STOKE CITY 1
Bendtner 32, Fabregas 90 (Pen), Vermaelen 90
Arsenal secured three points from their visit to the Britannia stadium, capitalising on Chelsea’s defeat in the day’s early kick-off as they moved to within three points of the leaders. Whilst this was an excellent result for the Gunners, the horrific injury sustained by Aaron Ramsey will sour an otherwise profitable weekend.
Stoke made an excellent start to the match, hustling and harrying in the midfield in order to prevent Arsenal from settling into their short passing game. Their early pressure was rewarded when Rory Delap yet again proved to be a thorn in the side for the team from north London, forging the Potters’ opener. Predictably his contribution came from a now infamous long throw-in as he launched the ball into Arsenal’s penalty area. Ryan Shawcross evaded the attentions of Bacary Sagna to flick the ball towards the back post where Danny Pugh stooped to conquer, nodding Stoke ahead in the eighth minute. As well as capitalising on some slack marking, Pugh made the most of his rare start in place of the injured Matthew Etherington.
After an ideal start, Stoke looked good for their lead and effectively contained Arsenal, restricting them time and space to settle on the ball. With Stoke seemingly coasting towards a half-time lead Arsenal managed to work the ball wide to Cesc Fabregas who picked out Nicklas Bendtner with a curling delivery. The Dane arched back to plant a looping header into the far corner and draw Arsenal level. This gave Arsenal more confidence and similarly, Stoke – possibly showing the effects of their extra-time FA Cup victory over Manchester City in midweek – lacked their early intensity, both of which meant that the Gunners began to threaten more frequently.
The moment that the match will be remembered for came in the 66th minute as Shawcross made a thundering challenge on Ramsey. Instantly the reaction from both sets of players provided a bleak outlook for the Welshman as he lay motionless on the floor. Sol Campbell displayed sheer fury at the challenge, and Fabregas was left with an all-too familiar feeling, having witnessed Eduardo’s horrific leg break almost two years ago to the day. Shawcross was shown a red card for the challenge, and his tearful exit indicated his remorse as well as the severe extent of the injury. Whilst it is hard to attribute malice to the challenge, it was at the very least reckless and was fully deserving of the punishment given. Eventually Ramsey was stretchered to a waiting ambulance at the side of the pitch, with both sets of fans affording warm applause.
Understandably the match was rather flat in the aftermath of the incident, but with Stoke reduced to 10-men, Arsenal displayed a ruthless streak that has been lacking on occasion this season. Their pressure yielded a penalty for handball which was duly converted by Fabregas. Deep into added time the Spaniard pounced on a rebound to give Thomas Vermaelen a tap-in and Arsenal the three points.