My oh my, there is nothing quite like waking up to a morning knowing you're going to have to lavish yet more praise on your favourite player. I took time out to say something nice about the Frenchman yesterday and as happens in all religions, you do something nice and you are rewarded with something nice... immediately. This little comment here...
'so this is also a great opportunity for Squillaci to show that he is in fact a good defender.'
... could prove to be the defining moment in our season.
The team lined up exactly as I suggested it would with Nik B taking centre stage for once. The game opened brightly, Theo Walcott was found in space early on, he let off a rasping shot that nearly blew the back post from its foundations. Moments later, the Englishman found himself through on goal again but his tame effort was dealt with. We had our heads up and Jack Wilshere was combining well with Cesc to really open up Stoke.
The fans were incredibly vocal about that scoundrel they had playing at the back.
Ryan Shawcross, is a 'tanker' apparently?
Nik B found some space in the box from a corner, he controlled the ball, chipped a half volley into the box, Squillaci back tracked on himself and nodded home a poachers header! A super goal from a defender you'll all agree has been nothing short of Baresi-esque this season!
Well done that man!
Anyway, it didn't take long for bad news to strike. Cesc pulled up with what looked like a tight hammy, he walked off to rapturous applause, Andrey Arshavin came onto the same welcome. I haven't heard anything from Pam on this injury yet, what I will refer you to is my match report after Braga when she told me it wasn't that serious because he didn't pull up. Think about how obvious it was that Samir had hurt himself? Maybe Cesc just felt a tightness and didn't want to risk anything...
Andrey kept play ticking over and Arsenal reverted to controlled football. We held possession without ever really threatening. It is worth noting that Nik B's work rate was exceptional and he made some telling passes. Stoke still took time out to remind us that actually, they're a very tactically aware team. A few of their long throw in's caused a bit of panic in the box but the defence and Chezzer dealt well with them. John Carew also fired off a fierce shot that our keeper was more than equal to with a long outstretched save. He was met by a chorus of...
'Arsenal's number 1, Arsenal, Arsenal's number 1'
Haven't heard that song in a while... the crowd must know something eh?
The second half wasn't anything to really write home about. Andrey pulled off an outrageous piece of skill when he controlled a long ball perfectly, then chipped the ball inside his man, cut it back to Theo who fired embarrassingly wide. Despite a great opening 10 minutes, Theo really wasn't at the races yesterday.
He was chopped down by a late challenge, which the dithering referee didn't deem a foul. He went off on a stretcher. Again, I've heard all sorts of stories about his injury from all sorts of people who wouldn't know. If I get anything solid late, I'll tell you. I'm hoping this could be a case of Theo being a big girls blouse (I love that phrase, like a big girls blouse is the epitome of femininity).
The game petered out towards the end, there was a nervy freekick to deal with, thanks to Denilson and a last-minute corner that we defended excellently.
The game finished 1-0, that was a fantastic result and the red and white army go marching on!
I felt the team put on a strong showing all over the park last night. There wasn't really a weak link anywhere. The team fought hard for each other, I didn't get the sense we were bullied and we ground out a very good result. At times I did feel that people had Sunday's game on their minds, we were a little casual about winning the game 1-0 and I know plenty of people in the ground felt that way. Still, if you can play like that and not concede, then there isn't much to complain about.
Sunday is coming up fast now, we're a possibly a couple of key players down but we've got to accept that injuries at this time of the year are inevitable. They're collateral damage, providing they're not too serious, we'll deal with them. Sure the 2nd team on its own is weak, that's not to say all the players in the second team are poor. Andrey is more than capable of coming into the side on Sunday and having a blinder, Samir can slip into the middle and Nik B proved last night how good he can be when he's given a run in the middle of the park.
Also, a big shout out to the defence. They played as a unit yesterday, communicated fantastically all night and earned a great clean sheet. Squillaci was very good... that performance will give him belief.
Everything is starting to come together now. We'll take Orient apart next week, we have the advantage against Barca, we're in the final of the Carling Cup and we're now only a single point behind United.
A win on Sunday could give the whole team the belief they need to carry them through the last few months of the season. Alex Ferguson once said all players are tired at this stage of the season and that it's mental attitude that gets you to the post first. I totally agree. This team feels like it's grown up and that it's ready to deliver. Pound for pound, there isn't a better squad.
I'm hoping we're going to break in that virgin trophy cabinet this Sunday...
We'll start previewing the final tomorrow!
See you in the comments!
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