You’ll never win anything with midgets was the common maxim before the game, started no less than by the impish Andrey Arshavin. Maybe that was all part of a double bluff as the Russian inspired Arsenal to a comfortable two-goal victory over a Stoke side giant in stature, as the spearhead of the attack.
A “period of re-adaptation” was inevitably going to be needed following Robin van Persie’s injury according to Arsene Wenger and three defeats later, the manager may have found his answer. Arshavin was always the natural answer to van Persie’s movement at the tip of the 4-3-3 after for some reason, Eduardo has failed to adapt to the role. Indeed, the Croatian missed out in this game after suffering a minor muscle injury which allowed Arshavin to lead the line.
If Arsenal were to win this game, it was only going to be through movement; pace was at a premium with only Eboue and Traore able to offer on that front so variety and unpredictability had to come through runs off the ball and quick support. And with Andrey Asrhavin as the fulcrum constantly darting in and out of position, the Stoke central defenders found it difficult to keep up with Gunners approach play. “I had many technical players around him with Rosicky, Nasri, Fabregas, Eboue, and all penetrating from deep positions,” said Wenger. “That is needed when you have a player like Arshavin.” For the first goal, he drifted to the left, interchanging passes with Fabregas before firing low past Thomas Sorenson. The opener was sandwiched in between a penalty miss by the Arsenal skipper and Eboue denying the same player with a goal line block.
Arshavin’s low centre of gravity and ability to see openings one step further than most lent him well in adapting to the role. Indeed the question is, was Arshavin playing as a false nine? Certainly it is a vague definition. While Berbatov and Ibrahimovic have moments where they drop deep into space, they are still very comfortable in leading the line. Tim Cahill filled in as the main striker last season for Everton but he was merely playing as a midfielder in a number nines clothing.
Here, Arshavin’s natural tendencies led him to drop away from the defender and as such mainly operated in the second striker area. This made it difficult for either central defender to decide whether to stick with him or stay back and as a result conceded space. The danger however, was that with Stoke defending as deep as they were, the team may lose some directness. But Arshavin cleverly looked to combine the two roles and in the first half in particular found himself in more orthodox striking positions although his composure let him down. However, it was playing on the shoulder which created the second, Ramsey driving through and receiving the ball back from Arshavin before poking home. The Welshman was a second half substitute for Eboue and his introduction gave Arsenal added dynamism to allow the Gunners to finally put Stoke to bed.
Overall it was a controlled Arsenal team performance. Nasri and Denilson kept the side ticking, Fabregas continued probing but while Wenger will have been pleased with the team finding the back of the net again, he would have also been delighted with the way they handled Stoke’s physical threat. Vermaelen was totally dominant and apart from a period of early pressure, the away side did not get a look in. The Gunners are back on track but the big if is whether they can continue playing with such high level of movement.
Arsenal 2-0 Stoke City: Arshavin 26, Ramsey 79.
Arsenal: Almunia (6), Sagna (7), Gallas (7), Vermaelen (7), Traore (7) (Silvestre), Eboue (6) (Ramsey 7), Fabregas (7), Denilson (7), Nasri (8), Rosicky (6) (Vela 7), Arshavin (8)*.
Subs not used: Fabianski, Senderos, Wilshere, Merida.
Stoke: Sorensen, Wilkinson, Huth, Abdoulaye Faye, Collins, Lawrence (Fuller), Delap (Whelan), Diao, Etherington, Sanli, Sidibe (Beattie).
Subs not used: Simonsen, Higginbotham, Cort, Pugh.
Referee: Mark Clattenburg (Tyne & Wear)
|Arsenal||Team Statistics||Stoke City|
|1||1st Half Goals||0|
|7||Shots on Target||3|
|6||Shots off Target||1|