We went to Stoke with a pretty experienced line up. We were at a disadvantage as we didn't have Theo or Arteta. We slipped Gervinho into the starting 11 and played Benny over the over side. Midfield consisted of Aaron, Song and Rosicky. The game got off to a typically thuggish start, Whitehead, who looks like an inbred version of Noel Fielding, smashed through Song early on. He was shown a yellow though which made a nice change. It also put the brakes on violence escalation process that usually happens in Stoke games.
Our first tasty piece of movement came when Van Persie played Yossi into the box, the Israeli managed to angle his shot across goal, he just didn't have the power behind it. Robin was given an opportunity to head us into the lead when Rosicky played a superb cross into the box, the Dutchman's near post header was tipped wide.
Then it happened... like it always seems to. Stoke power down the other end, whip in a pretty decent cross and who steps up to head home? Peter f*cking Crouch. The header dropped into the bottom corner. The keeper didn't even move for it. I'm still a bit perplexed as to why he didn't dive for the shot, but there you go.
Were we going to bend over? No. We slipped straight back into some nice pass and move. Keeping it intricate being mindful that there needed to be some end product. Ramsey was first to test out his shooting boots whistling a shot just wide of the upright.
Next, Yossi chased down a lost cause, won the ball, turned and played a pass inside his man, Rosicky took over, picked out Robin at the back post where he was on hand to tap in. A goal that combined hard work and great skill. Super stuff.
We continued to press a resolute Stoke. The best chance of the half after the goal fell to Gervinho. Sagna whipped in a superb cross, some how the Ivorian managed to miss the ball completely. People were saying he was worried about the keeper... I'm saying he's just not that good.
The second half opened and I was hoping for more of a reaction. We needed the three points regardless of what was going on at Newcastle. I'd rather we pushed for a gap than sat back marvelling at how bad others have been.
It never really came. There was a potential penalty call which looked like loose legs from Yossi. Robin Van Persie had a diving header well held and we really didn't make much use out of the countless freekicks we had around the box. Thomas Vermaelen, as much as I love him, shouldn't be allowed anywhere near those kicks. He's like the fat kid at school that wows everyone because he can kick a ball hard. You're a pro footballer Thomas, concentrate on hitting the target.
One of his shots caused a bit of controversy when it hit the hand of Walters. It was definitely a handball, but getting decisions like those these days is a big ask. Especially from Chris Foy.
Sagna saved our bacon in the 91st minute. Stoke fired a corner into the box, Chesney made a bit of a mess of it but the Frenchman was on hand to fire the clearance away.
We earned a point. We played some nice football. But simply put, we need to be looking at that as two points dropped, not a satisfactory one point gained. We're not West Ham fans here.
Many people have been celebrating the 1 point we earned at the Britannia on the basis of what other top 6 teams have done. For me what the opposition do against teams bears no relevance to us. No one seems to be mentioning that QPR, Sunderland, West Brom and even the continental fairies Valencia have gone there and won.
For me, there should be no get out out of jail cards. So what if the other top 6 teams have had problems. That's excuse making. The simple fact is, we needed to win that yesterday and we didn't.
We've take 8 points out of the last 18. That's pretty shoddy. Again, forget the opposition and what they've done. It's irrelevant. Wenger said he'd use the last few months of the season to assess the quality of his team. On what we've seen, we're still a long way off. It's not an attitude issue this year, which is heartening. It's just a quality issue.
Yesterday we simply didn't have that extra ten percent you need in a tough game. There was no Cesc killer pass or a bit of Nasri magic we could call upon. Gervinho to all intents and purposes is now looking like a bit of a duff signing. He may come good next year after a summer off, but he's regressed as the season has gone on. Is that African nations fatigue or is it a touch of the Chamakhs? Chamberlain hasn't made the impact we'd hoped for. Undoubted talent, but still very raw... then outside that we're really struggling.
As it turns out, our one point was good enough. Wigan did us a huge favour by smashing Newcastle, so third is still in our hands. What's disappointing is the fact it should have been tied up. Wigan, QPR and Stoke are all three pointers if you cut away the 'on their day' nonsense. If we want to kick on in the league next year let's hope the players don't check the form guide to see who they can drop points to.
My big concern is that we stumble across the line for third, dripping in sweat, blood and tears. Then the manager looks at the table and says,
'If we hadn't had the first three months of the year, we'd be 10 points better off. So actually, we don't need any players this summer. I only need to find an extra 5%.'
Then we're back where we started. Looking at it in the cold light of day, we've actually had 3 slumps. One in August. One in January and we're in one now. We've not been good enough this year. I'm happy we have a platform to work from. But only if the boss sees it as a platform. We really can't afford to go into next year hoping and praying Ramsey is going to come good, that Jack can be a one man goal creation machine and that a couple of risky signings might explode onto the scene.
'What do we have that is good enough now' should be the only question Wenger asks over the summer.
We did create chances yesterday, most of the good stuff coming from two players on the back 9 of their careers. Yossi and Rosicky engined away in midfield and helped craft some seriously intricate play. The reverse passing and pivoting on a sixpence was impressive. We just lacked finishing power. We lacked the ruthlessness you need to be competitive.
I must say, I did like the fact that we didn't allow ourselves to get bullied yesterday. I'm not sure why Wenger felt the need to challenge every decision. The players weren't. There were a few risky fouls... but overall, we got stuck in, we weren't intimidated and we played some nice soccerball.
We got to the last 15 and it looked like we'd run out of ideas. You knew we'd run out of ideas when Wenger threw on Chamakh... you knew exactly what our squad limitations were when the final throw of the dice was bringing on a left back.
Still, this matters not. We'll still finish a point ahead of Spurs if we beat West Brom and Norwich. Both teams should be routine 3 pointers, therefore that means both are banana skins. Norwich is definitely a game we should be taking no prisoners in. They actually play football. If we can't beat the at the game Arsene Wenger trademarked as his own... well, I don't want to think about that.
Also a word for the Stoke fans. Disgusting. Booing Ramsey? Come on. How can a whole stadium all do that in agreement. Utter classlessness. Still, when you've eaten in a Stoke service station which I have on many occasions, you'll understand why they are how they are. A shambles of a place and a shambles of a fanbase.
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