Arsenal’s faint chances of staying in the hunt for the Premier League title were blown away in a hail of physicality in Staffordshire as a typically efficient Stoke performance say Tony Pulis’s men give themselves the perfect confidence boost ahead of their F.A Cup Final date with Manchester City next week.
Though the Gunners, as has so often been the case this season, enjoyed a lot of possession in the Britannia Stadium sunshine, they were unable to convert their dominance with the ball into the goals that, with results elsewhere, could’ve propelled them back into contention for silverware alongside Chelsea and Manchester United.
Instead, Arsene Wenger will be left to rue his side’s defensive fragility that once again saw them concede from a set-piece in the form of a long throw from Rory Delap. Kenywnne Jones was the beneficiary from that, and Jon Walters sealed the win after a mistake from Johann Djourou late on, moments after Robin Van Persie had given Arsenal a chance of getting back into the game ten minutes from time.
Former Arsenal man Jermaine Pennant was Stoke’s other scorer, and it was he who was City’s main attacking outlet, the Potters looking to the winger to provide crosses for Walters and Jones. Though Thomas Vermaelen was available for Arsenal for the first time since recovering from injury, he was not selected and start, and the Gunners could’ve done with the Belgian as Laurent Koscielny and Djourou looked uneasy throughout the 90 minutes.
Aside from that, it was typically ebullient Stoke performance that saw them seal the victory, and boss Tony Pulis will no doubt be relieved to see none of his players leave the game with injuries as they look towards a game at Wembley that could cap off an excellent third season in the Premier League for City. With their win against Arsenal, Stoke now sit in the top half of the table, and for a side that are traditionally seen as exponents of a long-ball style of football, it is a commendable achievement. If they can come up with a similarly determined performance next weekend, overcoming Roberto Mancini’s millionaires may not be as farfetched a possibility as it may seem.
For Arsenal, however, the inquest can finally begin into just why a team that were challenging for trophies on four fronts a matter of months ago can capitulate so spectacularly. Though the genius of Barcelona may have undone them in the Champions League, the Carling Cup defeat to Birmingham City and 4-4 draw with Newcastle United which was arguably the start of the Gunners downturn in the Premier League were all self-inflicted.
Arsene Wenger knows an overhaul of Arsenal’s squad is imperative in the summer. The fans have demanded it, and today may have confirmed its’ inevitability. Whether Wenger will be around to oversee it is another matter altogether.