After conceding an unlucky equaliser to an Aaron Ramsey opening goal Arsenal’s defenders stepped up to put the game beyond Stoke with two more goals from set pieces to ease Arsenal to the top of the table.
Having held Man City to a nil all bore draw at home last time out Stoke were fancied by some in the media to take a “plucky” point from the soft, southern boys from London.
An hour or so before kickoff a welcoming committee of fans were out in force with their number 11 shirts to welcome the umlauted ex Real Madrid playmaker, M Özil.
The weather for the game was as you’d expect for late autumn in southern England, overcast with a light wind and a temperature around the twenty degree mark. Not ideal for rugby but better for football, no prizes for guessing which team would choose to which sport to play.
A rather unwelcome surprise just before kick-off was the news that Theo was out, not even in the squad, due to an, unspecified at the time, injury and young Serge Gnabry was to step into the breach on the right wing.
The early pattern of crowd behaviour set the tone of the game: the Stoke fans would chant their worship of chief Orc Ryan Sha***ss, from the second minute onward as I noted, and the aforementioned Orc’s every touch would be greeted by boos/whistles from the home supporters(and me of course) all game long. This happened to such a degree that he didn’t seem to want to dwell on the ball.
All the pre match excitement had been about Özil’s home debut and the script could not have gone better for him as the first of many fouls committed by one of Stoke’s lumpen defenders resulted in a free kick that Mesut stepped up to take.
Having deliberately placed the ball yards in front of me at the corner flag of the Clock End and the west stand the ball was swung in by our £42.4m man.
The ball dropped into the penalty area and Begovic, in goal for Stoke, seemed to have it covered yet amazingly it popped out and one of our players pounced to lash in the spilled ball. When I realised it was Rambo the arced run to the opposite corner flag, in front of the away support, made sense.
Never has “One Aaron Ramsey” been sung with such gusto and vehemence in the face of the away support who were still holding him responsible for psychological damage to their ‘ickle Captain.
For most of the first half the Arsenal midfield kept a strong hold of the game with Flamini’s bow legged running style combining well with Ramsey’s athletic all action brand of midfieldmanship. While all the attention was on our star signing Flamini added some strength to the team and impressed me to the extent it could have been like watching our midfield of 2008.
Later in the game he would pump his fists at the crowd to ask for their help in keeping the tempo up by urging the team on, to which the crowd responded – he seems to have been forgiven for the manner of his departure. If he carries performing as he has and I will cheer him on as much as I would Santi, Prince Poldi, Kozzer or anyone else who busts a gut for the team.
Then came the undeserved Stoke equaliser, from a long diagonal ball (how often do Arsenal get undone by those?) that luckily fell onto the boot of an onrushing Stoke forward who half volleyed his shot onto the post. Six inches to the left and Chesney had it covered, six inches to the right and it goes wide, but bang in the middle it ricochets off the post precisely into the path of another Stoke player who barely had to change his stride pattern to rifle his shot in.
This transformed the away section into a mob with incomprehensible chants (they sang the Spud’s song “When the Spurs go marching in” and the Rugby union song “Swing high, swing low” just to revel in their notoriety as a rugby team playing in a football league) where before they didn’t have much to say.
Now in seasons gone past the Ashburton Grove crowd would have transmitted their nervousness to the team with groans, but from the resumption “Come on arsenal” was the message.
Soon enough Gnabry’s growing confidence, after being slightly overawed at the start of the game, led him to run the channels enough to force a corner which was to be taken by you know who.
An Özil outswinger led to a back flicked sort of header from the BFG that looped into goal to rightly restore the Arsenal’s lead, cue the “Who are you?” shouts eyes right to the away section that was silenced again, 2-1 to the good guys.
The second half started a bit slower and yet the Arsenal’s midfield still exerted a control on the game although Chesney did have to make some important saves. Stoke did push forward a bit more but their lack of quality showed in the number of through passes that led nowhere and overhit crosses that went into touch, appropriate to a team of rugger players.
It has to repeated that I’m proud of the way that every touch the Stoke skipper took was greeted by boos – this is what home support should be all about, make it uncomfortable for opposition players. So when the Sh*****ss showed dissent to the lino in front of me for giving a goal kick rather than a Stoke corner, most of my section got up with me to wave arms and shout at the number 17 to stop arguing and get on with it.
This led to him getting a talking to from Mike Dean as he was alerted to the dissent by the home supporters reaction, kudos my gooners!
A word for the referee, for once he had little effect on the game by making any incorrect decisions so perhaps Mike Dean is turning over a new leaf and being the impartial enforcer of the rules he should always have been.
While Wishere was being prepared to be subbed, and yours truly was trying to ascertain who were the other three parts of our double substitution, another Özil free kick was being lined up; as it was at the North Bank end of the stadium, opposite to where I was, I saw little of the goal other than Sagna’s run to the corner flag and celebration.
So three goals from three set pieces – against the team who are set piece specialists – who’d a thunk it ?
A welcome return to the ranks for the man with Lego perfect hair, Arteta, was the only further incident on the pitch, while off it the sight of flailing arms amongst the away section pointed to some ejections from the ground. So Stoke supporters start fighting amongst themselves and they get chucked out, who knew?
At the final whistle while Arsenal fans could bask in the view from the top of the table while the journey back to Mordor was about to start for “Sparky” Hughes’ team and their supporters.
Three points earned and returning first team players on the horizon, a satisfying way to finish September, UTA !
By ChärybdÏß1966 (on Twitter @charybdis1966)