Five Thoughts: Stoke City 1-0 Arsenal

Photo: BPI/Shutterstock

Believe it or not, this isn't halved to Five Thoughts for the usual twin reasons of petulance and laziness - instead, it seems to fit given that I missed the entire first half of this one thanks to the ongoing incompetence of New York's transit system. It's tempting to make the easy parallel between our third-rate, outdated metro and the performance on display today, but that isn't quite the case.

The thing is, there's always going to be a few of these ratty coin-flip games throughout the entirety of a season, and what should have been a 1-1 on the balance of play ended up 1-0 thanks in large part to one rotten bit of ball-watching from Nacho Monreal and a shocking offside decision from the Mr. Magoo, if I remember correctly. There's the usual Twitter harpy-screeching going on as if we were in 8th place with one match to go - even among the short-attention span crowd, this is really something. We're not some bottom-of-League-Two outfit because we lost one match at a ground we haven't had success at recently anyway. My god.

1. But yeah, after going uptown to go back downtown, and skipping a few stops to all of a sudden go mega-local for the entirety of the rest of the trip, I got to the Barleycorn with scant minutes to go in the first half. Fuck me, I could have flown to England and watched the second half in person with the amount of time it took to get from the north Bronx to southern Manhattan. It's funny, I mean, this is the only acceptable instance in the 21st century of travel that slow - fucking cruise ships go faster. If cars went that slow, it'd take you three months to get to Aunt Tilly's in Ohio. Unreal.

Back to the Arsenal, Shkrodan Mustafi passed fit so he was into the fray in place of Rob Holding. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was out on the right and Hector Bellerin the left, so once again we had a backline of largely mismatched parts, all out of position. It's bloody frustrating.

Speaking of, can we all stop with the bleating about Gabriel being sold? Fucking hell, you'd think the guy was Paolo Maldini in his pomp, rather than a half-crocked ricket-machine. He always did look the part - I do like my center-halves ugly as sin - but impersonating a cathedral gargoyle only goes so far at this level. Good luck to him in the land of sunshine and sangria, though. Not a bad gig when you think about it, especially given that half of La Liga are pub teams from cities with a lesser population than Sunnyside.

Near as I can tell from the various reports and blatherings, we should have had a penalty when Bellerin was felled in the area, the troglodytes in the stands who were let out on work release from Dr. Frankenstein's lab were booing Ramsey for having his leg bisected as usual (classy), and other than that we did our usual performance-art version of attacking without ever looking all that threatening. Hmm, not sure where I've seen that one before.

2. My god, can I just say for a second how much I hate Stoke? I've been on this kick lately of reading match reports from older seasons, you know, rambling down memory lane and all. You can say many things about the Premier League era, but in the early years especially the league efficiently and methodically weeded out the sides that had no business being there. All of those old Crystal Palace and Southampton sides that were little more than pumped-up Hackney Marshes ogres trying to get close enough to Dennis Bergkamp or Marc Overmars to go for their Mortal Kombat fatalities, and all of those horrible referees who let them get away with it (fucking Mike Riley and Graham Poll and that little ginger goblin Paul Durkin and Gerald kids think we have it bad with Mike Dean but seriously you have no earthly idea). All those hopeless triers like Barnsley and Swindon Town, who lucked their way to the top table like some kind of weird Beverley Hillbillies skit. One season, and out you go. Thanks for coming.

I've already touched on the Stoke lot booing Ramsey for being fouled, but then this same collection of failed lab experiments had the temerity to boo us twice for playing on while one of their store-brand cast-offs from actual football teams rolled around as they made a full-on seven-course banquet of a nothing challenge. Get to fuck, each and every one of you. I'd wish some kind of horrible plague on all of them, but look, they already have to live in Stoke-on-Trent. That may already be the nadir.

Stoke fans, you can find out what "nadir" means here.

I also loved it when they bleated for a penalty in the last few minutes of the game, when their guy only had that much time and space on the ball because their guy mauled AOC out on the flank with a variation of Hiroshi Tanahashi's Sling Blade, in full view of the ref, which of course went uncalled.

Other than that, they offered nothing. Less than nothing. They're largely not even the rugby team anymore and we still had over 70% of the ball in the first half. They made a few timid sorties into our half of the field, took advantage of the one time Arsenal went to screensaver mode, and that was it. Petr Cech made one good save in the second half, an other than that, he could have been reading a magazine.

