Arsenal needed another double from Captain Fantastic to see off the blunt challenge of Stoke and lift the revitalised Gunners up to seventh in the table.
Before van Persie’s introduction in the 65th minute Arsenal were struggling to penetrate the massed Stoke defence, despite a bright opening half hour in which Aaron Ramsey played his best football of the season in fits and starts. He created a couple of chances out of nothing a la Fabregas, most notably when he lobbed a clever pass to Gervinho for the Ivorian to slam home his first Emirates goal.
The lead only lasted seven minutes though when Koscielny was harshly judged to have fouled Crouch, a poor decision as replays showed he timed his jump perfectly and beat the Spurs reject fair and square. The ball was chipped into our area and the visitors won three aerial duels in a row allowing Crouch to tap in an undeserved equaliser.
After that confidence dipped, Stoke sat back to defend their point and we struggled to fashion any clear cut chances. The introduction of van Persie and Arshavin for the woeful Chamakh and Walcott changed the game though, adding impetus and fresh legs to carry the attack to the tiring visitors.
Wrap this man in cotton wool Arsene
On 73 the breakthrough came when Gervinho took a neat pass from Arteta, beat his man for pace and cut the ball back for the predatory van Persie to stab home at the near post. 10 minutes later Arshavin fed Gervinho on the opposite flank and the trick was repeated, although Begovic should have done better than help the ball into the net.
A 3-1 victory over Stoke is an excellent result, whatever the circumstances. We are stringing some good results together while performances are slowly improving and confidence slowly returning.
For me Gervinho was Man of the Match, keeping calm to score the opener and then creating both of van Persie’s goals. He was one of the few capable of unlocking a rigid, well-drilled Stoke and he delivered when it mattered.
Ramsey played much better and I wonder how much his confidence has been lifted by scoring in Marseille. Being the nearest thing we’ve got to Fabregas until Wilshere returns, it’s vital he starts producing on a regular basis and yesterday was a step in the right direction.
Just like last Sunday, Arshavin looked bright and inventive when he came on for the last 20 minutes. I think this is the best way to use him — throw him on to run at tiring legs while he’s fresh. When he starts matches he rarely looks the part but as a super sub he can change a game.
Apart from the goal, Koscielny and Mertesacker dealt well with the aerial assault that came from any free kick in our half and of course Rory Delap’s long throws. It must be noted though that Stoke only played one up front (as did Marseille on Wednesday) and a far greater test awaits us at Stamford Bridge next Saturday.
I must say that for a club which likes to remind everyone that it can play football and is not just a long ball merchant, Stoke’s approach was far too negative. I was glad to see them sit back and pump long balls to Crouch, concentrating more on keeping us out than getting goals themselves. If they’d played two up front from the off and tried to attack us down the flanks, getting crosses into Crouch and Kenwyne Jones, I’d have been worried as they could easily have got some joy. Thankfully they only tried that at 3-1 when the game was effectively over and they were too knackered to make it work. Pulis obviously doesn’t think his side are as good as he makes out or they’d have had a proper go at an Arsenal side short on confidence and there for the taking.
Finally, a word on Chamakh. This time last year he was banging in the goals and earning rave reviews. Then van Persie came back from injury, Wenger dropped the Morrocan like a hot potato and he’s struggled ever since. That would hit anyone’s confidence, but taking so long to get over it is a bit much now. If he has another run of 10-12 games I think he could rediscover his old form, but that’s not going to happen unless van Persie injures himself again. As such he’s an inadequate back up and surely the time has come to give Park a go.
So a better performance, but still not the fluency of old. That will take a long time (possibly not until we get Wilshere back) but if we can continue to beat teams of the calibre of Stoke we will be in and around the hunt for fourth come the final furlong.
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