Arsenal’s title chances took a severe blow but hopefully, it isn’t the coup de grace, when they lost 1-0 to Stoke at the Britannia. I always knew the match wasn’t going to be a stroll in the park as the Potters boast a good home record which has seen them beat Chelsea and Manchester United and draw City but was hoping Arsenal’s desire to win the title would see them past the overtly physical giants that Hughes would send to battle.
Wenger retained the bulk of the squad that took Sunderland to the cleaners with Gibbs the only exception as he replaced Monreal at the left back position. It was a match of many fouls by Stoke and few chances for Arsenal as the Gunners mustered only a shot on goal in the first half when a quick breakaway saw Cazorla shoot on goal but it wasn’t strong enough to trouble Begovic. Arsenal were going to rue that opportunity as the Spaniard should have played in Podolski who was better placed to threaten Begovic or could have even set Giroud up for a mere tap-in.
The 2nd half saw Arsenal struggle to create chances but Stoke’s resolute defending stood in their way. Arsenal would have probably escaped with a point but koscielny made a mistake when he allowed a ricocheted ball to hit his raised hand and that gifted Stoke a penalty which Walters cooly dispatched.
Arsenal struggled to get an equalizer and possibly a winner but as time waned, they struggled for an equalizer and should have gotten it when Chamberlain burst clear to set up Sanogo but the young French striker blazed over when he was unmarked, under no pressure and should have hit the target in the least. He had an opportunity to salvage a point for Arsenal, write his name in gold and get his first goal for Arsenal but all that went up in flames. Here are the stuffs I noticed from the match.
Wenger goofed with his selection – knowing the calibre of opposition we were confronting, Wenger should have gone for physical presence in the middle of the park. I know the partnership of Flamini and Arteta rarely works owing to their conservative nature but if there was one match both men needed to be on the field was the one against Stoke. Wilshere was scared of getting into tackles and I won’t blame him, with the World Cup drawing close, he won’t want to suffer any long term injury and knowing what happened to Ramsey in the hands of Stoke’s thugs ( sorry, footballers ), anyone would be scared. Flamini would have added real steel to Arsenal’s midfield and helped keep that thug called Charlie Adam in check. He did that in the 1st leg and could have helped today.
Arsenal lacked pace – the absence of pace contributed to Arsenal’s loss today. Wenger opted for playmakers instead of natural wingers. He opted for Rosicky and Cazorla instead of Chamberlain or Gnabry and that robbed Arsenal of pace. Cazorla and Rosicky are playmakers and tended to drift to the middle instead of sticking to the wings. It is not a surprise that Arsenal’s best chances came from the wings from Chamberlain’s cross. I wonder what the story would have been if the Englishman was brought in at the beginning of the 2nd half when Arsenal could have really exploited his pace.
Arsenal need to learn to take their chances – They knew the match was going to be a tough one and that was the more reason why they should have taken the chances that came their way. The chance Cazorla had in the 1st half should have been buried. Instead of going for glory, he should have played in Podolski or Giroud that were better placed. If Arsenal had taken the lead, the chances of winning the match would have been hugely brightened. Stoke could defend stoutly because they weren’t chasing the game. If they had gone behind, they would have come out in search of an equalizer leaving Arsenal to hit them on the break.
Sanogo fluffed his lines – Arsenal’s striking department has been under scrutiny since the start of the season and with Wenger failing to bring in a striker in the winter window, it was certainly going to come under more scrutiny but we can’t continue to cry over spilt milk. We are now stuck with Giroud, Sanogo, Podolski and Bendtner. Sanogo doesn’t elicit so much confidence but had the opportunity to prove his mettle with a decent chance that could have at least won Arsenal a point but blazed over. That horrible execution of a good chance would not do his candidacy any good at all. He has to re-double his efforts if he intends to win over Arsenal fans.
Did Wenger get his substitutions right? – Wenger brought in 3 players Chamberlain, Sanogo and Ozil. He got two right but I don’t really agree with Ozil. The German was not the right fit for such a game, a player that struggled against less physical teams, how would he have survived the thugs at Britannia? Instead of Ozil, he should have brought in Flamini and kept on Rosicky. The Frenchman would have added steel to the midfield and allowed Arteta push forward. As for the duo of Sanogo and Chamberlain, they should have come started the 2nd half. Sanogo’s physical presence would have disturbed the Stoke’s center-half while Chamberlain’s pace would have caused them a lot of problems in defence as he did when he came on. With his performance since in recent games, Chamberlain has earned the right to start more of Arsenal’s games.