Stoke Deliver KO Blow
FA Cup 4th Round
Stoke City 3 – 1 Arsenal
1 – 0 Fuller (2)
1 – 1 Denilson (42)
2 – 1 Fuller (77)
3 – 1 Whitehead (85)
The opportunity to win one of the three trophies in which Arsenal had an interest disappeared yesterday at The Britannia Stadium as Stoke City ended their FA Cup hoodoo, not undeservedly nor as emphatically as the scoreline suggested. Arsene prioritised the upcoming Premier League fixtures, the expected wholesale changes to the side a clear indication of his intent to go to Villa Park in midweek with as strong a line-up as he can possibly field.
Arsene said afterwards:
I do not regret the side I put out, I did not have much choice. We had 10 injuries and a very difficult programme coming up. Our selection was simple, take a look at our schedule and you must see we cannot play the same 11 every time. That is for sure. But, if you do not win in such situations, it is my fault. I can only stand by the team I selected in the circumstances. We lost but there was not much room for manoeuvre in terms of players available.
When you are the away side in a cup-tie, the key thing is to contain the home side for the opening quarter of the match, trying to frustrate their players and quieten the crowd whilst you gradually assert your own gameplan. Arsenal singularly failed in that objective, barely making it into the second minute before Ricardo Fuller got the first of his brace.
A Delap long throw speared into the box, Fabianski hesitated, waiting for the ball to arrive instead of meeting its trajectory, allowed Fuller to connect first with a header into the net. To concede that early was a blow which took its toll. Stoke pressed, had half chances but never capitalised.
Whilst Arsenal recovered, their passing game never materialised, in part due to the pitch but mainly because Stoke did not allow them to settle. Even so, a large portion of the first half was dictated by Arsenal. Fabregas started, surprising on the one hand given he is one of the valuable players to the team but you cannot wrap him in cotton wool.
With the injuries and the Spaniard’s form, playing him was a calculated risk; one that did not work but had appeared to when he slid a freekick to Denilson, the Brazilian getting luck with deflections as the ball arrowed into the bottom corner.
Half-time approached and Arsenal’s ascendency was reflected in a succession of corners. Like the rest of the match, little materialised in the danger area to threaten the parity which had been restored. The second half reflected the first. Stoke hassled and harried, Arsenal passed into every furrow that churned the turf. Wenger wanted to win the tie and introduced Eduardo, Arshavin and the returning Ramsey.
Little changed until the match entered the final quarter of an hour. Sidibe is a deceptively slow man and to outpace the left side of the Arsenal defence was of concern, his cross met by Fuller. 2 – 1. Arsenal sought to fight back but with five minutes to go, Whitehead found himself free on the edge of the six yard area for the simplest of tap-ins. The inevitable exit confirmed when the home team ran out of aspirin for the ball, the referee took pity on its predicament and called proceedings to a halt.
Will Wenger have learned anything from yesterday? Other than you cannot put out a team with ten changes and win, I am not sure. Emmanuel-Thomas did well up front, dropping deep to link attack and midfield but starved of good possession, it was hard for him to make headway.
Eastmond and Coquellin were a mixed bag. It was a tough match for them to come into and nerves impacted on the young Frenchman with his passing. Defensively, he performed decently once he had settled. His passing though was off-key, wayward and too forceful at times. Eastmond meanwhile struggled like the rest of the midfield, to impose the usual passing game on the hosts.
Crucially, none of the trio of JET, Eastmond and Coquellin did anything to suggest that they do not possess the talent to make the grade at Arsenal although they did not make sufficient impression to indicate that their breakthrough would be imminent. It is tough to come into a much-changed side and dominate their opponents; the true measure of the youngsters comes in the Premier League when the fill in for injured or rested players, settling in alongside a strong first XI. To write them off now, on the basis of one cup tie, is premature and short-sighted.
The return of Aaron Ramsey was a boost, as was Theo Walcott’s presence in the starting line-up. The lack of match sharpness in both was evident but expectations that Walcott, in particular, would suddenly turn around and perform at his best with so few matches this season were unrealistic. That was a contributing factor to the flatness of his performance but more telling was the lack of decent service.
Exiting the FA Cup at this early stage is always disappointing. Wenger’s team selection focussed on the next four matches rather than yesterday. Was he right to do so? The end of the season will tell.
Posted on January 25, 2010, in Arsenal, FA Cup, Football, Premier League, Premiership, Soccer and tagged Arsenal, FA Cup, Football, Premier League, Soccer, Stoke City. Bookmark the permalink. 285 Comments.