It may not have been by the most glamorous of scorelines, but we cruised past Stoke, who admittedly have a terrific away support in terms of how loud they are – we could take a leaf out of their book! There was slight confusion over who was playing up front, as our two strikers available at the moment, Eduardo and Carlos Vela, were not in the squad and on the bench respectively.
In the end it was my hero Andrey Arshavin who took the role as the spearhead of our attack, and showed us why Wenger had been right in selecting him as the (sort of) lone striker, when he burst through on goal, a great run from the diminutive Russian, but after biding his time, tried to dink the ball over Sorensen in the Stoke goal, only to see the ‘keeper block the ball and send it our for a corner – needless to say, Stoke won the header from the corner kick.
Then Arshavin created another opportunity, when he slalomed past three defenders and attempted to get past a fourth in the box, succeeding with a beautiful piece of skill, only to be tripped by a defender as he nipped past him. Mark Clattenburg rightly pointed to the spot, and our skipper Cesc Fabregas took the penalty.
It was a great penalty I thought, and Sorensen did terrificly to fling himself to his left and parry the powerful spot kick and turn it around the post for a corner, despite the best attempts of a Stoke defender to keep the ball in. The penalty seemed to affect Cesc’s game, as it was one of his worst games I’ve seen him play – he miscued a lot of passes and overelaborated sometimes, losing the ball a lot.
Cesc nearly made it 1-0 a few minutes later though, when Armand Traore zipped down the left wing and crossed in. Abdoulay Faye diverted the ball onto the post in an attempt to clear it – everyone in the stadium had no idea where the ball was, some of us thought it was in – but it struck the post, and fell for Fabregas. He volleyed from cross range with nobody in goal to beat – except Emmanuel Eboue, who tried to jump over the goal-bound ball, but in doing so flicked the ball wide with his rising foot.
We were soon in front anyway though, when after getting the ball back from a lively Arshavin, Cesc played in our Russian wizard, and Arshavin took the ball under control whilst under pressure from Robert Huth, shrugged off the big centre half (!) and drilled the ball in off the post just inside the area, and with that, Stoke ‘weren’t singing anymore!’.
We were left crying out for another penalty before half time, when Samir Nasri’s shot was definitely blocked by the hand of a Stoke defender, and the hand was nowhere near his body, but Clattenburg dismissed the claims, and the sides went in with the score 1-0 to the Arsenal, as the age-old song goes.
Carlos Vela was all ready to come on as the other 10 players came out of the tunnel – some of us thought it was Arshavin who was injured and had to make way, as he was the last out of the tunnel, but it was Rosicky who did not reappear for the second half, and on came Vela.
Arshavin was excelling in his new position, popping up everywhere instead of just on the wings in his usual position on the flank, and popped up at exactly the right place when a cross fell to him, put his drive was luckily – for Stoke, obviously – deflected by Abdoulay Faye onto the crossbar and out for a corner.
The Russian then had a low effort saved low to Sorensen’s right, before Aaron Ramsey, who had by now replaced the limping Emmanuel Eboue, exchanged passes with Andrey and hit the ball into the bottom right corner from the edge of the area, doing something no other Arsenal player had dared to do that day – shoot from outside the 18 yard box. It was a great finish, especially for someone so young, and it was the clinching goal, and Stoke had nothing left to give – but then again, even at 0-0 and 1-0 all they’d had was a load of punts up to Tuncay, who seemed to be stuck in an offside position like a broken record.