Jan 242010

Stoke 3 (Fuller 2, 78, Whitehead 86) Arsenal 1 (Denilson 42)
(FA Cup Fourth Round)

A trip to Stoke is never an easy proposition, even for a top team at full strength. Given the choice between a weary first team, many carrying niggling injuries, or a younger outfit without the experience of going to places like the Brittania stadium, Wenger opted for the latter. As I covered yesterday, I felt this to be the only sensible choice, but the risk was obvious – a defeat would leave the manager facing the wrath of all those who bemoan rotation in the competition, along with many who feel he simply threw away a golden opportunity of silverware.

A difficult job was made doubly so in the opening moments. Delap’s first attempt at a long throw should have been meat and drink for Fabianski, but he failed to advance the few steps it would have taken to allow him to catch the ball at its highest point. Instead he attempted to take it in his midriff, and a stooping Fuller beat him to it. Poor goalkeeping, and not a great start in his quest to oust Almunia from the first team.

In fairness to the Pole, he handled the rest of Delap’s efforts well, but a few more shaky moments from open play failed to enhance his claim, only giving us an understanding of why Almunia is still the preferred option.

The early goal caused nerves across the backline, Coquelin especially vulnerable at right back (in mitigation – not his favoured position), and Stoke could easily have had a penalty when the referee incorrectly felt Silvestre got a piece of the ball when challenging Fuller. But as the half went on, we got back into the game, controlling the midfield, albeit without creating any clear cut chances.

But by half time, we had found the equaliser. Stoke may quibble about the award of a free kick on the edge of the box – it seemed more ball to hand that a deliberate offence – but they only have themselves to blame for the set piece ending in a goal, completely failing to mark Denilson, who was lurking on the edge of the area in a central position. His shot got a nick, and the unsighted Sorensen didn’t move. 1-1, and all to play for in the second half.

On Twitter, I was busy voicing my displeasure at Martin Atkinson, who summed up everything that Wenger was talking about in his pre-match press conference by allowing Stoke to get away with late tackles, time and time again. I counted seven occasions in the first half alone where a player was taken out after laying the ball off, only for Atkinson to play advantage and move on. I have no problem with the application of the advantage rule (as long as it is an advantage – when two of our players have been hacked to the floor, as in one second half incident, it is less so), but it was a clear tactic to reduce the number of players we had in any one attack, and should have been punished with cards. Sidibe was a particular offender, while Cesc and Vela seemed to be the prime targets.

The worst incident in the first half had me screaming at the screen in frustration. Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, playing in an unfamiliar position up front (and doing pretty well, to be fair to him), crossed the half way line, played a decent ball forward, and then attempted to sprint thirty yards to join the attack. For the first twenty of those, he was being blatantly tugged back by a Stoke player, with the referee looking directly at them. As a result, he could not contribute anything more to the move, being too far behind the play. Nothing happened. If that isn’t a booking, what is?

The second half was an even affair – neither side carving many chances out. With no-one wanting a replay, both sides committed more to attack, and we brought our big guns off the bench – Eduardo, Arshavin and Ramsey replacing Coquelin, Thomas, and the disappointing Walcott.

Ironically, it was after the changes that Stoke took control. First Denilson failed to keep pace with Sidibe, whose cross evaded Campbell and Silvestre for Fuller to nod home, and then Whitehead applied the finishing touch after we missed at least three opportunities to clear. While Stoke created little in the game, we managed even less, and can have no complaints about the defeat.

Most will lazily point to Wenger’s reliance on youth as the reason for the cup exit, conveniently missing the fact that when the two critical goals were scored, Campbell, Silvestre, Cesc, Denilson, Ramsey, Arshavin and Eduardo were on the field. Plenty of experience there.

No, the issue was simply that too many played below the standard they are capable of. Silvestre was okay but had wobbly moments, while Campbell made a good impression on his return, but Fabianski reminded us why he isn’t first choice, Cesc was kept quiet, Denilson was poor, and Walcott and Vela continued their poor seasons. Both have a lot of work to do over the next few months – Walcott to stay fit and get his confidence back, and Vela to start coping with the physical demands of top flight football.

