If you’d asked me before kick-off what the bare minimum I would have taken from yesterday’s match against Stoke was I’d have told you no serious injuries. After that a draw and no serious injuries followed by a win and no serious injuries. I’m never confident when we go there, with good reason given how we’ve been bullied and battered in recent years.
The starting lineup offered no surprises. Gervinho and Yossi came in for the Ox and the injured Walcott but apart from that it was as you were but this was a different Arsenal side who turned up for this game. In the first half we dominated them in a way I don’t think we ever have when it comes to Stoke. They scored from their one and only chance, we equalised five minutes later and from there it was all Arsenal. Rosicky had clearly eaten his speed-infused Weetabix and everyone in an Arsenal shirt was first to every loose ball.
The chance from which Stoke scored from seemed all too familiar, a cross to a freakily tall man who headed home. That it came just a minute or so after we had fashioned pretty much a carbon copy of a chance only to see Begovic save from RvP’s header was frustrating, that Szczesny could have perhaps got down to Crouch’s effort even more so. Our equalizer didn’t take long to come and it was the result of some great work by Yossi, working hard to win the ball back before giving it to Rosicky who crossed superbly to find RvP who had found space in the box and was able to volley home.
The second half was perhaps a more even affair but we still created the chances to win the game, however if, like I said before, you’d have offered me a draw beforehand I’d have gladly taken it and got the fuck out of Stoke. With Newcastle losing heavily at the hands of Wigan it means that third place is still very much in our own hands. If, back in October, I’d have told you we would need to beat Norwich at home and West Brom away to secure third you’d have thought me off my face on paint thinners.
Diaby, brought on as a sub in the 73rd minute and who seemed to finding his range seemed to pull up right on the final whistle. As I write this I’ve no information on any injury which he might have sustained.
Post match, Wenger praised our battling qualities saying “I believe that it was a game where we have shown great character, great battling qualities. It was a game of two different approaches – one very direct in the air and one who tries to play on the ground. Both teams are good at what they do and that’s why I think it was still an interesting game. We had good chances, especially in the first half. In the second half I felt our fluency dropped a bit in midfield – we still had chances though, especially a penalty that was not given. Overall we deserved at least a point and I can only give credit to my players for their battling qualities and the way they responded to what Stoke offered us – full commitment, well-organised, direct. We did not always cope with it but today I felt we did.”
I’m not sure which penalty claim he is talking about, the handball which Vermaelen claimed or the perceived push on Yossi but for me neither of them are calls I can complain about not getting. Wenger did, however, have a point when he referenced the number of blatant penalties we haven’t received this season, “It will go on the tape of all the penalties we have not got this season” he said dryly.
I was glad to hear him speak out about the treatment Ramsey got at the hands of the home support. That they saw fit to boo him for the whole match simply because he had been the victim of a horror tackle from their captain which could have not only ended his career but also left him limping for the rest of his life, speaks volumes about the type of people who support Stoke. Wenger said “I don’t think you can be especially proud to boo Aaron Ramsey because I don’t see what he has done wrong in his behaviour. That’s an old story where the fans of Stoke stand behind their player. But it shouldn’t go as far as booing Aaron Ramsey.”
When speaking about the abuse he received at the hands of the Stoke fans he said “They have a relationship with me but I don’t have one with them! It is easy to sit in the stand and insult people – it is the easiest sport in the world.” He’s right. I wonder how some of the people who dish out the vilest abuse would feel if it was the other way around? In fact, I don’t have to wonder, I know. I receive some absolutely hateful abuse on Twitter and as soon as I turn it around on them they are the first to start crying and moaning. It is the people who hurl insults at opposing players all day long who are the first to complain when a player responds. They are cowards who can dish it out but cannot take it, preferring to criticise and abuse and believe that they have the right not to be challenged. They are pathetic. In a world where UEFA see fit to punish a manager for questioning a referee more than people chanting racial abuse, a game which bans players for swearing at the TV camera’s but allows ‘Sit down you paedophile’ to be clearly heard year after year after year, you know that the authorities have no inclination to tackle the actual issues which are affecting the game. I’ve had this discussion before, some people say that it’s just ‘banter’ – no. It’s not banter. Try shouting some of the things you hear at a football match or read online at a person as you walk down the street, see what happens then.
See how funny they find your ‘banter’ face to face.