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Arsenal 3 - 1 Stoke City: match report

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1 - 0 Gervinho 27'
1 - 1 Peter Crouch 34'
2 - 1 Robin van Persie 73'
3 - 1 Robin van Persie 82'

Arsenal defeated Stoke City FC today by a final score of 3-1, thanks to a second-half introduction of Robin van Persie, who proved too much for the Potters to resist. Although Stoke caused Arsenal some problems from set pieces, Arsenal's possession and wide play was too good on the day, and in the end, 3-1 was probably a fair result.

The match started pretty evenly, with Stoke actually having some longer spells of possession, culminating in a harmless shot wide from Matthew Etherington early on. Arsenal followed with an attack through Johan Djourou, whose cross, unlike away at Marseille, missed all of his teammates. Ramsey and Walcott looked to combine early on as well, but Ryan Shawcross was alert to the danger.

Arsenal's best early chance came on a corner nine minutes in, as Chamakh freed up space for himself eight yards away. The signs of rust were there, as his header skimmed his forehead and bounced away without so much as a whimper. Not the header of a player with any confidence, and surely below his highest abilities. He didn't look fully integrated with the side yet, either, missing a pass from Djourou that was clearly intended for him. Alex Song nearly lost out in possession soon after, but recovered well, and in general was looking pretty comfortable dropping deep early to distribute.

Gervinho had a great chance 15 minutes in, as a ball from the back dropped beautifully over the top for him, but at full sprint, with Asmir Begovic right in his face, the keeper was able to smother his first touch. Two minutes later, and Rory Delap showed up with his first long throw of the day. The Emirates crowd made their love for him known, in came the throw, and Per Mertesacker, all 6'6" of him, was there with the first header away from danger--just like everybody pictured it. (Right?)

Arsenal were looking far the more threatening side as the half wore on. Theo Walcott absolutely bamboozled Marc Wilson, who's not normally a left back, to be fair, but his cross came to nobody except Mikel Arteta on the left touchline. Dean Whitehead dove on and crumpled the Spaniard with his follow-through, but only the throw-in was forthcoming from Lee Mason. Aresnal won a free-kick on the right two minutes later, which Arteta floated in. The first header was half away, but Gervinho collected and passed to Aaron Ramsey, who smashed a shot just wide of Begovic's post. It was the closest effort for either side to that point.

Although the match was threatening to turn into a Stoke-sit-deep-all-day affair, it wasn't to last much longer, as Arsenal were about to find a way through.

After another good series of passes in the midfield buildup, Aaron Ramsey took control. Doing his best Cesc Fabregas impression, he looked up, saw Gervinho on the shoulder of Stoke's last, static defender, and chipped a pass the fell right into the Ivorian's path. One touch to control, one to smash it home, and Gervinho had his first goal at the Emirates, smooth as butter. A beautiful goal.

Whitehead, two minutes later, slid in very hard on Arteta again, who was able to evade. Lee Mason wasn't impressed, though, and gave Whitehead a yellow card, perhaps for that and for the earlier. Shortly thereafter, Gervinho burst away on the left and flashed a low cross across the Stoke goal that Matthew Upson was lucky not to turn home for an own goal. Arsenal were really looking composed now.

But Koscielny was whistled for being better, no, check that, for somehow fouling Peter Crouch by doing what every defender does every week, especially John Terry, and it would prove to be a problem. Stoke took the set piece, floating it deep for Crouch, who headed back across to Shawcross, who headed it towards goal, where after a touch, Crouch smashed it home. It was a set piece that should never have been, but Arsenal didn't defend it well at all. 1-1, all evens, 35 minutes in. Arsenal would have to hold on as Stoke suddenly smelt blood.

Lee Mason ignored a foul on Chamakh in the penalty area, and Stoke won another free kick, which Arsenal handled much better this time. Delap tossed in another long ball, which Koscielny headed off of Song for a corner, but it was another nervous moment. Stoke had settled down again, and Arsenal were finding it hard to maintain possession and build attacks after the equalizer. Delap kept winning throw-ins, which Arsenal were dealing with well for the most part. Koscielny, who looked angry, won a goal kick well, and generally strode about the place with a homicidal look on his face.

