Ten Thoughts: Stoke City 1-4 Arsenal

Goddamn, fuck Stoke City forever, Just, literally forever, I don't know if there's a club I hate more in all of England, and that waaaaaaaaaay includes the nearest and dearest. I swear to (insert deity here) that I would live in Somalia before I ever ever EVER consented to live in Stoke-on-Trent.

1. Keeping with the Lord of the Rings theme, it felt like a long trek into Mordor just to get to the damn pub to watch the match. Never mind the horrendous rainstorm that is apparently going to last clean through until Sunday afternoon, but there was also an electrical failure at Times Square *just* as I was heading out on the subway. So, a fun 30 minutes at Queensboro Plaza in the gray, damp hell later, I was finally able to catch an N train and only missed about 4 minutes or so of the match. Miracles truly never cease.

2. As I mentioned in the last one of these, we've had a bit of a streak of ending bad runs lately. Be it the general malaise in away matches, or the record against Jose Mourinho, or the hoodoo at St. Mary's, we've made a practice lately of breaking bad streaks. So, why not away at the Potteries, too? The weird thing is, Stoke showed up to this thing with a little bit of their usual petulance, which we'll get to in a bit, but no real serious desire to win this match.

It's funny, in retrospect, how we managed to lose to badly away to West Brom when they were already safe and especially in light of how bad they've been since safety has been assured. This could have been something similar, but Stoke just...I don't know...never turned up. It's so bizarre. Maybe it's because they're slightly different under Mark Hughes than they were when Sauron managed them, but even still it's not what one would normally expect.

3. Let's be real - Arsenal thoroughly dominated the first half. Whether it was a looping header from Shkodran Mustafi that tested Jack Butland in the Stoke goal early, or Nacho Monreal hitting the post after great work from Hector Bellerin down the right, our boys were all over this lot from first minute to last.

I wonder if these early chances were what shook Stoke out of their early torpor enough to start committing the kind of horror fouls that we're used to from them, but either way they didn't seem to care enough to do even that in the first 20 minutes or so.

It was SUCH a bizarre match,

4. Most of the rest of the first half passed without incident, but I can't help but think that in most cases Bellerin could have won a penalty in the 22nd minute if he had just gone down when the contact happened. Of course, in retrospect, Mike Dean was refereeing this thing so he'd have probably be booked for diving anyway. Believe me, we'll get more into Dean in a second.

As it turns out, Arsenal would take the lead just before halftime in the 42nd minute. It feels odd to say, but the early stages of the build-up to the goal happened because of good work in the center of the park by Francis Coquelin, who kinda sorta impersonated a professional footballer today. He played it out right to Bellerin, who made room down the right and then sent a wicked cross back along the six-yard box. Olivier Giroud, making the most of a rare start, ghosted off his markers and popped up on the back post to slam home uncontested.

5. Sidebar: If you contributed in any way to the planes flying over Mordor today with the Wenger stuff? Sod off. Seriously. This just isn't the time and you're all goddamn wankers.

6. I'll be honest with you, I thought it was over when Ozil scored the second. Up until that point, if we're being honest, we were absolutely cruising. In this case, Alexis had dropped deeper, and for once it worked out for us. He got the ball and played a glorious chipped pass through the Stoke defense. Our German wizard ran onto it, dinked it over the advancing Butland, lovely jubbly.

Again, at that point? I thought it was game over.

7. But, enter Mike Dean!

It's amazing...something is honestly rotten in the English refereeing setup when the worst of the worst of the worst seem to always get the big matches, and when they retire they seem to always be put in charge of the refereeing setup. For me, at least as long as I've been paying attention, the lineage seems to go from Mike Riley being the worst referee, to being head of the officiating setup, to Mike Dean being the worst senior official.

Back when I first started to be able to see many games, I always thought Steve Bennett was the best referee...and it seemed like he never worked any match of importance. I mean, when FIFA can sometimes get this right (as in Pierluigi Collina working big matches back in the day, or Cunyet Cakir doing finals or semifinals now), why can't the FA? Where is the disconnect here?

The funny thing is, I have more sympathy for referees than most - I spend my Thursday afternoons refereeing a high school 8-a-side league, and I literally am working towards becoming USSF-certified. But my god, Dean and his ARs absolutely lost the plot in the second half.

The goal that made it 2-1 was, frankly, inexcusable for a professional crew. First of all, Bellerin was fouled bad enough for a yellow card offense to give Stoke the ball in the first place. Second, how the AR missed that Crouch clearly put it in with his hand? I'll never know. I mean, I've refereed like 15 games in my life, and I absolutely believe that I would not have missed that. Seriously.

Even beyond that though, there was the Ryan Shawcross elbow to Giroud's head in the 58th minute, or the elbow from Erik Pieters to Mustafi's head in the 70th. Both blatant, both dangerous, no call. But, when Rob Holding innocuously goes into Marko Arnautovic in the 79th and the Austrian goes down in the dramatic fashion, here comes Mr. Fussy waving the yellow cardboard around. It's astonishing.

Also, speaking of, isn't the hypocrisy of these inbred Stoke supporters AMAZING when they boo our guys for legitimately being injured, and don't pipe up at all when one of theirs fakes one?

If we do one day get hit by the Sweet Meteor of Death, I bloody well hope that Stoke-on-Trent gets hit first. Literally fuck them forever.

8. At the very least, we got two nice goals towards the end to put some gloss on the scoreline and smash our Stoke away curse forever. Alexis, despite having some kind of hamstring trouble a few minutes before, managed to ease the nerves caused by Stoke's fightback once they got to 2-1 with a delicious finish. Holding began the move with an audacious sashay through several Stoke defenders, and he played it up to Bellerin. The Spaniard played in Alexis, who rolled a cool-as-you-like low finish off of Shawcross' leg, off the post, and in.

That was probably the game there, but Giroud added his second goal in the 80th minute. Ozil sent in a magical long ball that left the Potters' back line for dead. The substitute Aaron Ramsey fought off the attentions of Glen Johnson, got to the goal line, and sent a tremendous cutback pass along the area. Ollie popped up to slam it home, and make a fantastic scoreline even better.

Seriously, have some of that you stupid orc bastards.

9. So, at this point, I think it's time to talk about Petr Cech. Again. He made a couple of absolutely unbelievable saves to keep any doubt from creeping into this result.


I swear to fucking all that is holy that there is no more underappreciated player in the league for what he does.

He did just enough on the hour mark to make it difficult for Mame Biram Diouf's header and ensure that it didn't find its way in. A few minutes later, Bruno Martins Indi must have thought he scored off a corner kick before our Czech stopper intervened.

If that wasn't enough, even though it was 4-1 already, Cech made an unbelievable save down low to his right to deny Geoff Cameron what absolutely would be a goal in most cases.

Arsenal Twitter makes me keep saying this, but PETR CECH WAS NEVER THE PROBLEM YOU MUPPETS.

10. Your move, Liverpool. Don't blow it against West Ham!

Man of the Match: Olivier Giroud