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Thursday, 24 February 2011

Arsenal 1 - 0 Stoke City - a big win, but is it a costly one?

Cesc and Theo - at least one will be missing at Wembley

I have to admit that I'm having a problem with writing this. The trouble with doing a match review is that you really need to have seen the whole game to do it any justice. As I only have Sky's 40 minutes of highlights I don't feel qualified to talk about any particular performance in the match last night. With that being the case I have decided that I will not attempt to review the game but talk about the fallout from it instead.
I can't quite believe some of the stuff I've read so far today. One piece in particular has caught my eye. It is from the BBC website and can be found here - http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thefootballtacticsblog/2011/02/arsenal_fans_need_to_get.html It's written by a journalist called Alastair MacGowan, who I had always thought was an impressionist famed for a bad David Beckham skit. If he is now doing an impersonation of a football journalist then he needs to work on his act a bit more. What is going on at the BBC? I wrote here last week about the post-Barcelona phone-in on Radio 5 Live turning into a "TalkSport-esque" provocation programme, and now we have this outrageous nonsense. The crux of the piece is that Arsenal fans are a disgrace for not "appreciating" Stoke's style of football, while the booing of Ryan Shawcross (poor, innocent, leg-breaking Ryan Shawcross) is totally unacceptable. I remember when Wimbledon played like Stoke City (only they were better at it) the press fell over themselves to criticise. Now teams like Stoke are seen as the standard-bearers of the good old, in your face, English attitude on the football pitch. Can the press not see that this is why England are rubbish - good technique is not a prerequisite for playing football the way that Stoke do. Instead of criticising supporters for not liking this kind of football, or pillorying a team who likes to pass the ball, perhaps they should get at club's like Stoke. Perhaps if the press put pressure on the club's to aspire to Arsenal's style of football (mimicking Barcelona if you want to put it that way) then the national team would improve. In terms of the article itself it really would be more at home in a tabloid newspaper than on the official website of the BBC. The most galling thing is that, as licence-fee payers, we have actually paid the wages of this cretin so that he can write such drivel. He clearly didn't watch the game at all either - see his comments about Clichy's awful tackle which earned a booking - you know, the one where he played the ball out for a throw-in only to be penalised by the referee (yet another incompetent buffoon).
Back to the game itself and the three points gained are massive. The importance of putting the pressure on to Man Utd, as much as possible, can not be understated. The fact that it was a hard-fought 1-0 win, with a plethora of injuries weakening the side, makes it a very good three points indeed. I was pleased for Squillaci that he should get the winning goal, and then be instrumental in the defensive effort against the aerial onslaught (I was amazed that Pulis didn't bring on Jones until the dying minutes). The win has certain similarities to a 1-0 win around this time in 1998 when a severely weakened (more so than last night) Arsenal beat Crystal Palace at Highbury with a goal from Gilles Grimandi (who was, at the time, a similarly much derided French centre-half struggling in the English game).
I really enjoyed watching the highlights of the last couple of minutes of the match as Samir Nasri and Andrey Arshavin ran the clock down in the corner of the field - as a cameo of quality football in the face of neanderthal hackers it was a joy to watch (I daresay that particular line will bring the Stoke fans back on to the comments section of the blog, as they were on Tuesday). Arshavin had earlier somehow sidestepped a Shawcross swipe that threatened to put him in row six of the middle-tier. Things did get a bit hairy when Nasri then decided to cross the ball to nobody at all, but we got away with it. Jack Wilshere also looked great on the ball and he, too, had to dodge the flying feet of the Frankenstein lookalike before the game was over.
So what about the injuries? Theo Walcott has been ruled out of the Carling Cup Final already with his ankle injury. I think Whitehead's foul (not given) was clumsy rather than anything else, but if you're not trying to play the ball most of the time then clumsiness will hurt someone in the end. Theo's pace will be missed on Sunday on the wide-open spaces of Wembley - he could have really been the difference on the big occasion, and he has a tremendous record in big matches. Of even more concern is the injury to Cesc Fabregas. At least we can't point a finger at anyone from Stoke City for this one. Another hamstring injury for Fabregas was probably inevitable with his ongoing problems in that area. That it should come now is a major blow to Arsenal, and to Fabregas himself. The choice may well be a stark one for Arsene Wenger - play a half-fit Fabregas in order to try and win the Cup Final and see him out for six weeks, or leave him out for a fortnight to keep him fit for the run-in. If Robin Van Perise is also injured come Sunday then the tie is suddenly very much up for grabs and Birmingham will fancy their chances even more. Arsenal need Fabregas, as much for the effect he has on his own team as for what he does to the opposition. I said on here a couple of weeks ago that Huddersfield Town froze when they saw him come on to the pitch. Last night it seems that Arsenal froze somewhat when he left it - and that really is a worry.

I'm off now to await the inevitable abuse this post will receive from the Stoke fans when they read it on their NewsNow feed. Check back tomorrow to see what depths we plumb.

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