Arsenal 3-1 Stoke City: Ramsey & Gervinho open up the back rowArsenal:
Szczesny, Djourou, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Andre Santos, Song, Arteta, Ramsey, Walcott (Arshavin 71), Gervinho (Frimpong 90), Chamakh (Van Persie 66). Subs:
Fabianski, Frimpong, Rosicky, Benayoun, Arshavin, Park, Van Persie.
Stoke City: Begovic, Shawcross, Upson, Wilkinson, Whelan, Wilson, Whitehead, Delap (Diao 60), Etherington (Jerome 74), Walters, Crouch (Jones 74). Subs: Sorensen, Huth, Shotton, Diao, Palacios, Jones, Jerome.
On Chamakh for Van Persie
Arsene Wenger had given hint on Arsenal.com that at some point Robin Van Persie would need to be rested, given how reliant Arsenal have been in their captain it looked a big gamble to do so against Stoke City. There is never a good time to rest a player in red hot form, if he picks up an injury you question the burden upon him but if you decide to protect him and fail to win the match the decision is questioned.
In these situations only hindsight proves whether you got it right, and with the outcome of two winning goals for Robin as substitute and an hour of football from Chamakh you have to consider that Arsenal achieved the maximum possibility from that choice.
On the defensive display
The goal aside, I thought the defending was sound. Stoke City created very little from open play and resorted, not unexpectedly, to a territorial approach looking for positions to 'launch' free kicks and throw ins (line outs) into the Arsenal box, but with 66% possession we did well to limit the number of set plays. We have made a meal of defending against Stoke in the past but I felt this was certainly a step forward and all without Sagna, Vermaelen and Gibbs highlighting the improved depth in central positions particularly.
One the attacking display
The passing tempo and accuracy was much improved from Sunderland as Arsenal mixed up the play. We saw a mixture of short neat work combined with longer balls into the forwards feet. Ramsey and Arteta provided the range of passing which included some longer aerial passes and Aaron's deft Cesc like dink to set Gervinho through to score Arsenal's first.
Gervinho's surging powerful runs enabled Arsenal to get in behind Stoke's back line on numerous instances. Arshavin enjoyed another cameo sub role coming on with the score at 1-1 replacing Walcott who again struggled to make any impact. Arsenal countered Stoke's deep tight back lines by getting plenty of bodies in around the edge of the box to provide the outlays for early forward balls. A good all round showing but Arsenal are a touch reliant on Ramsey, Gervinho and Van Persie right now.
Marouane Chamakh was charged with the duty of replacing the rested Robin Van Persie, the out of form striker has just 2 goals in 32 and although he failed to test the keeper I felt he sniffed in the right positions and put in a reasonable shift. His best chance came on 5 minutes, missing a free header wide from 8 yards out. Unlucky not to be awarded a penalty when hauled down on 40 minutes by Wilkinson. [6/10]
Man of the match
Gervinho had a key hand in all three goals, two assists from trademark bustling darts into the box set up Robin Van Persie from each flank secured the points having earlier scored the opener with a well taken goal from a central strikers position. A range of goals that perfectly emphasises his adeptness across the forward positions. [9/10]
Moan of the match
Lee Mason's award of a free kick on 33 minutes was hard to fathom, Laurent Koscielny won a clean header from a vertical leap, there was no momentum into Crouch and Laurent could hardly be accused of climbing. The decision directly lead to Stoke's equaliser from only their second free kick. Missed a clear penalty on Chamakh moments later.
The final word
Wins of late have not been convincing but there is a certain efficiency about them, we've won narrow and taken the maximum results of late and that compares favourably to previous seasons where chances have been squandered or the team have shot themselves in the foot. The supporters seem to understand where we are, that there is perhaps less calibre from a forward perspective but maybe less weaknesses too. This was our first home win against a mid-table side and there were signs of confidence and fluency to our play that even drew out the Ole's on 86 minutes.