Well, that sucked.
Our title hopes have taken a severe blow at a stadium where, as ever, Arsenal joy goes to die. The chase for the title is not dead yet, but we now have no room for error in what was already a daunting series of fixtures. All season long, this Arsenal side have responded to adversity and earned points that would have been frittered away in previous seasons. That is all well and good, but if this lot truly do have the bottle for this fight, we need to see it now.
As for this abomination of a match, instead of the traditional format, I present disjointed rants on some specific topics:
The Arsenal Traveling Support: Impeccable, as always. Strode into Mordor and outsung the orcs. You did us proud, ladies and gentlemen.
Stoke City: What can you say? They were compact, hunted in packs, and worked their bollocks off harrying players off the ball. Some of the challenges were dubious, as ever...and that odious little troll Charlie Adam should have walked for that sly stamp on Olivier Giroud in the second half. But, if we're being fair, they played well and were full value for the three points. Marko Arnautovic and Peter Crouch were the best players on the field - the former supplying several excellent crosses for the latter, who won damn near all of them.
Olivier Giroud and Jack Wilshere: Awful, awful, awful. The pair of them spent half the match on the deck having a moan at the referee. All it did was feed the inbred trolls in the stands, and contribute to the home side's ever-growing belief that they were once again getting under our skin. Giroud in particular was the embodiment of the orc supporters' caricature of our club. It clearly rattled him - his holdup play was abysmal and the few half-chances he had were hit with an utter lack of conviction. Wilshere contributed nothing offensively as well, and lasted much longer on the pitch than he should have.
Lukas Podolski: Was he even on the pitch? This is supposed to be the kind of game he excels in...he's supposed to be the guy making direct runs, shooting on sight...essentially doing all of the things that the side as a whole doesn't do often enough. He was found wanting once again this afternoon, and he's quickly playing his way off the team. If he goes in the summer, I won't cry in my beer...funny Instagram photos or otherwise.
Bacary Sagna: Speaking of people I won't be sad to see go, a word for our erstwhile right back. This may be an unpopular opinion...but he's 30, has a long history of injury and is clearly declining as a player. He got into some good positions going forward, but he couldn't cross a street, let alone the ball. He also stood much too far off Arnautovic all game long, allowing him to send crosses in whenever he liked. Were it not for the excellence of Wojciech Szczesny, we may have conceded earlier than we did. Also, what in the blue hell was he thinking with that bicycle kick clearance in our penalty area? Lucky for him that came out to their right back Geoff Cameron instead of one of the strikers.
Arsene Wenger: I'm not going to slate him for the initial team selection (except for one thing - why on earth was Mathieu Flamini not playing? If he doesn't play in games like this, what is he for?). This was mostly the same 11 that saw off Sunderland in such brilliant fashion and surely they deserved another crack at it. But, once again, his ridiculous stubbornness with his substitution patterns did us in again. This was the sort of match where that rat bastard Jose Mourinho would make three changes at halftime, turn it around and win comfortably. Arsene sat on his hands until after the 65th, as usual, despite the fact that we displayed all the penetrative power of a marshmallow willy. Plan A isn't working? Cool, we'll just keep trying Plan A until it does.
This match was obviously screaming out for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to come on, and perhaps Serge Gnabry too. If it were me, I'd have hauled off Podolski, Wilshere and Rosicky at halftime, and played Ox in the middle with Cazorla-Ozil-Gnabry as the front midfield three. It would have offered us something different, at least...and it wouldn't have thrown Yaya Sanogo into a situation that he isn't ready for. Speaking of...
Yaya Sanogo: Seriously, if you're going to savage this kid for missing one chance late in injury time, do us all a favor and jump in front of a train. It's not his fault he was our best option at that point, and it's not his fault that we were down 1-0 to this lot at the time.
Mesut Ozil: Did OK when he came on. Hope you enjoyed your break, but now it's time for you to truly earn your keep, good sir. We need the real Mesut Ozil, and we need you now. I think the best is yet to come (and he hasn't had a bad season, no matter what the mouth-breathers among us say), and I would love to be proved right now.
Laurent Koscielny: A caveat: I say the following in the knowledge that Kos is one of the best - if not the best - defenders in the division. That said, what an absolutely catastrophic performance today. He is prone to these fits of lunacy, often at the worst possible times. His second half in particular was a masterclass in the art of untimely implosions. First, his misjudged header allowed Crouch to volley just wide of the post. A minute later, he lost Crouch on a free kick, giving him acres in the center of the penalty area to volley again - that time, Szczesny bailed him out. Crouch beat him again a bit later, forcing Szczesny to parry out his header.
There was no bailout forthcoming when he conceded a back-breaking penalty for roughly the 12,000,000th time in his Arsenal career, though. Yes kids, that was a stonewall penalty. Blame the referee all you like but the Laws are clear as day on this one. Kos had no reason to have his hands up like that...if Jonathan Walters scoops that over him, fine, there's support in the center of the area. Stupid, mindless, needless penalty. It cost us at least a point, full stop.
Right, then. That's enough for today. It's over, it's done with, the inbreds have got their moment in the sun (at which point they'll go immediately back under their rocks and bridges). We beat Chelsea and Everton and Spurs, and all of this will be forgotten tout suite (that means immediately, for any Stoke supporters who are having someone read this to you). Let's see what you're made of, Arsenal.
The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:
Szczesny 7, Gibbs 7, Koscielny 4, Mertesacker 7, Sagna 5, Arteta 7, Wilshere 5 (Sanogo 5), Podolski 5 (Ozil 7), Rosicky 5 (Oxlade-Chamberlain 7), Cazorla 6, Giroud 4
Man of the Match: I was watching Setanta's coverage, and they gave it to Crouch. It's not a bad shout, but I thought Marko Arnautovic was the best player out there today. He tormented Sagna down the left wing over and over again, and his crossing was impeccable.