Arsenal slowly regained control, though, and on the stroke of halftime, Arteta controlled on the left touchline, cut in, and floated a cross for Chamakh that looked a certain goal. Somehow, though, the Moroccan missed with both his head and his right foot when either would have done. Halftime arrived, the score 1-1, not accurately reflecting possession or flow. But Stoke work for set pieces, and do it as well as anyone in the league, and their goal was tactically as sound as Arsenal's. It would remain to be seen whether second-half changes were forthcoming and what they would portend.

As it turned out, there were no changes. Both sides started cautiously, but Arsenal finally broke down the right to win a corner (although Walcott had options, and could perhaps have done more), from which Koscielny tried a overhead kick that didn't make it through. Other than that, the first ten minutes of the half was pretty grey and thick. Theo Walcott was held back by Wilkinson, who got a yellow card for his trouble. In an ensuing corner, Jonathan Walters got tangled with Upson and picked up a knock. The treatment took a pretty long time, and Walters then got up to walk off under his own power and return to the pitch.

Arsenal would look to assert some control, but their passing and movement was looking increasingly static. A good move 61 minutes in had perhaps one pass too many, as Song's pass for Walcott on the left was easily cut out at the end of the move. Chamakh was still struggling with his  touch, and van Persie began to warm up, a move that Wenger was maybe hoping not to have to make. Stoke had ranks of five defenders crowding all kinds of space and pressing well, and the Gunners looked increasingly out of inspiration as van Persie stripped off his bib and warmups.

Song and Arteta combined well to win a corner on 66 minutes, the former showing the best of his attacking drive, and then it was time. Chamakh, who could have scored two, came off, and on came Robin van Persie. His first cross from the corner nearly found Koscielny before Stoke cleared. Djourou and Wojciech Szczesny combined for hilarity under pressure, the Pole having to dribble away after he came out far too far to pick up a pass.

van Persie's introduction had changed the complexion of Arsenal's attack, as his touches in the box were causing Stoke a bit of worry. Luckily for them, Walcott and Gervinho weren't quite on the same page as the Dutchman. Perhaps sensing this, Wenger put Andrei Arshavin on in place of Walcott, who had had a pretty poor showing on the day. Arsenal continued to pile on the pressure following the corner.

And it paid.

Gervinho, who had been running straight at left-back Marc Wilson for the better part of five minutes, finally got a low cross in, and van Persie didn't disappoint, getting a deft touch on the pass to squeeze it in from two yards at the near post past Begovic. His introduction seemed to have calmed down Arsenal, or perhaps Stoke were tiring, but either way, it worked. Fifteen minutes left, Arsenal were up 2-1.

Stoke were still looking for free kicks, and they got one. Nobody closed down Glenn Whelan as he picked up a short return pass, and he floated a ball in for Kenwyne Jones to run onto. Szczesny made the save, though, and then Cameron Jerome ran into him rather heavily, but no call was forthcoming from Mason. Song continued to mop up and look strong in the middle, starting a number of attacks for Arsenal as the home side calmed down play.

And then it was 3-1. Gervinho was released up the left by Andre Santos, and he bore down on Begovic before sliding the ball across the face of goal, and who else but van Persie showed up to bundle it home. Two goals in ten minutes for the sub, and Arsenal looked to have put it away. Kenwyne Jones had other ideas, maybe, shaping to shoot on 84 minutes, but Koscielny slid in to block at the last moment.

Arsenal were languidly putting the game to bed now, completing strings of 25-30 passes with ease. Emmanuel Frimpong came on in place of Gervinho to solidify things for the final five minutes, and despite their efforts, Stoke couldn't really threaten Szczesny at the end.

3-1 to the Arsenal, seventh place achievement unlocked for 20 gamer points: