There is always one match I particularly don’t look forward to every season and that is Stoke away. We haven’t beaten them away from home since 2010 and they always seem to be really up for it against us.
It is their biggest match of the season as they don’t have any close rivals and it is like this because of the matches in the past. Firstly, both teams have contrasting styles of football with Arsenal playing quick passing and Stoke playing long balls and they are also very physical compared to us.
The rivalry really came about when Ramsey broke his leg after their captain Shawcross did a horrendous tackle and rightfully got sent off. This was followed by Ramsey and others saying that Shawcross shouldn’t play football again and that Stoke play like a rugby team. The Arsenal fans then chanted ‘swing low, sweet chariot’ which annoyed stoke fans a lot.
Comments were then passed between the two teams but it has died down a bit now as Stoke, under Mark Hughes are a different team and play more passing football. They do still have the physical side as well though so we knew we were in for a tough game once again. A win was once again crucial if we were to have any chance of Champions League football next year.
Wenger made four changes to the side who beat Southampton away on the previous Wednesday. Bellerin started as RWB as the Ox was injured (he should be back for the FA Cup final), captain Koscielny importantly came back to the side instead of Gibbs as Monreal went to LWB, birthday boy Coquelin replaced Ramsey in the middle for more physicality and similarly Giroud started up front instead of Welbeck. I agreed with these decisions and thought the subs might be crucial near the end.
So the match kicked off and fortunately Arsenal dominated early on. We got our reward just before half time as Giroud silenced his critics once again to tap in from a good run and low cross from Bellerin. We could have scored earlier as Monreal hit the post from a cross from the right and we also had other chances but it finished 1-0 to us at half time with Stoke’s fans booing their team off.
Despite another plane displaying a Wenger out ‘Wenger Out, Means Out’ banner Arsenal carried on where they left off in the second half. We added our second goal about 10 minutes into the half as our two supposedly world class players combined very well.
Alexis this time was the provider for Özil as he brilliantly threaded an inch-perfect pass to Özil (he would have been proud of it) who calmly lifted the ball over keeper Jack Butland to surely give us the three points. Özil now has 12 goals in all competitions for us this season, he does still need to be more consistent for us though especially in the big games.
This goal really got Stoke going though as they hit back and should have scored through Diouf after he nodded wide but then they made their pressure count soon after as they got one back through Peter Crouch (he’s still playing)!
It looked like a perfectly reasonable goal at first glance as he used his height to get on the end of a decent cross from the left but after seeing replays it showed that it hit his hand and therefore shouldn’t have counted. This is more reason for video technology to be used and it is going to keep happening and affecting games if it doesn’t come into play. We have also been lucky with decisions this year as well though but I still think it has to be done in the near future.
Their goal made the last 20 minutes of the game very nerve racking for us and it would have been really bad if Stoke got something out of the game after the controversial goal. Arsenal Fan TV was looking very good at this point!
Fortunately for us though we’ve got Alexis Sanchez (for now at least) and he virtually made sure of the 3 points with a third goal. He was actually injured and signalled to the bench but still managed to find the net with his final kick of the game. We really are relying on him so much this season and that is why he has to stay at all costs!
The Chilean has now scored 50 goals in the Premier League overall and has 21 this season. Hopefully his injury won’t be that bad as we will definitely need him on the last day of the season against Everton and for the FA Cup final.
After Sanchez was replaced by villain to Stoke fans for some strange unwarranted reason Ramsey, Giroud got his second goal of the game with 10 minutes left. It came from good play by Ramsey on the right and his delivery was tapped home by the Frenchman. Both of them silencing their many critics once again.
Giroud now has 12 goals this season in the league and he does consistently get at least 10 every season for us but is this enough? I still think we need an out an out striker in the summer who will get at least 20 goals like Henry or Van Persie. Will we be able to get one though if we don’t finish in the Champions League?
Ramsey also went close himself (what a moment that would have been for him) near the end and Cech once again made some good saves for us to keep the score at 4-1 and get our first victory in this fixture for seven years. I was really impressed by our performance but why can’t we play like this all season and I couldn’t help but feel it was too little too late for us. The new formation is really working though and surely we have to use it next season as well just like Chelsea have done?
Special mention to Rob Holding once again who played really well especially for his age and looks to be a key member in our first team for many years if he carries on the way he’s been playing. Our whole defence looked very solid actually which isn’t said many times about us these days!
Ahead of the game tonight against bottom of the table Sunderland at home we are 5th, 3 points behind Man City in 4th and 4 points behind Liverpool (who did annoyingly beat West Ham on Sunday) in 3rd with a game in the hand.
So we have to win tonight and we really should do against an already relegated Sunderland side who have been awful this season apart from striker Defoe and young English keeper Pickford. If we don’t win then we really don’t deserve to come in 4th and be in the Champions League next season.
After Sunderland we face Everton at home on Sunday on the last game of the season and hopefully we will still have a chance to finish 4th. We finished well last season on the last day as Spurs surprisingly lost 5-1 to relegated Newcastle and so we finished above them in 2nd. Hopefully a similar situation can happen this time with one of Man City or Liverpool dropping points against teams they should beat.
What will happen on the final day of the season? Where will we finish? Will we finally not be in the Champions League for the first time in my lifetime? What will the response be from our fans and how will that affect our summer business?