At the end of the day, this was the result that Arsenal needed. Not necessarily the 1 goal margin but the 3 points. That means we are now only a point off Manchester United and the ball is firmly back in their court as we await their response. This match against Stoke is a far cry from being a classic. If it was breathtaking a week before when Barcelona were in town, this has to be the exact opposite of that.
Arsene Wenger chose to go with the best available line-up to him. With Laurent Koscielny and Robin Van Persie out injured, the starting line-up left no Gooner amazed. Sebastien Squillaci and Nicklas Bendtner were the expected replacements, and so it proved. The manager could’ve easily had an eye on the Carling Cup final on Sunday but all credit to him that he resisted the temptation to rest players and fielded his best choice.
I only managed to catch the match from the 35th minute onwards. Culmination of tiredness and no live television screening put paid to my hopes of watching the entire match. Bare in mind, this match started at 3:45 a.m. in my time zone. The broadband where I live is so slow that it took me ages to find a good working stream that doesn’t go blank on me every 5 minutes.
By the time I tuned-in, we’re already 1 goal up and I was doing a belated goal celebration. Then I panicked when I realised Cesc Fabregas is not on the pitch. Was he rested? Or has our worst fears happened? Only then I found out through Twitter that our captain has gone off injured after only 13 minutes. He is now in danger of missing out on Wembley as well as another match at the Nou Camp.
Having watched the highlights of the first half, it was a very well taken goal by Squillaci. He has found the going to be tough in recent months, missing out on a lot of game time. Whether it is down to his quality or not, is a debate for another day. With this goal, hopefully it restores some sort of confidence to his general play as he will undoubtedly play an important part for the rest of the season.
The assist was provided by Bendtner, of which from the highlights that I saw, created a fair bit of chances. He was peripheral in the second half but still provided his team an outlet up front. Marouane Chamakh replaced him in the 80th minute but looks far from confident in his own abilities. If RvP does not recover in time, Bendtner is the better choice to start at Wembley.
Another casualty for Sunday will be Theo Walcott. He was trod on the ankle by Dean Whitehead and sprained it. He has little luck with injuries, this coming after he has performed consistently for the past 3 months. I also loved how Bendtner shrugged off Whitehead minutes after that and sent the Stoke player sprawling.
However, there’s always a silver lining behind every dark cloud. That silver lining is Andrey Arshavin. He has practically played himself into a starting place on Sunday. After coming on for Fabregas, the little Russian showed more than glimpses of his real talent. Drifting into spaces and successfully dribbling his way out of tight spaces. A welcomed return to form in what will be the defining period of our season.
Stoke came with their usual armoury. The long balls tactics and the long throws. All of which were dealt impeccably by either Wojciech Szczesny or the back four in front of him. There was a real solidness of the defence in this game and it was a pleasure to see. Sometimes, the team takes more out of games like this than most. Games where we struggled to raise our game but the resilience saw us through.
Plenty of rest from now till our match at Wembley. All our best wishes are with Fabregas and hopes he can make a speedy recovery. More tomorrow.