Arsenal: Martinez, Bellerin, Chambers, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Flamini, Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Alexis, Cazorla, Giroud
Subs: Szczesny, Koscielny, Ajayi, Maitland-Niles, Campbell, Podolski, Welbeck
Arsenal rediscovered old bad habits as they went down 3-2 at the Brittania Stadium today, despite almost overturning a three goal deficit.
Arsene Wenger made a number of changes from the team which beat Southampton in midweek, with Hector Bellerin and Kieran Gibbs coming into the back four in place of Laurent Koscielny and Nacho Monreal, meaning Calum Chambers moved to centre-half alongside Per Mertesacker. Further forward, Danny Welbeck found himself on the bench as Olivier Giroud was handed a start up front.
After three clean sheets in a row, there was a hope Arsenal had found some defensive consistency, but the changes at the back played a part in the home side going ahead after just 25 seconds. Stoke got down the right, Calum Chambers missed the header completely, the ball fell at Peter Crouch’s feet and he prodded home from close range. 1-0.
Arsenal responded well in terms of possession and should have been level on 10 minutes. Hector Bellerin kept the ball alive brilliantly, and the young Spaniard crossed to the back post. Olivier Giroud had a free header, the keeper was scrambling to get across but the Frenchman headed wide when pretty much anyone of us would have finished it, even All Neck Ned – the man with no head.
Crouch could have had a second after a dangerous cross found him free, but Bellerin did enough to prevent good contact. Emi Martinez just about made a save from a long-range Bardsley shot while at the other end Santi Cazorla whistled an effort just over the bar.
Kieran Gibbs had a half chance with a header that went the same way as Cazorla’s free kick, before Crouch straight-armed Chambers in the face only to get a talking to from the referee. That led to Stoke’s fans booing the young defender for having the temerity to damage Crouch’s arms with his rock hard face.
It got worse for the Gunners in the 35th minute when Stoke doubled their lead. Again, the cross came from the right hand side, Bojan’s run from deep was unnoticed and un-tracked, and his first time finish from close range was top class, giving Martinez no chance. 2-0.
In response, Giroud saw a header palmed over by Begovic but Arsenal were lethargic and careless all over the pitch. That carelessness was evident in possession, when we’d give it away and put ourselves under needless pressure, and when they had the ball when we simply didn’t work hard enough to maintain our defensive shape.
So, it was no surprise when Stoke grabbed another goal just before the break. Crouch headed it down, Walters was unmarked and he just rifled it into the top of the net to make it 3-0. It capped a fine Stoke performance and summed up everything that was wrong with Arsenal’s.
Arsene Wenger made a half-time change, putting on Danny Welbeck for Hector Bellerin to try and get something from the game. That meant Mathieu Flamini moving to right back. However, the next big chance fell to Stoke when a Bojan free kick almost caught Martinez out, but he just managed to get hands on it and push it into a Stoke player and out for a goal kick.
From an Arsenal point of view not much happened so Alexis took matters into his own hands (feet). The Chilean picked up the ball on halfway, charged through the Stoke defence in the 56th minute, had Giroud outside him, went around the keeper but his shot from a tight angle rebounded back off the post.
As always we were left ruing the missed chance as a few minutes later Stoke went even further ahead. Bojan picked the ball up down the left hand side, stepped inside, hit a shot which Martinez got a hand to but which went in at the near post. 4-0. Except it wasn’t, the goal was disallowed for Diouf interfering with play in an offside position.
The game then turned on its head when Arsenal were awarded a penalty for a foul on Flamini which Santi Cazorla converted to make it 3-1, and when Stoke failed to clear a corner a minute later Aaron Ramsey’s volley went through a crowd of players and beyond Begovic. From ‘4-0’ it was 3-2.
It looked as if the comeback might be on but the chances were made slimmer when Calum Chambers picked up a second yellow card from Anthony Taylor for a slight tug in a 50/50 with Bojan. The same referee who let Crouch straight-arm Chambers in the face with just a talking to couldn’t wait to get the red card out because, as shit as we are, he’s much worse at his job. Biased, at worst, but at the very best hugely incompetent.
Arsenal pushed for an equaliser, playing a back one of Mertesacker. Cazorla had a shot which Begovic palmed away and there were a series of corners and free kicks from which we couldn’t find a way through. Not even the late introduction of Joel Campbell, in the 92nd minute could save the day.
Wenger’s side paid the price for a terrible first 45 minutes and once again leave Stoke empty-handed. Let the slicing and dicing begin …