Wenger will be disappointed tonight – his selection of Cesc, probably our most important player in the matches ahead, showed that despite what the press will inevitably write, he really wanted to win the tie, but felt that after a double header with Bolton, there were some that would struggle against a fresher Stoke. He tried out some other options, and they didn’t step up. Post-match, he explained his position:

“If you rotate and you don’t win it is your fault so I can only stand up and say that is the team I picked. We have 10 injuries and we are going into a period where we cannot rotate a lot in the big games.”

“Sagna, Vermaelen and Clichy will all be back for Aston Villa and they could have missed it if they had played today.”

Bear in mind that at Villa, Martin O’Neill is getting a load of stick for not rotating, and many of their fans believe that, as a result, their season will collapse as last year’s did.

So the cup is over for another season. As it turns out, we would have faced City away in the next round, immediately after the visit of Liverpool, and days before a trip to Porto. Had we progressed, we may have seen the Carling Cup exit repeated. Perhaps this is a blessing in disguise.

It has not been a good day. The cup was a real opportunity for silverware, but no more. Had we had less injuries, the likes of Eduardo, Ramsey and Bendtner would have started as they would not be getting much Premiership time, but unfortunately we are not in that position. We can only hope that this will ease the fixture list to an extent that if we are still in the hunt after the next four league games, we can capitalise.

At least we got further than Liverpool or United. And lost to Premiership opposition.

  21 Responses to “Stoke 3-1 Arsenal: Team selection not to blame as Stoke dump us out of the cup”

  1. Spot on!

  2. Very fair summary.

  3. Pete,

    Nice write up of the game.

    Wenger really was in a situation where he would be damned if he did (play his first team) and damned if he didn’t.

    The referee was again very poor.

    Very few , if any, premiership referees seem to want to punish fouls that are not blatant but still impede are game.

    I am fully supportive of Wenger and the team and cannot wait until Wednesday.

  4. Wenger had no choice with his team selection today.. If we had suffered more injuries to regulatr players before a massive four game run we would have been unforgiven to him. Hate being out of the cup but we move on.

  5. ok, fair enough, if he has to rotate then so be it, but why put inexperienced players in posistions they don’t normally play in? Surely it just adds more pressure. I can’t believe we dont have a reserve right back, forward etc who we can’t give a run out to. seems crazy to me.

  6. campbell and fabianski not good enough for afc.

  7. Well i for one am glad we do not have to take a trip to City inbetween porto and Liverpool. It would be ok if we as Chelsea only kept drawing teams like Preston and Cardiff but facing another premier ship team in such a month would not be favourable.

    There would be absolutely nothing easy about that match and we would have had to fight all the way for the fa cup.

    Besides it will be great for Stoke, maybe they even win it all.

  8. Exactly what the i said, even the games commentators agree that its a blessing in disguise!! No excuses, we were beaten fair and square!


  10. I feel sorry for the Arsenal fans that spent good hard earned money to watch that rubbish. There are too many players that are just not good enough, if we want to win Premier League or Champions League.
    Denilson can’t tackle and his distribution is poor. Walcott hasn’t progressed very much in 3 years. Fabianski isn’t even non league standard. Eboue poor. Silvestre has been. Wenger has done 85% of the job and has done it well, but the only way to complete the job is to bring in some quality experienced players and that will cost money. I was led to believe that our move to The Emirates would allow us to compete with the best in Europe. I don’t want us to get into the type of financial trouble Pompey are in but some investment is essential.

  11. Good points Alastair we still have money in the pot from sells of Kolo and Abe we cant win anything with a relagation budget every team get injurys this is whay you have a strong squad we need the following players goalkeeper,Holding midfielder(again Flamani not replaced)Striker (Abe not replaced) our transfer activity is a joke now every window we must buy this month or the season will be over in 4 games time Wenger must go this year if he fails a manager is only as good as his last success

  12. It is quiet simple we should buy player when we need to. We are in a transfer window without Song, Van Persie,Bendtner,Nasri. We knew about Song going to the African cup of nations and Van Persie and Bendtner have been injured for along time. Why not buy at the beginning of the window??? Forward Planning !! We need strength in depth so that we can play an experienced side every game.

