Crisis talk? What crisis talk? Slowly but surely we’re inching up the table. Just when I was getting used to read about Arsenal being involve in relegation six pointers battle. Too bad our win over Stoke yesterday would be overshadowed by the incredible result in the Manchester derby. We’re up to 7th in the league now and we’ve won 6 out of the last 7 competitive ties.
Whisper it quietly now. Arsenal are building up some steam and are approaching a run that is some semblance to something call “form”. Of course the big test to this form will be the all London affair next weekend away to Chelsea. Their defeat to QPR yesterday only meant one thing to me. That Didier Drogba will most likely not be available for our game next week. That’s an immediate 30% better chance for us, in my book.
Coming back to the Stoke game now. Arsene Wenger’s starting line-up provided a minor shock. Leading up to the game, he was saying that while he wants to rest Robin Van Persie but finds it increasingly difficult what with RvP’s form and the team’s dependency on him. Then he goes and keep RvP on the bench for this one. Marouane Chamakh started instead while Tomas Rosicky was also afforded a breather.
We started the livelier of the two teams but found it hard to break through Stoke’s defence. Limited to shots from distance, Aaron Ramsey came the closest with his shot. No surprise that he was involved in the opening goal as well. Beautifully lifting the ball over for Gervinho to have a controlled finish. The vision and the execution was perfect. The Ivorian would go on to have a hand in all the goals for this match.
What happened next was just typical Arsenal. We allowed Stoke back into the game by conceding a soft goal. That said, it was never a free kick to start with. Lee Mason’s doing his best to top his blunder in the Everton game last season. Laurent Koscielny jumped and headed the ball away. The referee failed to notice the fact that the ball had already been headed away before Peter Crouch backed into Koscielny and fell in a heap. This and the sending off for an Aston Villa player yesterday for non-contact, the referees will need to take a real hard look at themselves.
Then it was disaster defending. When Ryan Shawcross pulls out wide instead of being in the mix to wait for the set piece delivery, you should know something is up. Gervinho failed to notice the Stoke thug creeping up behind him and panic defending ensued. Crouch getting the final touch to score the equaliser. However, Alex Song and Koscielny as pair failing to win a header of Jonathan Walters was disappointing to say the least.
Half time ensued and the players knew they’ve let themselves down again. RvP talked about organisation during defending and dying to defend the zone but none of that was evident in the goal we conceded. They needed to up the ante in the second half and grasp the game by the scruff of the neck. Given the fact that Liverpool drew on Saturday, chance to pull closer to them cannot be let slip.
We didn’t exactly came out firing on all cylinders in the second half but it was nonetheless a much improved performance. We were having all the possession but failed to find the breakthrough. RvP was called to the front line in place of Chamakh and then things changed. Twice Gervinho drove to the byline before cutting back for the Dutchman to score. On both occasions, Asmir Begovic could’ve done better with his handling but I’m not complaining.
It was encouraging to see Gervinho being involved in most things good yesterday. Showing promising signs in the pre-season friendlies, a lot was expected of him. Up until yesterday, he has been very inconsistent. Hopefully he can kick on from this performance and be the player we all hope. Johan Djourou also had a decent game at right back. Once, he lost the ball due to too much dallying on the ball but apart from that provided a sound defensive performance.
On any other day, Tony Pulis would’ve left Rory Delap on the pitch for the entirety of the game against us. Yesterday wasn’t one of those days. Couple of early throw ins were dealt comfortably by Arsenal and Pulis knew this tactic wasn’t going to work yesterday. We made ourselves much more compact when defending against Delap’s missile throws and no real surprise to find Per Mertesacker being on the end of some of those clearances.
Overall, that one situation apart (the goal we conceded), we defended much better as a team. Song, wearing the captain’s armband in place of RvP, again provided the shield to our defence while Andre Santos never allowed Matthew Etherington to get past him. Disappointingly though, once again, Theo Walcott was largely anonymous. It’s a worrying sign and if Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain performs again in the Bolton game, you have to fear for Walcott’s place in the first team.
You wouldn’t classify this as a vintage Arsenal performance but the team did the necessary to win the match and that is all that matters really. If we continue in this manner for 29 more games, you won’t find any complaining from me. Time for these players to take a rest though, bring on the kids and Bolton.