van Persie Seals Win, Team Provides Platform
Arsenal 3 – 1 Stoke City
1 – 0 Gervinho (27)
1 – 1 Crouch (34)
2 – 1 van Persie (73)
3 – 1 van Persie (82)
Arsenal’s season is gradually getting back on track, victory over Stoke City yesterday afternoon moved the club to within striking distance of the top four. Two points behind free-spending Liverpool, Arsenal have become a one-man team which is a step up from the crisis club position previously occupied.
As Manchester United crumbled and Chelsea imploded, Arsenal won without overwhelming Stoke – they did not need to – but were never threatened. Peter Crouch’s goal was the only shot that the visitors managed on target all afternoon.
Having threatened to rest Robin van Persie for the match, a compromise was struck when the Dutchman was passed fit. Occupying a place on the bench for an hour or so, van Persie watched as Arsenal did nothing, waiting for their saviour to come and prevent the Pottery hordes from ransacking The Emirates. Or, if you believe the media, that is what happened.
It is curious that a one-man team were able to score without his presence and that his goals were not virtuoso efforts, requiring assistance. But never let a decent fact get in the way of a good panic.
Stoke took full advantage of Arsène’s equanimity over tackling and were probably grateful that Chris Foy was not officiating. Wilkinson and Whitehead would almost certainly have seen red were the Loftus Road Laws of the Game applied.
For much of the opening half an hour, Arsenal offered glimpses of attack. Gervinho was a ray of sunshine in this autumnal offering. He briefly threatened, the opportunity snuffed out by Begovic. Ramsey benefitted from the Ivorians unstinting hard work but drilled his shot wide of the upright.
Arteta and Chamakh had also wasted opportunities before Gervinho received due reward for his efforts – not just in this match but previously also. With just under thirty minutes played, Ramsey freed Gervinho in the area and his first home goal duly arrived.
The joy of a deserved lead was short-lived. Peter Crouch fooled the Arsenal defence by prodding home from close range. It was an infuriating goal to concede. The decision to award a free-kick was dubious in the first place but for Stoke to be able to head the ball three times unchallenged in the area is simply shoddy work.
It is not as if Shawcross and Upson would not have been identified as an aerial threat beforehand. It was not as if Shawcross stole in unseen – Song for one saw him, nobody (Gervinho, I think) followed his instruction to mark him. It was poor application in defensive areas, an unwelcome reminder that there are still issues to be dealt with.
The second half saw not shortage of endeavour. Ramsey and Arteta, for all of their artistry, were unable to prompt a chance for either Gervinho or Chamakh. The Moroccan is falling between stools. His workrate off the ball cannot be questioned but as lead striker, his offerings have to be putting the ball into the net. That is what he will be judged on and at this moment in time, he is being categorised as the Hawley or Chapman of this generation, not the Alan Smith. A run in the team would help; it is unlikely to happen voluntarily at the moment.
Walcott and Chamakh were withdrawn shortly after the hour mark, replaced by Arshavin and van Persie respectively. Walcott is somewhat unfortunate to be the subject of criticism and suffers by comparison to Gervinho’s directness of style. Both can be equally wayward but the latter has a honeymoon period and is seen (rightly) as performing well. Theo, well his detractors will always be negative even when there is good to be noted.
The introduction of van Persie in particular, changed the team dynamic. His more purposeful movement brought more opportunities, both which fell to him were despatched. Gervinho broke on both flanks for the goals. The first from the right, the second the left. Begovic had been linked with Arsenal earlier in the year; unusually for a visiting goalkeeper, he fluffed his lines, manhandling the ball over the line for van Persie’s first and unable to prevent the second.
Post-match Wenger was pleased with win, not so happy with the poor marking at the back for the equaliser. There is however an unrealistic level of expectation set on the teams shoulders. The poor start to the season means that a game of catch-up is taking place. Confidence was shattered and is slowly coming yet they are judged as if everyone is at the peak of their powers.
They are not and will not be for some time yet. Grinding out wins whilst that process takes place is perfectly acceptable despite what some will tell you.