STOKE 1 – 1 ARSENAL
Let me start by declaring a bias: I really dislike Stoke. I dislike their manager, their players and their fans. I dislike their ‘style’ of play and their indeterminate evolutionary heritage. So if anyone who is not an Arsenal fan accidentally stumbles upon this entry, and feels it’s a bit partizan: it is. I dislike Stoke.
I do, however, have a grudging respect for the effectiveness of their set-piece based game. With that in mind, I would gladly have taken a point before the game. The bonus of seeing Newcastle hammered at Wigan makes it an even better result.
It could arguably have been more. Arsenal outplayed Stoke, and even Tony Pulis was forced to admit we coped better than ever with their aerial assault. We looked like a side who were focused, determined, and eager to take all three points. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be, as we fell behind early on due to our sole lapse in concentration – Bacary Sagna failed to close down Matthew Etherington, and from that point on we were helpless – the cross and Peter Crouch’s header were both inch-perfect.
We recovered in impressive fashion. The goal we scored was a combination of some great harrying and hustling from Yossi Benayoun to win the ball high up the pitch, an outstanding cross from the rejuvenated Tomas Rosicky, and classic movement from RVP to pull away at the far post to tuck home.
There were moments where we flirted with a second goal. Gervinho ducked out of a a simple header, Ramsey fired wide from the edge of the box, and Yossi Benayoun took a tumble in the box, asking for a penalty which he’ll know in his heart of hearts would have been a very soft award. Despite our dominance, Stoke are always a threat when the ball is out of play, and they nearly punished us from a late Rory Delap throw-in; Bacary Sagna redeeming himself with a spectacular clearance from under our crossbar.
And so, a point it was. Although we haven’t won in our last three league games, this was by far our best performance since the victory over Manchester City. Particular credit is due to Aaron Ramsey, who put in a committed and industrious display on a ground which must hold some dark memories for him. As for the Stoke fans who booed him? Well, it’s a level idiocy beyond comprehension. I hoped the empathy and compassion between football fans that sprung up off the back of terrible incidents like the Fabrice Muamba collapse might help put an end to such hateful attitudes. I was wrong. Arsene speaks with great eloquence about the situation here:
“I don’t think you can be especially proud to boo Aaron Ramsey, I don’t see what he has done wrong. It’s an old story where the fans of Stoke stand behind their player but it shouldn’t go as far as booing Ramsey.
I think sometimes when I go out on the pitch at the end of the game, and people are angry or hateful, I would like a little picture to send home for them to show their son or daughter, and then come back next week and see if they will do it again, see if they are proud of you.”
Beautifully put. We can, however, be proud of Ramsey and his team-mates for a very creditable point. Two games left; two wins required. Play like we did yesterday, and it’s eminently possible.