Stoke City 1 – 4 Arsenal
Some wins are worth more than three points. Any thumping away win injects a spring into your step but at Stoke? As comprehensive as yesterday’s victory, knowing that Peter Crouch ends his career with the tag ‘cheat’ tattooed on his forehead. I checked The Times for their condemnation this morning, and there was none.
This remember, was the part of the Murdoch empire which eviscerated Robert Pires as they sought to eradicate diving from the game. That went well, didn’t it?
Anyway, it was a match which had it all, including the usual ineptitude from Mike Dean. The only surprise was that he didn’t dismiss Granit Xhaka, despite the provocation during the spell when Stoke Rugby Football Club replaced the supine footballers who previously took to the field. Arsenal rocked before Alexis scored the third whereupon Stoke rolled over. At the heart of all that was a cool-headed young Englishman. The praise rained in on Rob Holding’s head and quite rightly so. His was an outstanding performance and was a line in the sand for Wenger, if he maintains that level consistently.
I’m assuming Arsène will remain in charge for the next season at least, and with a back-three. I’d say only one of them is likely. Next season will be vital for Holding’s development and reducing him to substitute or the Carling Cup sides is tantamount to stalling that progress. That’s an argument for another day and while I think he is likely to stay, it doesn’t mean I think it’s the right choice either; it’s a mistake and while, like yesterday, there will be bright spots, the desperate form which haunted the first quarter of 2017 will resurface once again.
One In Ten
There was nothing to fault with the overall performance. Hector Bellerin found his feet and thrived in the wing back role; statistics showed he spent the most time in the Stoke box of any Arsenal players which is staggering. Even Francis Coquelin played well, preferred for his ability to ‘mix it’ with the home side which has previously kicked us off the park.
Aside from a brief flurry in the second half, it never happened and his contribution to the first goal, bisecting two Stoke defenders, was a joy to watch. Olivier Giroud provided a similar finish to that and the fourth; deserved, I thought, for the Frenchman, who is having one of his ‘responses’ to pressure on his place. If he found that consistently, he would be a world-class striker but it’s too late in the day now.
To the chagrin of the Wengeristas, Alexis was once again Man of the Match. Prompting and probing, kicked and kneed, he still scored the third with a deflected finish. Holding’s majestic run, bringing the ball out of defence and calmly passing when he reached the end of his advance, was in the finest traditions of defensive play. Modern football is quick to compare; it will take a long time and a lot more success to be the next Cannavaro or Moore. Who knows, he might want to be the first Rob Holding.
Even Mesut Özil got in on the act. He and Alexis combined beautifully for the second. The German’s run timed perfectly for the exquisite chip into his path; the finish begs the question why he doesn’t score more often but we know the answer already. It might not be what his game is about but it surely must surface more often.
You’ve Got To Hand It To Him
Which brings us to Crouch. The pall of cheating in any form hangs over football in many forms but the former England international – which shows how low we sank – was blatant; vile because of its calculation – even though he would have scored with his head, he chose to slap the ball into the net. It’s the sort of thing which comes as no surprise from a Stoke player. If the FA are serious about getting tough on these things, a three-match ban is in order so that it runs into next season and has a genuine impact. Missing next weekend’s game just allows Crouch to go and get drunk in a nightclub a week earlier than normal.
Part of me thought this morning that I should be magnanimous in victory, but then I remembered it was Stoke and I thought, “Nah; sod it. Gloating is in order”.
It means West Ham or Middlesbrough have to do us a favour if Champions League football is to be reclaimed. Other teams collapsing? It’s very much the Arsenal Way since moving to the Emirates. While the directors and Kroenke filled their boots, from a supporters perspective, it’s hardly been the Promised Land, has it? Anyone who thinks the pattern will change in the future with Arsène at the helm hasn’t been paying attention.
I still think it’s too little, too late and we’re bound for the Europa League. We’re making the leap over the barbed wire but we all know Steve McQueen ends up in a tangled mess.
Finally, there is a new playlist on Dad’s Jukebox: Jukebox Classics: #3 The Songs Which Influenced Arctic Monkeys is as eclectic mix as could be found; it’s here while the Record of the Week – Paul Weller’s A Kind Revolution – is found here