Goal: Podolski (78)
Arsenal Line-Up (4-3-3). Szczesny (GK), Sagna (RB), Koscielny (CB), Mertesacker (CB), Monreal (LB), Wilshere (CM) Arteta (CM), Diaby(CM), Walcott (RF), Oxlade-Chamberlain (LF), Giroud (CF).
Arsenal broke Stoke City’s resistance with a deflected free-kick from substitute Podolski in a game they found it difficult to create too many clear cut chances. Arsene Wenger rested Cazorla and Podolski. After a month-long injury Arteta was back in the starting lineup and was paired with Diaby. The January signing from Malaga, Nacho Monreal, made his debut at the left back position.
This was a game against one of the most notoriously stubborn defenses in the league, and as expected, Stoke City did not show any attacking intent at all until they conceded a goal. This report will be brief, as there was a single recurring theme in the game: Arsenal having the ball and trying to find a hole in Stoke’s dense defensive shape and Stoke sitting deeper.
Arsenal looked subdued in most of the first half, with Wilshere lacking his usual dynamism, and Abou Diaby not able to achieve much penetration through dense columns of Stoke City defenders. Given the competence of their centerbacks in defending crosses, Stoke City’s defensive plan looked like forcing Arsenal wide and inviting crosses into the box. With the absence of Podolski and Cazorla until their introduction in the 70th minute, Arsenal also lacked two of their best shooters from outside the box, which would help against such a deep sitting defense. All game long, Arsenal did not have any trouble defensively and controlled the midfield area easily (as Stoke did not have much of an interest in the ball), but they found it very hard to pierce holes in the visitors’ defensive shape. Walcott constantly created problems for Williamson on Arsenal’s right flank but the end product was missing with Huth and Shawcross competently defending any crosses or cutbacks inside the box.
When Arsenal created their first chance, it was from a Wilshere corner. For a change, the ball eluded Stoke defenders and found Oxlade-Chamberlain in the 6-yard box, but his shot was well saved by Begovic. Minutes later, a Walcott cross following a corner was met by Koscielny’s header from close range but was again saved by the Bosnian, who is, in my opinion, the best keeper in the league. The only time Arsenal’s passing game was able to poke a hole was when Wilshere played a defense splitting pass to Oxlade-Chamberlain on the left edge of the penalty box. The young winger tried to send a curler to the far corner but was also denied by Begovic.
The game continued in the same fashion in the second half with Stoke showing absolutely no ambition in Arsenal’s half, sitting deep and soaking up pressure. Except a wonderful overlapping run and cross by the debutant left back Monreal (who had a solid and assured game) which was intercepted by Huth right when Giroud headed home from close range, Arsenal was not really able to threaten Stoke.
Wenger did send Cazorla and Podolski in the last 25 minutes of the game taking off Diaby and Chamberlain, and Arsenal pushed for a goal. Their pressure paid off when Walcott was fouled the upteenth time by Williamson, this time in a dangerous position just outside the box. Begovic seemed to have covered Podolski’s curling effort, yet the ball took a deflection from Cameron and wrong-footed the Bosnian. Inexplicably, the assistant referee attempted to chalk off the goal on grounds that Walcott (who was in no way interfering with play on the far side) was offside, yet the referee Chris Foy correctly ruled out the assistant referee’s intervention and gave the goal.
On a day when Chelsea lost and Everton tied with Aston Villa at home, this was a game in which only 3 points mattered for Arsenal. The home side looked less than impressive in attack (especially Wilshere looking tired), but this was also due to Stoke City’s negative tactics.