Post Match View – Stoke City F.C. (FA Cup Fourth Round)

Much of the talk leading up to this match had been about how Stoke would pose a physical challenge to Arsenal. They didn’t disappoint. Unfortunately, certain Arsenal players did. Not in how we dealt with the kicking and pushing and all that but in our end product, positioning, and concentration.

Stoke was the first in a series of six matches that could ultimately define not just the season but an entire era for Arsenal Football Club. Arsene himself admitted back in August that this season would be the defining moment for the youth development vs. buying experienced players policy. The approach has taken a serious toll on many Gooners. It has been controversial to say the least. The F.A. Cup would have helped appease the disgruntled.

Match number one of the six has been a disaster but all is not lost. We have the league and Champions League to concentrate on. They were always the main priorities anyway.

Due to injuries and a run of crucial matches in the next few weeks, the manager’s selection choices were limited. Jay Emmanuel-Thomas made his first start. Francis Coquelin, and Craig Eastmond started as well. The bench looked potent with Arshavin, Eduardo, and Ramsey to choose from.

We started as badly as you possibly could – in less than two minutes, a Rory Delap throw-in was headed in by Ricardo Fuller. Stoke using Route 1 strategies is nothing new. Stoke being super physical is nothing new. Stoke playing us like it’s their last match ever is nothing new, especially considering it was a cup match. Us allowing them to score so early was not in the script and was worse than unforgivable.

Ideally, you’d want either Sol or Mickey marking Fuller on set pieces. Not this time! Mistake number one.

Delap got his towel, cleaned the ball, and then did what he does best. Fuller was allowed to run freely into the box. Mistake number two.

My biggest issue with the first goal is not how we weren’t prepared but how Fabianski stood on his heels waiting for the ball to reach him. I’m sure he never saw Fuller coming but instead of going to meet it, he waited for the ball. Mistake number three.

1-0 Stoke

We won a free kick on 41 just outside the Stoke 18. Cesc squared to the unmarked Denilson. His low shot might have been deflected but it was enough to find its way past Sorensen. Game on!

1-1

Stoke continued pumping long balls that Sol dealt with quite well. Silvestre was steady. The out of position Coquelin was as solid as could be expected for a youngster playing out of position. Traore on the other hand was appalling. A few weeks ago, he looked to be improving. His last three performances have been scary. Add a shaky Fabianski and there were the weakest links.

I imagined that Wenger would release the hounds on or about minute 65 if we were still down a goal. In the 68th minute, he used all three subs – Walcott, Coquelin, and Emmanuel-Thomas made way for Eduardo, Arshavin, and Ramsey. The expected effect was not to be. Instead, we were caught on a counter-attack ten minutes later.

Traore stayed upfield. Denilson showed that he has no pace as the big Sidibe ran by him to deliver an inch perfect cross for Fuller to head past Fabianski. Could Sol have done better? I’m not sure. Could Denilson have done better? Certainly not from the standpoint of keeping pace but sometimes (even in the era of automatic booking for a professional foul) you have to foul, you have to make a decision. He did nothing.

2-1 Stoke

We did little to suggest a comeback was imminent. And with more important fixtures just around the corner, at that point I could forgive Gooners for not being too down about the impending result. Stoke’s third came in a manner much like their first two. Woeful marking by Arsenal! I pleaded with Traore to get goal side of Wheatbread after Eastmond lost the ball. Not to be. His positioning was shocking. Etherington crossed for an easy goal from close.

3-1 Stoke.

Losing in the manner that we have and to whom we’ve lost bother me more than being out of the FA Cup. I will support all players who wear Arsenal colors but I don’t have to do it blindly. I’ve seen enough from Fabianski to feel that he is no better than Almunia. He may do certain things better but he is not any more reliable. Would that change with a run in the team? It might do him some good to know that he’s first choice, which begs the question of why he has been so poor when given a game. There were moments today when he looked like he could have used one of Delap’s towels to dry his hands.

Traore has done himself no favors these past few weeks. I was convinced he was on an upward path to improvement, to challenging Clichy and Gibbs. He’s gone back several steps in that regard.

Theo Walcott is young. He has time. Does that sound familiar? Bare with me. I might have to use it a few more times this season. What else can I say? I wouldn’t be surprised if even the most fanatical believer is starting to wonder a little about whether we’ll ever see any significant improvement from the player once thought to be the “next Thierry Henry”.

Let’s shake this one off and move on. Villa Wednesday. Important, era-defining matches are fast approaching. Plus, we get Stoke again next month. I’ll be looking not just for a convincing victory but also for someone to clean Robert Huth’s clock.

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2 Comments

  1. So you feel the need to constantly slate Stoke for a physical approach to the game, but then you ccome out with this gem:

    “Could Denilson have done better? Certainly not from the standpoint of keeping pace but sometimes (even in the era of automatic booking for a professional foul) you have to foul, you have to make a decision. He did nothing.”

    Typical Gooner.

    • I doubt even your own manager would disagree with a call to commit a professional foul in that situation. One that does no bodily harm to the opponent. There is a difference between being committed to an overly physical approach for 90 minutes and stopping a counter attack. While I applaud Sidibe and Fuller for combining well on the second goal, I feel Denilson and Traore made a mess of preventing it. Good luck on your cup run.


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