Stoke City vs. Arsenal: 6 Things We Learned
At least when the Gunners were hammered by Liverpool and Manchester City, fans were expecting a difficult game and had already kind of reconciled themselves with a loss in advance. The Arsenal faithful knew this was going to be a tough game, but did not expect to see their team's title challenge derailed now.
Let's look back at six things we learned from the match.
Arsenal Were the Victims of Bad Luck
When a team does not strike early and often, it leaves itself open to the vagaries of chance and thus a surprising result.
Such was Arsenal's destiny. The referee harshly pointed to the spot when Laurent Koscielny's natural arm motion interfered with the flight of a point-blank cross, and Jonathan Walters duly converted the spot-kick.
That suited Stoke perfectly, as they were more than happy to simply dig in at the back and prevent Arsenal from getting even a sniff at goal until the final moments of the game.
Arsenal didn't take enough initiative, but were ultimately punished by bad luck.
Arsenal Lost the Game in the Final Third
Arsenal should be embarrassed that they only managed to muster two shots on goal. They should be even more ashamed that Stoke doubled that total, according to ESPNFC.
The Gunners are, of course, supposed to be the swashbuckling attacking side that can put paid to a brutish squad of rugby players like Stoke. Yet the plot was completely flipped, as the Potters mustered enough possession (43 percent) to impose themselves on the game.
If Arsenal had been move lively and taken the game to their opponents (admittedly an extremely difficult task considering Stoke's resoluteness at the Britannia Stadium), they would have had a much better chance of earning the three points with which everyone expected them to return to London.
Arsene Wenger's Tactics Failed
Arsene Wenger's starting XI reflected a rather surprising degree of conservatism after having a week of rest and recuperation. He was made to pay for his unwillingness to take risks.
Tomas Rosicky, who started in place of a fully fit Mesut Ozil, had an off day and was not able to effect much of anything, as the Potters kept him fully in check.
Lukas Podolski's role in the squad is becoming ever harder to define, as his awkward positioning frequently left him isolated and unable to constructively participate in the intricate attacking moves Arsenal were attempting to create.
Only when Wenger added the pacey and incisive Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (far too late) did Arsenal pose even a minimal attacking threat.
Arsenal Cannot Get Past Pressing Teams
Teams that relentlessly press Arsenal in all areas of the pitch have been the club's Achilles' heel all season, and that continued at the Britannia.
Even a casual fan tuning in to the game for five minutes would have been able to tell that Stoke were much more dogged in their pursuit of the ball when they did not have it than Arsenal. And, crucially, the Gunners seemed to have no way to get it past them.
Perhaps that is why Arsenal seem to have such a difficult time against elite clubs—sides that are fit and skilled enough to prevent them from establishing a comfortable passing rhythm and stop them from creating any chances.
Work on that now, Mr. Wenger.
Arsenal Still Need Width
Innumerable pixels have been illuminated on thousands of screens all season stating the same message: Arsenal are not the Spanish national team and must play with some wide players.
It's been an issue ever since Theo Walcott went down with his first and second major injuries of the season, and it remains so—partially because Arsenal have very little depth on the flanks.
But they do have Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and there is no good reason to explain why Arsene Wenger did not start him against Stoke. Without him, Arsenal were completely one-dimensional and had no way to get in behind except to try triangular passing maneuvers that did not work.
Besides the raw Serge Gnabry, the Ox is all Arsenal have at the moment, and he needs to be used.
The Premier League Title Is All but Gone
Only two perilous points currently keep Arsenal above Manchester City, who are in fourth place. The problem is that City have not one, but two games in hand.
Just like that, Arsenal have gone from having their fate in their own hands to clinging to the final Champions League spot, as they did last season. The downturn has been rather stunning.
The Bayern match and one of the Everton matches are not in the Premier League, but considering Arsenal's near total inability to beat the big teams this season, the physical and mental strain of that run of fixtures is liable to sap the team's strength.