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Where did the players go?

That was not an entirely impossible result but still tough to accept. Only 2 changes were made to the side that controlled and beat Manchester United just a week ago. The difference in performance and attitude from that game to the Stoke one yesterday was incredible. No matter how I look at it, it is something which I cannot comprehend. That was by far our worst performance of the season.

Gael Clichy and Samir Nasri are great players, nothing to be denied there. However, this is a team sport. The fact that 2 changes made can have such a big impact on the performance is unbelievable. Arsene Wenger summed it all up.

That’s the Premier League. If you do not turn up with the same competitive spirit in every game you can lose games everywhere. Stoke defend well and make it difficult for you. The most important thing here is not to be 1-0 down and with the first free kick we were 1-0 down. In a game like that, we did not penetrate enough. At the end of the day we were not dangerous enough.

You really can’t argue with that statement. What is wrong with our team? Why are they only able to rise to the occasion when the big team arrives but don’t look to be bothered when we’re up against the small teams. Stoke may have qualified for the FA Cup final but are clearly considered nobody by the team on the basis of this performance. There is something seriously wrong if the team cannot lift themselves up against the team who hurt one of their own and make it like it was our fault.

We have conceded, I think, 21 from set-pieces and only 17 in open play. Today, Kenwyne Jones didn’t even need to jump to head the ball in. That is something we have to correct. It is the easiest thing to correct in the game but you still must understand the flight of the ball and want to be first to the ball. I feel we are sometimes a bit naïve.

That was the first goal we conceded in the match. Andrey Arshavin had backed Jermaine Pennant into the corner flag but inexplicably fouled him. Straight from the freekick, Johan Djourou failed to follow the run of Jones and the Stoke striker chested the ball into the net. Arsenal don’t leak goals via the normal route.

The second one that we conceded was more bad defending. Pennant had drifted to the right side of our defence and Bacary Sagna was initially challenging him. Then Sagna just retreated back to his position when Pennant drive infield and allowed the former Arsenal trainee a free route to goal. Alex Song or any other midfielder were no where close to pick up Pennant’s run. The latter’s shot from outside the box took a deflection and flew past Wojciech Szczesny. Catastrophic defending right from the start of that particular move.

All the while, we had most of the possession without any real penetration. We just sprayed the ball from side to side without that cutting edge. Our wide forwards were not getting past their markers and Robin Van Persie found space limited when shackled by both Ryan Shawcross and Robert Huth. Every time Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey was on the ball, Stoke quickly closed us down.

Something needed to change and credit to Wenger, he did just that at half time. Bringing on both Nicklas Bendtner and Marouane Chamakh for the ineffectual Ramsey and Arshavin. Both players are players of immense size and stature but neither were to receive the type of service that they thrive on. Bendtner was pushed out wide again and it doesn’t help his game when he has his back to goal and receiving the ball on the sidelines. Why are there no crosses being pumped in when we have all 3 strikers on the pitch. Why do we have 3 strikers on the pitch but none of them are inside the box. Why is Theo Walcott moving away from hugging the sidelines and looking to pump in crosses.

To our credit, we muster a single shot on goal in the second half and it lead to our goal. RvP provided the single bright spark of the game for us with a superb run and shot. That he scored from range with his weaker right foot only served to highlight his poor choice of striking an early chance in the first 5 minutes of the game with his left foot when the angle was not there. Any thoughts that the goal would spark our comeback ala WBA diminished just a few minutes later.

Another round of comedic defending. The ball was bouncing around when Jonathan Walters tried to bundle his way towards goal with 3 Arsenal players surrounding him. All 3 lost track of Walters as the ball bounced kindly in his path and the toe poked it home past Szczesny. You can’t legislate for that type of defending.

In the end, the defeat was what we deserved out of the game. Countless times we’ve mentioned this over the course of the season. We know the team is good enough but there’s not enough effort on the pitch to match the talent. The season cannot end soon enough.