I think Stoke City are finally being found out. Even the press are just starting to realise that they represent everything that is mediocre about the English game. In the past they were seen as some kind of heroic force for the way they could "upset" the bigger Clubs - particularly Arsenal. Tony Pulis was apparently a tactical genius as his re-hashing of Wimbledon's modus operandi circa 1988 was put to decent effect (though not quite as successfully or with as much good humour as Wimbledon used to imbue). I get the feeling, however, that the tide is about to turn on Pulis. After all, if Stoke can't kick Arsenal off the pitch any more, and can't damage us with an aerial bombardment, then where does Pulis go next? His middle-aged chav look is as dated as his football ethos and the English media might just be realising that success for England will only come by slating tactics from the Dark Ages.
As Gooners we are naturally pre-disposed to dislike Stoke as we were the Club that largely fell victim to their "physical" style. Stoke, of course, are naturally pre-disposed to dislike Arsenal because they were beaten in consecutive FA Cup semi-finals in the early 70s. However, this does not constitute a "rivalry" between the Clubs. I am convinced that, like Allardyce and Pardew, Pulis considers himself a rival of Arsene Wenger. Whatever the faults may be with Arsene he need not concern himself by spending sleepless nights worrying about that kind of "competition". Sending your players out to kick as many opponents as you can (after all, these foreign/southern nancies don't like a tackle, you know?) does not constitute a rivalry. Stoke City will never be "rivals" of Arsenal Football Cllub. All the time they remain in the Premier League they remain a necessary distraction twice a season, but definitely nothing more.
Saturday saw the usual behaviour from Stoke on the pitch, and from Pulis on the touchline. Theo Walcott is bearing the facial scars of his day out against the zoo animals. It's to Theo's credit, and a sign of his growing ability, that he was not intimidated by the ever-kicking, and sharp elbowing, Andy Wilkinson. Then there is Ryan Shawcross. We have been told time and again that Ryan Shawcross is "not that sort of player" as he delivers yet another studs first foul on an opponent. Don't forget, he also loves his Mum. I would contend that Shawcross most definitely is that sort of player. Francis Jeffers and Aaron Ramsey have both had their legs broken by him. Emmanuel Adebayor and Laurent Koscielny have been fortunate not to join them (and that's just the players with Arsenal connections). Shawcross does not belong on a football pitch. He should be firmly and permanently ensconced in the gorilla enclosure at Regents Park.
However, the reaction of Michael Owen to being tackled (not fouled, just tackled, albeit firmly) perhaps should show us that it's not all the fault of Shawcross himself. I never thought I would see Michael Owen aiming fists at anyone. The fact that it was a pretty awful attempt at a punch should not have seen Owen let off by the FA. I believe Mr Foy has said he saw the incident, in which case he should be suspended as well (when you consider he only saw fit to book Shawcross you have to question his ability as a referee still further). But what led to Michael Owen's unexpected change of character? Owen has been around since 1997 and has never been involved in such nonsense. I can only conclude that it is entirely down to Pulis and what he tells his players before sending them out on to the pitch. And it's not just against Arsenal, and it's not just Shawcross - Robert Huth is equally adept at the over the top challenge. It strikes me that Pulis pumps his players up to a degree that leads them to being out of control in the tackle. They must surely be getting instructed to leave scars on the opposition as not all their players could naturally be labelled as a thug - especially not Michael Owen. If you watch the way Pulis bounces about on the touchline in his baseball cap and shell suit it's easier to understand why Stoke's players are close to pure evil at times on the football pitch.
Having been beaten by Arsenal on Saturday Pulis knew he had to dive for cover. His one "tactic" for beating Arsenal had been comfortably rebuffed by The Gunners players. With the physically strong Giroud up front, Arteta and Wilshere not taking any crap in midfield (especially Wilshere) and Sagna backing up a more manned-up Walcott there was nothing for Pulis to do but start putting up a smokescreen. So what did he do? He accused the Arsenal players of influencing the referee. Pulis may be an idiot, but he's not stupid. He knows how to play the press game. He realised that his comments would grab the headlines and deflect attention away from the over physical behaviour of his players. The fact is that the Arsenal players influenced nothing other than the right decision being made (again, questions should be asked of the linesman who tried to disallow the goal - in light of the revelations yesterday I hope there are one or two officials shifting uneasily in their seats as their corruption is a step closer to being uncovered).
While Pulis might have conned the press in to ignoring the fouling and nastiness, there is a growing discontent with Stoke among football supporters. More and more people have had enough of their thuggery, and no amount of carping from Pulis is going to hide it. They are no longer the plucky underdogs but simply a bunch of neanderthals being sent on to the football pitch by Tulisa's style guru. The last thing to mention is the fact that Pulis brushed past Arsene Wenger at the final whistle without a proper handshake - just imagine the reaction of the press and Pulis himself had it been the other way round. One-nil to the football team.