Arsenal have shot themselves in the foot yet again as an important game at the Britannia ended in tears, and a couple of scrums, for the Gooners. The Potters were in top form as they held off the boring style of Arsene Wenger to secure three goals and three points.
The legend in the making Tony Pulis wanted the win, especially with the majority of Stoke`s criticisms since joining the Premier League have come from the likes of sour-grapes, turkey-faced Arsene Wenger.
So Pulis decided that he would field the best team; going against taking the typical tactics of resting players ahead of a big game, which for us is this Saturday’s FA Cup final.
It was nice to see a truce between Ryan Shawcross and Aaron Ramsey as they shook hands before the kick-off. But Arsenal fans were not going to let it lie, and were on Shawcross` back with jeers and taunts. Roughly 25,000 Potters fans had his back though with ear-bursting vocal support for the skipper, which was nice to hear (through earmuffs).
Stoke found themselves on the back-foot during the opening minutes as Arsenal adopted their trademark ‘pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass and move` style.
Eventually after six minutes, Ramsey played a through ball to Robin van Persie in the area. He pulled the trigger but his kick was bigger than he thought, and his shot flew high over the bar. Ryan Shawcross was all over him.
Laurent Koscielny`s shot likewise flew high over Asmir Begovic`s goal, but granted he was shooting from an awkward angle after bringing down an Andrey Arshavin corner.
Stoke had a chance when Jermaine Pennant blasted wide from roughly 20-yards when he chested down the ball after ‘keeper Wojciech Szczesny had punched clear Rory Delap‘s rocket throw.
Scrum 1: An exchange of pushes and shoves between Arsenal and Stoke players ensued after Jack Wilshere‘s rash challenge on Dean Whitehead caused a stir. Wilshere rightly received a yellow card.
Minutes later it was then Arshavin`s turn to concede a free kick as he shoved Pennant over by the right corner flag.
With Arsenal fans booing and jeering, Pennant stepped up to take the free-kick. He curled the ball into the area and found the chest of an unmarked Kenwyne Jones, which deflected into the back of the net for the first GOAL of the game! That shut the away side up.
Jon Walters was on the prowl as he fired at shot on target, but Wojciech Szczesny held on to it with relative ease.
Half time beckoned, but the lead was doubled when Stoke scored another GOAL! Ramsey scuffed a pass, and the loose ball was quickly picked up by Pennant who initiated a counter attack. He let fly from 25 yards and saw his strike take a lucky deflection (for us) off Johan Djourou, and it looped past Szczesny into the top corner.
A rampant and confident Stoke almost added a third goal two minutes later when Walters beat Bacary Sagna to the ball. Walters intended a cross from the very tight angle he found himself in on the left, but the ball clipped the bar! That would have been a spectacular goal if the ball dropped just that tiny bit quicker.
Half time came and the Stoke players were applauded off for all of their efforts. A smiling Tony ran into the changing rooms for that crucial talk with the lads because he knew, judging by Wenger`s face looking like a smacked Arsenal, the Gunners would come back out fighting.
Before the second half kicked off, a double substitution saw Arshavin replaced by Nicklas Bendtner and interestingly Ramsey was taken off for Marouane Chamakh. A finger to chin moment there as we all wondered what the thinking was – but then we realized that we didn`t care.
Despite the fresh legs and the fresh enthusiasm for Arsenal, it was Stoke who threatened first. Robert Huth yet again went up for the header to connect with Pennant`s corner but the ball flashed narrowly over.
Scrum 2: As Huth went down he pulled Song down with him, which sparked another scrap between hot heads. The referee restored order though.
The kick in the teeth here was Huth damaging his knee. The Berlin wall fell awkwardly and was substituted minutes later by Abdoulaye Faye after receiving treatment and limping off.
Arsenal threatened moments later when Bendtner curled a low shot from 20 yards. It was close enough to force Begovic to dive but it was inches wide.
Stoke seemed to be the dominating force as Rory Delap had a shot blocked. The fans were right behind the lads as the play from Stoke was very encouraging.
Scrum 3: A bad challenge from Jack Wilshere on Pennant as took the ball, but followed through on the winger. Pennant was furious and so were other Stoke players. Everyone, including the referee and linesmen, got involved in this one, apart from a mellow Asmir Begovic who took the time to have a drink.
Both players were booked before Pennant was substituted three minutes later for Danny Pugh.
Glenn Whelan forced a flying save from Szczesny at the near post, after he was played through by Walters.
Alex Song was replaced by Tomas Rosicky before van Persie scored a GOAL to narrow the lead and get Arsenal back into the game. The Dutchman skipped past Shawcross before drilling his 18-yard shot underneath Begovic’s dive.
However, moments later, Stoke hit back with an immediate response and score their third GOAL! Andy Wilkinson‘s shot was only half cleared by Djourou and Walters was first to the loose ball. His first touch set him up to blast the ball past Szczesny and make it safe for the Potters.
Final whistle and what a fabulous game! 3-1 to the ‘rugby team`, and sarcastic chants to Wenger. What an almighty confidence booster for Stoke as we reload for the FA Cup final against Manchester City, who of which will certainly be biting their rich finger nails. Are they prepared to put their money where their mouth is? Who knows, but hopefully from Stoke`s point of view, it`ll be priceless.
Begovic, Wilkinson, Shawcross, Huth (Faye, 51), Wilson, Pennant (Pugh, 72), Whelan, Whitehead. Delap, Walters, Jones (Diao, 84).
Subs: Sorensen, Collins, Carew, Shotton.
Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny, Djourou, Gibbs, Walcott, Song (Rosicky, 80), Wilshere, Arshavin (Bendtner, 46), Ramsey (Chamakh, 46) van Persie.
Subs: Lehmann, Vermaelen, Squillaci, Eboue.
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