Stoke City 1-1 Arsenal: A Potentially Vital Point

This was one of those matches that may not have been a roller-coaster of emotion and momentum swings (a section of us chanted "we're watching the wrong match", in reference to the mental 4-4 draw between Swansea City and Wolves), but the point gained on what has been a miserable hunting ground for us is the most important takeaway from the afternoon.

With all of our various injuries, the starting lineup essentially picked itself - the lone exception being Gervinho preferred in place of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. For the record, I believe that to have been the right move given Stoke's physicality...though as we'll discuss later, he also should have had some part to play later on in the second half.

As an aside, since we've had so many Stoke trolls here in the past taking umbrage with us pointing out what a bunch of psychotic violent orcs their side are, maybe one of you lot can make yourselves useful and explain the constant inability to pick a goalkeeper this season? It's Asmir Begovic, then Thomas Sorensen, then Begovic and back again. What's the deal? They're basically the same guy, it's Guy A or Guy B. Bloody pick one already.

Anyway, Arsenal started brightly and arguably should have taken the lead in the 6th minute. Yossi Benayoun, who had a storming first half, nicked the ball off one of the striped-shirt troglodytes and sped down the wing. He played a brilliant one-two with Robin van Persie, and the Israeli was in space in the penalty area. It was an acute angle to shoot from, but if he had any pace on the shot at all, it was probably in. Instead, a dribbler of a shot was collected well by Begovic.

Begovic again came to Stoke's rescue a few minutes later. More good work down the left wing gave Tomas Rosicky space to curl in a purposeful cross to the far post. The Dutch master was there and volleyed superbly, but the Bosnian stopper made a fabulous save at his near post to keep it out. I know you hear bollocks all the time about how everything at the near post should be stopped always and forever regardless of circumstances, but trust a goalkeeper - that was an astonishing save.

It looked to have been a costly one for us as well, as the Uruk-Hai army advanced and struck blood shortly afterwards. A rare foray upfield from the home side saw Peter Crouch hold the ball up in a central area. The Arsenal defense all swarmed towards him, allowing him to play it out to Matthew Etherington. He crossed it back in for Crouch, who out-jumped Thomas Vermaelen and planted a header just inside of the post. There wasn't much Wojceich Szczesny could have done about it, and Lenny and Friends had the lead.

Heads could have very easily dropped after once again trailing at the Britannia Stadium. But, something was off with the Stoke defense today and they did look vulnerable. Remember, this easily could have been 2-0 to us inside of six minutes. Six was the number of the moment, as that's how many minutes it took for the captain to score the equalizer.

Once again, Tommy was in the thick of it. He and Benayoun were dynamic in the first half, running their balls off and harassing anyone in possession. Their aggressive pressing was definitely not what Stoke was expecting, and consequently they lost the ball to them often. On this occasion, Rosicky won the ball and hared down the left. Two shambling automatons in candy-cane shirts were in attendance, but they bizarrely stood well off of the Czech man. With time and space, Tommy dutifully sent in another inch-perfect cross to van Persie. It was met with another well-struck volley, and this time Begovic couldn't get anything behind it. A simply magical goal, and the light side of the Force was level.

The rest of the first half played out much the same as what came before it, with Arsenal pressing and keeping Stoke on the back foot. However, the Potters' defense stiffened after the goal, and there were to be no further chances.

As for the second half, Arsenal tired and slowly their pressing became less urgent...then disappeared entirely. Stoke, with nothing to play for, seemed content to play time out and rarely found their way into the Gunners' half.

There were only two incidents of any note in the second stanza. Robin had a free header in the area but could only direct it right at Begovic, and we had a stonewall penalty shout turned down by Chris Foy. That's literally it...the whole second half in one paragraph.

Then again, it wouldn't be one of my match reports without complaining about the substitutions. Once again, I feel like Arsene Wenger got it wrong. For one thing, again we didn't see changes until after the 70th minute. Aaron Ramsey was anonymous (though one can forgive it considering he was playing against the psychopath who injured him, on the ground where it happened), so I'm cool with him coming off. But, Abou Diaby again? Why oh why do we persist with having him take up space out on the pitch?

Even worse, Gervinho was taken off (having accomplished a few nice passes and fuck all otherwise) and replaced with...wait for it...Marouane Chamakh! I suppose the idea is to have an aerial presence in the penalty area. But, first off, it's not like we're going to out-Stoke Stoke. Second, such a strategy would require the target man to have the determination and heart to actually contest anything that comes to him. Chamakh is a man who has no confidence and no place out on a Premier League field at this time.

Oh, and the third sub was Andre Santos out on the wing again. I know Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain didn't have the best of outings last time, but we really could have used his energy in the latter stages of that game when Stoke were there to be taken. Instead, we got a lethargic Santos to lose the ball and otherwise stand around looking miffed at having to be there.

Still, it'd be churlish to complain over-much at the team coming out of Mordor with a point. With Newcastle getting massacred 4-0 by Wigan Athletic, we stand four points above them (though they have a game in hand). Spurs and Chelsea are 7 and 8 points back respectively, though each has two games in hand. But, with this being arguably our most difficult fixture remaining, with Norwich getting eviscerated at home to Liverpool today and West Brom having absolutely nothing to play for, this is a result that leaves us in good stead to finish in third place and not have to worry about the lads from the bus stop in Fulham fluking the Champions League and consigning us to the UEFA Cup.

Could be a lot worse.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 7, Gibbs 7, Vermaelen 7, Koscielny 7, Sagna 7, Benayoun 7 (Santos N/A), Song 7, Rosicky 8, Ramsey 6 (Diaby 6), Gervinho 6 (Chamakh 6), van Persie 8

Man of the Match:

There's a strong argument for Robin van Persie considering his sweet volley to score his 28th Premier League goal. But, I have to stump for Tomas Rosicky, who provided the cross for the goal and would have had a second assist if Begovic had not come up so big. His pressing in the middle of the park neutralized many Stoke threats before they could materialize, and once again he was the engine that made us go.