  13. Jeffers, we are a little short in a few positions at the moment. Right back we’ve got covered – Ivory Coast lost tonight so Eboue is coming back, which will allow Sagna to recover when he needs to. As for up front, as I said, under normal circumstances Eduardo and Bendtner would be the reserves getting a cup run out.

    Mussy, Campbell not good enough? One game into his re-introduction, and a decent one at that?

    Arion, agreed on Silvestre, but harsh on Coquelin – he is extremely young, and was playing out of position (he is a midfielder by trade)

    As for the transfer talk, well I think we’re all agreed that we could do with a couple of players in. Wenger even agrees.

    But January is a really tough time to buy (although historically, one of Wenger’s most successful times – Ade, Diaby, Arshavin and Walcott in recent years), and it is almost impossible to find a decent striker going for less than 20m. At least Silvestre isn’t our first reserve centre back now!

  14. WENGER IS AN ASSHOLE…. and why do you guyz have to blame referees from every thing.
    what’s the wisdom in offloading senderos and leaving sylvester.
    sylvester in any game, is almost a certain defeat, but wenger never learns from mistakes.
    i’ll bet you, he wouldnt have any problems playing him in a champions league final.


  15. Boozy, I was not blaming the referee for the defeat, just pointing out how poor he was.

    Stoke deserved to win, irrespective.

  16. Defeat today goes down to the arrogance and failed faith in many of these young players, especially against Stoke. We know what they are going to bring, so our players better match that. Today would have been an ideal opportunity to give Senderos a chance, forget the laughable Silvestre. On top of that he should have bought the two players he talked about before the transfer window opened, blooding them here for the schedule ahead. If not senderos then a new CB and a defensive midfielder. Possibly a striker if Senderos would have stayed. The depth and experience of this team will never win anything. Not now, not in 5 years because some will depart and youth will again be relied upon. Failed experiment I think. We will be competitive but never actually get our hands on a the league or UCL. We are like Barca lite or diet Barca. We need top quality brought in to nurture younger players. What we are getting is way too much pressure put on these inexperienced players at too young an age. Ultimately hurting their development as opposed to helping it. Cesc is a one off and I think Wenger is a little blind in thinking these young players can stand up in the big moments. So far we have failed to more experienced over the last 5 years when given the opportunity. This pains me to say this. Roll on Villa!


  18. Arion…..after we consider the complete absence of punctuation was LOOSERS supposed to read LOSERS?
    AGAIN only meant once?
    ITS meant to read HE’S?
    CABELL meant to read CAMPBELL?
    WAISTING meant to read WASTING?
    And what does ‘NEXT YEAR WENGER OUT YOU GOOD FOR PROFIT’ actually mean?

    You call ARSENE an idiot but you display
    a poverty of basic English the like of which would shame a six year old.

  19. So we are out of the FA Cup. Honestly, I would rather get all 3 points against Villa and Man Utd than advancing to the next round of the cup.

    Silvestre was crap as usual. For all those Alumina-haters out there, Fabianski was rubbish and he’s not good enough to be our 1st choice keeper. I’m not saying Alumina is a world class keeper but he’s the best we got.

    Please Wenger buy a striker before time is up!

  20. @ redjim – I’m still chuckling away at your very valid and eloquently-put point. Unfortunately they let people like Arion vote and breed, so it’s all downhill from here I’m afraid.

  21. I find it very funny that most of the people slating Wenger find it difficult with that pesky, annoying compliance of spelling properly. It gives an idea of your intelligence, there for your opinion is null and void. NULL AND FUCKING VOID YOU IDIOTS. There’s just too much slavering pish to pick out and go through for all these comments safe to say there’s some ungrateful fucking clowns out there.

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