Like I was saying, in the early days of the Premier League, this lot would have been trap-doored back into weekend trips to Bury and Port Vale eons ago. Now, though, there's this odd thing where there's a few fashion-forward accessories for the discerning oligarch to play with in between human rights violations at the top, and a teeming proletariat of interchangeable shit clubs like Stoke below them. Someone has to survive every season, and unluckily for the rest of the world, it's been the Potters. Fuck, if they're the Potters, it makes me think the Dursleys had a fucking point.

Maybe this is the season that we can finally expel them from the league like some kind of flotsam you have on the bottom of your shoe. Here's hoping.

3. Right, so as seems to be the usual these days, their goal came from a sub-professional lapse of concentration. I keep harping on the goals conceded at the beginning and end of halves, and this one was in the 46th minute I think. I guarantee you that Cech was picking the ball out of his nets while half the orcs in Stoke were still at the chamber pots or whatever they have in that crap ground of theirs.

It came out of nothing, too. Saido Berahino had the ball outside of the penalty area, with Mustafi in attendance. No worries so far. But, he played the ball into Jese Rodriguez (who, by the way, they just got on loan about four nanoseconds before the match started), and motored past Monreal like he wasn't there. What a defensive tactic that is, the bullfighting Veronica. Fantastic. Arsene's gotten away with playing position musical chairs more than most, but bloody hell if it doesn't cost us sometimes. I like Monreal, he's a good player, but there's only so many times you can ask a plumber to fix the electrical circuits before someone ends up like they're fighting Blanka in Street Fighter II.

4. Enough about the Neanderthals, what about the homo sapiens? Well, as mentioned, the defense were a bit makeshift, as is the new norm. Bellerin, playing on his off-wing, couldn't cross a street but I can't say I blame him. Oxlade-Chamberlain ran around a bit but looked every inch like he was mulling over west London real estate prices while the rest of them were doing footy. Mesut Ozil was spraying passes to his old Real Madrid teammates rather than the guys in the horrid raspberry cola shirts. Danny Welbeck did Danny Welbeck things, none of which were remotely likely to end with his mates celebrating. How he stayed on the pitch for 90 minutes should be the focus of the next season of Serial.

Olivier Giroud came on first in place of Sead Kolasinac. Later, Theo Walcott and Alex Iwobi replaced Granit Xhaka and Alexandre Lacazette. Hand to heart, I had no idea Xhaka was playing until he trotted off. He'll come good for us this season - just you watch - but today he looked like he was taking a 75-minute union-mandated break period.

Lacazette hadn't done much either, other know...score a good goal and all. Seriously, this is what the lino flagged as offside:

I mean, seriously? I have a lot of sympathy for match officials, and the offside rule in particular brings to mind that old saw about a camel being a horse designed by committee. But, mate, if you go to the speccies' office and you can't see the "E" on the eye chart, I reckon this isn't the profession for you.

Needless to say, that was our chance. The orcs - and this is the only nice thing I'll say about them - defended diligently and well. They closed down space and blocked off our passing lanes, and our mob didn't have an answer for it. That is, other than Lacazette scoring a perfectly good goal, that is.

5. It doesn't get any easier now, what with our upcoming visit to Uncle Roman's Dacha for Overpaid Mercenaries. Antonio Conte is the best manager in football right now for my money, and barring any kind of injury plague they'll be right up there at the top again this season. Stamford Bridge has never been a happy hunting ground for us, and unless we look into the radical notion of playing guys where they're used to playing, I have serious fears about getting anything out of that.

Man, if you think Twitter is losing its mind right now, just imagine if we're three matches into the season sitting on three points. It wouldn't be the end of the world in any kind of real sense, but the flying monkeys would be scrambled and in formation. Sad bunch of tossers, the lot of them. I get being passionate and all but there's a definite lack of perspective out there.

Meanwhile, take my advice and avoid any columns about Manchester United right now. Seriously, some of these journos out there are already handing them the title, as if the other half of that town didn't have a team that looked good for a bit last season before they Wile E. Coyote'd themselves off the proverbial cliff. Good lord, they've played two games...and sure, they battered the Dog & Duck and what looked like a Helen Keller School for the Blind XI, but can we at least wait until they play a few football teams before the fucking coronation?

This season's two weeks old and I'm already losing my patience. You kids and your hot-blooded imperious youth and all. Pipe down.

Man of the Match: That Jese guy looked all right.