Arsenal’s pedestrian 1-0 win over a toothless Stoke side could see them gain points on every club that stands between them and the coveted fourth-place position in the table this weekend. With Rafael Benitez’s Chelsea dropping more points via a 3-2 last-minute loss in Newcastle and Everton fighting back from a 3-1 deficit to draw Aston Villa 3-3 at home, Gunners could see a near perfect weekend take place if West Brom happens to beat Spurs at the Hawthorns in Sunday’s early match.
With Tony Pulis in charge of Stoke most Arsenal fans knew they wouldn’t have many problems in their own 18-yard box as Pulis thinks parking the bus is till his best tactic. There might have been the odd shot towards the Gunners goal by accident and Stoke didn’t put any effort into attacking until they were trailing 1-0. The wall of defence did make it a bit difficult to break down, but the inevitable goal eventually came courtesy of a Lukas Podolski free kick in the 78th minute. Podolski hammered a left footer into the wall and it deflected off of a jumping Geoff Cameron and past keeper Asmir Begovic into the goal.
The points were much needed after earning just five out of the last possible 15 and the score would have been a little higher if it wasn’t for Begovic. The game was a little controversial. In fact, it looked like the goal might not stand as the linesman flagged for an offside on Walcott while Podolski was hammering the ball, but even if he was just a toenail offside he was in no way affecting the play. Referee Chris Foy went over to his assistant and sorted him out while allowing the deserved goal.
The game also ended with some passion after Pulis had the sense to put on some attackers in the form of Kenwyne Jones, Cameron Jerome, and Michael Owen for the last seven minutes or so. Ryan Shawcross received a yellow for a challenge on Koscielny while Owen and Arteta swung their handbags at each other after a late tackle by Arteta. Arsenal now has 11 wins, eight draws and six losses for 41 points and are anxiously awaiting the result of Tottenham’s match at West Brom.
Arsenal Player Ratings vs Stoke Feb. 2
Wojciech Szczesny 6
I’d have to watch a replay to see how many times he actually handled the ball. As I said, two or three shots might have accidentally found their way towards the Arsenal goal. Let’s give him credit for staying awake.
Nacho Monreal 6
The sometimes Spanish international didn’t look out of place in the match for his debut. He made some nice passes, but his right footed shot in the second half was brutal as it ended up near the corner flag
Per Mertesacker 6
Like all Arsenal defenders he didn’t really have much to do and when he did, he handled it adequately.
Laurent Koscielny 6
Had a decent game. Handled his responsibilities calmly and professionally.
Bacary Sagna 6.5
After a string of sub-par performances Sagna was much improved today. Didn’t have much defending to do and played well with the ball with some decent passing.
Jack Wilshere 7.5
Didn’t have to work as hard as he usually does due to the poor opposition. Still put in a good effort though and was rock steady throughout.
Abou Diaby 6.5
Like Sagna, had one of his better games over the past recent outings. A little inconsistent, but slowly getting better. Came off after 68 minutes for Santi Cazorla.
Mikel Arteta 6.5
Arteta was back in the squad after missing a few games. He played well and it was good to see him back to his usual way.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain 6
The Ox hasn’t really progressed at the rate many thought he would. He isn’t a natural goal scorer, but should have buried his chance from about five yards out with a glorious first-half chance. His crossing was pretty good though, but still needs to improve all-around. Came off after 68 minutes for Lukas Podolski.
Theo Walcott 7.5
Walcott started the game with a lot of energy and didn’t have a problem beating his defender Andy Wilkinson all game long. He slowed down in the second half and didn’t really have many scoring chances, but every time he ran at Stoke there was a possibility of something happening.
Olivier Giroud 7
Another solid effort from the French international. Because of the tight defending he didn’t have a lot of chances either. When he did have them, he couldn’t finish like he has been doing lately.
Lukas Podolski 6.5
Came on for in the 68th minute for Oxlade-Chamberlain and scored the game winner with a deflected free kick. Pulled his weight while he was on.
Santi Cazorla 6.5
Came on for Diaby after 68 minutes. Played well and created a chance for himself, but couldn’t find the net.
Aaron Ramsey NA
Ramsey came on in stoppage time for Walcott and it was a stupid move by Wenger. When you’re hanging onto a 1-0 lead you don’t want stoppage time extended wt a sub. You should be playing the stoppage time out as quickly as possible without giving the referee any reason to add on even more time.