It's many years now since Allardyce first demonstrated that Arsenal could be beaten by physical intimidation and non-stop fouling. Over those years referees, The FA and the media have failed to get a grip on such tactics. It's cost Arsenal three shattered legs in the process. However, another thing that has happened over those years (or not happened as the case may be) is that Arsene Wenger has failed to send out a team that is prepared for, and willing to go up against, this kind of thing. Instead of fighting back a bit the Arsenal players have resorted to whingeing and whining at the officials for protection. It should be obvious by now that the referees are incapable of policing games in the way they should. The only way to deal with it is to show that you're not going to have it and start cutting up a bit rough yourselves. That doesn't mean going around kicking people. It means getting up when you've been fouled and getting in the face of the opponent. Hitting them hard in the tackle. Knocking them about in the aerial duels. Show them you won't be cowed by their attempts to bully.
Yesterday there were two clear instances of Olivier Giroud being stamped on. On both occasions he gave a small moan in the direction of the referee. Where were the other players? Why weren't they piling in on the likes of Whelan and Adam? Lukas Podolski said this week that he's never known such a good team spirit. So why weren't they diving in on behalf of their centre-forward? I don't give a toss that Arsenal got panned for going after Van Nistelrooy in 2003 at Old Trafford. The Dutch diver had wronged the Arsenal skipper and the likes of Keown and Lauren and Parlour and Cole weren't going to let it happen. It was the same in 1989 and 1990 against Norwich and Man Utd. The message from people like Davis and Rocastle and Adams and Thomas was that they weren't going to take any crap against their team mates.
You need leadership in these type of games. In recent years we'd been sorely lacking this. We all thought that had changed with people like Mertesacker around, but not yesterday. With an opponent sent out solely to kick you off the pitch (we shouldn't be surprised by this - Mark Hughes made an entire career out of it and Stoke know only one way to "play") then your Captain should be in the ear of the referee all the time. Make it clear what's going on. Keep badgering him until he opens his eyes to the thing that is obvious to everyone watching. John Terry is constantly talking to the referee. Ryan Giggs and Rio Ferdinand are also always in the referees face. It's not a nice thing to see, but when the refereeing is so unbelievably weak you have to make sure you're on a level playing field. I didn't see Arteta or Mertesacker go near Mike Jones yesterday. Mertesacker was too busy making Peter Crouch look like a good player. We missed Flamini yesterday in every way possible (more of which below).
Let's deal with the penalty. As far as I'm concerned it was a correct decision by Mr Jones. You can argue that it was ball to hand as the players were so close together but there was simply no need for Koscielny to have his arm in the air like that. If your arm is that high then you are giving the referee the chance to make a decision. If it had been at the other end we'd have been screaming for a penalty. Away from home you might not get it, but that doesn't mean it's not a penalty. The fact is that Koscielny has a problem with making stupid mistakes in his own area that often lead to the concession of penalties. To add some balance I should point out that Phil Thompson said it definitely wasn't a penalty on Sky after the game. He also was disgusted at the kicking the Arsenal players were getting. If Thompson, not famed in any way for defending Arsenal, says things were bad then you know it's the truth.
As for the game as a whole we were awful. There were no tackles or tactics. There was no heart, no bottle, no fight and precious little football until Oxlade-Chamberlain came on. I said on Twitter before kick-off that we would need to start quickly, as we did against Bayern Munich, and get Stoke on the back foot. Instead of that we were timid and lacklustre. It's been the same for weeks now in away games. Southampton, Liverpool, Stoke City. All three performances have been woeful from the first whistle.
The team selection itself was bizarre. I was naturally very pleased to see Gibbs was fit to play. I was also pleased to see Podolski in the side and Ozil not in it. What I couldn't understand was why Flamini and Oxlade-Chamberlain were both on the bench. At Stoke, perhaps more than anywhere else, we needed Flamini. Do you think Charlie Adam would have got away with it had Flamini been on the pitch? Of course he wouldn't. Without The Ox we had no pace, yet again. With no pace we carry no threat. All we have is the Giroud "wall-pass" that has now become so easy to defend against that it's embarrassing. Jack Wilshere spends every game rolling around on the floor clutching his ankles - if he's that injured he shouldn't be on the pitch. When Chamberlain did come on we suddenly started getting in behind them (Ozil passed to an Arsenal player on one occasion when he came on which is frankly an embarrassment) and we should have got a scarcely deserved equaliser through Sanogo. If Nicklas Bendtner had missed that chance you wouldn't have heard the end of it. Wenger got things so badly wrong yesterday that you have to wonder if we haven't regressed years in the space of the last few weeks.
For all that the players talked the talk but failed to walk the walk this week (Rosicky claimed on Friday that we would have to match Stoke physically - actions speak louder than words) the blame is squarely at the foot of our inept Manager. The attitude of the players at the start of the game is set in the changing room by Arsene Wenger. With all the nonsense the idiot Stoke fans have been spouting at Aaron Ramsey this week a team talk need hardly have been necessary. The players should have been shown what was being said and that should have been enough to have them properly fired up. This is not Wenger's way and it is constantly costing a team incapable (or not allowed) of thinking for itself. Yesterday was as bad as any of those games against Bolton under Allardyce, or Stoke under Pulis, where Arsenal allowed themselves to be bullied out of the match. The Title challenge looks like it is crumbling. I just hope Wenger realises the important game is the one next Saturday in the FA Cup and that he doesn't rest anyone ahead of chasing a pipe dream in Munich.