Playing Stoke is a trying 90 minutes for most teams in the Premier League. They're the last of a dying breed, the final remnants of an era led by Sam Allardyce and his brutal football regime. Things aren't quite as easy as they used to be. Thugging your way to three points is becoming increasingly difficult in a league that has seen an influx of teams who actually want to play the game.
Stoke lined up like the team who were in fear yesterday. Breaking into our half was not something they were particularly interested in and as a result, we dominated possession and had the best chances. It wasn't an easy afternoon. Stoke really know how the park the bus, what I would say is that the timid score was more down to some exceptional keeping and some very off the boil finishing over a stoic display of tactical defensive mastery.
Arsenal had plenty of opportunity to fire ahead in the opening 45minutes. Oxlade Chamberlain the guilty party on two occassions, the first when he managed to find Begovic from 4 yards out after a goal mouth scramble, the second, more forgivable when he fired a shot at the far right corner and once again forced a very smart save from a keeper who is fast establishing himself as the hottest property outside the top four (and available if Stoke have made a move for Butland).
It wasn't just Chamberlain having a bad day in from of goal. Giroud made a few interesting decisions when he cut back a header in the box that looked easier to head goalwards.The ball made it back into the box straight after and Koscielny showed the way with a good header that was blocked.
The second half proved to be a little more fruitful on the goal front. Theo Walcott was fouled on the edge of the box by Wilkinson. Lukas stepped up, fired a terrible low ball at goal, it rebounded in off a Stoke leg... it was a goal. The lino had other ideas though, he called the ref over to claim offside. Little did he know... he'd totally hashed up the rules of the game in thinking it was offside. We were granted the goal.
The Emirates took on a bit of a silence after that. We closed the game out in the end, but we gave Stoke far too much of the ball. I totally understand why we'd play for a 2nd when we're one up with twenty to play... but really, what we should be doing is playing simple posession football. Stoke didn't have the heart to beat us that way. I think everyone was expecting us to concede a late goal, but we didn't, we held out and took the three points. An exciting three when you consider Everton and Chelsea both dropped valuable points.
Arsenal are still in with a major shout for third this season. It all depends on the consistency we can show. Those above us will drop points over the coming months, we just have to be on hand to deal the killer blow when we need to. The gap, between 6th and 3rd is 5 points. That's not a mountain to climb. It'll be tough, but there's no reason we're not capable of having a good go. One thing is for sure though, our finishing needs to get better and our confidence to close out a game needs to improve.
The next few weeks sees a bit more of a focus on the cup games. We're taking on Blackburn at home with Bayern Munich away. Our two Premiership games must be 6 points in the bag. Sunderland and Villa are as easy as they come this season. Then the fun starts, potentially Everton, Spurs and Swansea all within a month. That's what defines where we finish this year. If all three are wins, we're on our way to top four. Lose any games in the league over the next 2 months and we really could be in trouble.
On the player front, things are looking positive. Jack Wilshere really is looking good. I love the way he defends his teams honour. After Owen threw a very girly punch at Arteta, he was the first in line to get in his face. Sometimes, when decisions go against us, I wish it was more than just the other teams players around the ref. Shawcross made another nasty challenge yesterday. He just doesn't care who he breaks, he really is a disgraceful footballer on every level. I hope his come-uppance is a two year injury lay off.
Monreal looked ok yesterday bar a few shaky errors late on. He's far more Spanish than Gibbs, obviously, Gibbs is French. He has a real one touch flavour about his game. He looks ok going forward, but he looks better at the back showing good positional awareness and strength. You felt comfortable with him at the back, which was a good sign considering how long it can take for players to settle into the game.
3 points in the bag against Stoke is a start... let's see where we go from here.
Have a great day Grovers.