Cup Final, there was no doubt about this penalty.
Fabregas strode forward, assuming the responsibility of the captain. Sorensen, in keeping with the Goalkeeper’s Union took one step toward the ball before it was struck, diving to his left to produce a save from a shot struck at a comfortable height. Five minutes later the miss became almost irrelevant. Arshavin laid the ball off to Fabregas and span into space behind Huth, received the return pass and under pressure, buried the ball past Sorensen.
Less than a minute later, the woodwork intervened to prevent Diao doubling the advantage, his glanced touch on Traore’s cross striking the far post with Sorensen beaten. As the half came to a close, it was apparent that Stoke were in danger of feeling a full backlash for recent results to the extent that Eboue took sympathy, cunningly disguising his block on Fabregas’ goalbound effort as an attempt to get out of the way. How they would have laughed in the dressing room at the interval.
The second half brought Stoke little respite, even though Arsenal seemed to be conserving energy or deflated. Rosicky’s departure may have impacted the performance, his groin injury believed to be keeping him out for some weeks. It was surprising that the Czech started having played in midweek and still on the comeback road from long and short-term injury.
Vermaelen headed wide and Lady Luck smiled on the prone Faye as his flailing boot lifted Arshavin’s shot over Sorensen onto the crossbar. One goal seemed scant reward for the Arsenal attack and with ten minutes remaining, Ramsey picked the ball up midway in, received the return pass from the mercurial Russian, striking the ball comfortably past Sorensen with the outside of his boot.
Whilst Arshavin is rightly garnering plaudits for a display that showed the rest of the Arsenal forwards how to deal with larger opponents, dropping into space frequently, it was a true team performance that shone through. When the Russian pulled his markers out of position, the midfield were not reticent to push into the centre of the box, even if at times their interventions were inadvertant. It was support play that can sometimes be absent. Likewise, defensively, Gallas and Vermaelen intercepted and tackled their opponents, relying on timing to dispossess when chances threatened.
A win, three points on the board and a chance for Arsene to rest a few players ahead of the visit to Anfield next weekend. More importantly, a solid foundation upon which an unbeaten run can be built.