Arsenal have more midfielders than they know what to do with, but Mikel Arteta is crucial to Arsene Wenger’s plans so he came straight back into the side today. Wenger decided to play Wilshere as the central attacking midfielder, so Cazorla started on the bench and Diaby started alongside Arteta in the middle. Oxlade-Chamberlain also started on the left instead of Podolski, which was a bit of a surprise. Monreal was thrown straight into the fray.
There were no sign of any nerves from the Gunners, and it was clear from the start that Stoke would be doing a lot of defending. After 15 minutes and lots of nice play, however, we had still not scored and were given a reminder by Stoke that we could not take the game for granted. Crouch was given too much room to turn and shoot, which led to a corner. I don’t think it will surprise anyone to hear that I am not convinced by our defending at corners.
The game started to meander a bit as the half wore on, and it seemed as if we needed something or someone to inject a bit of urgency. The crowd was subdued and the lack of clear cut chances was not helping. The ox nearly provided it from a corner after 30 minutes but managed to direct his shot straight at Begovic. It was all Arsenal, but chances came and went and it was level at halftime. We did find out that Monreal has a really hard head though.
Stoke were obviously encouraged by the leniency of the officials, because they started the second half determined to break up play as much as possible and it was really frustrating us. With 25 minutes left Wenger decided to bring on Podolski and Cazorla, for Chamberlain and Diaby.
The lanky Frenchman and the Ox had played well I thought, but Wenger was proved right because it was a Podolski free kick that finally broke the deadlock. The linesman tried to ruin it but thankfully the referee overruled him. Cazorla nearly doubled the lead shortly after and the Spaniard looked sharper than he has for a while.
Old `shatter your legs` Shawcross got away with a shocking studs up challenge on Koscielny, it was dangerous and should have been a red card, but the referee must have got lucky last night because he was in no mood to punish anything Stoke did today. It just proves what Tony Pulis wants from his players when you see Michael Owen punching Mikel Arteta in the back. Owen has always been a Gent, but it did give us the great picture of Wilshere squaring up to the diminutive striker. That is a fight I would pay good money to see.