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Stoke City 3 - 1 Arsenal: match report

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Ugh.
Ugh.

1 - 0 Jones 28'
2 - 0 Pennant 40'
2 - 1 van Persie 81'
3 - 1 Walters 82'

Arsenal played one of their worst matches of the season today in a 3-1 defeat to Stoke that finally ends any hopes the Gunners had of catching Chelsea or Manchester United. It was a pretty abject showing for the first 60 minutes, picking up just ever so slightly as halftime subs Nicklas Bendtner and Marouane Chamakh brought a different shape to the match, but as soon as Robin van Persie cut the Stoke lead to 2-1 with ten minutes to go, Jonathan Walters came down to the other end and buried a weak Johan Djourou clearance past Wojciech Szczesny.

Arsenal began with the same 4-3-3 formation that had won against United, the injured Gael Clichy and Samir Nasri making way for Kieran Gibbs and Andrei Arshavin. It's tough to say it would have made much difference today, though, as Arsenal struggled to make any headway against the Stoke defense. Any crosses--and there were fewer today--were absorbed by Robert Huth and Ryan Shawcross, and Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere couldn't combine with Robin van Persie to any kind of effect through the middle either.

Although Arsenal were dominating possession, they created no chances, and Stoke countered their way to the corner that would give them the opener. Johan Djourou lost track of Kenwyne Jones, and the Trinidadian was able to bundle the ball home with basically his gut. It was a particularly weak goal and even weaker set-piece defending, which is an issue that Arsenal must address this summer in some fashion, as something like 50% of the goals they concede come from dead balls.

Arsenal continued to work deliberately slowly at unlocking the Stoke defense, but found no joy, and twelve minutes later, were doubly in the hole. Jermaine Pennant was allowed to run free towards the Arsenal area, Johan Djourou back off until it was too late to do anything but deflect the shot from 20 yards, which looped off of his shin and over a wrong-footed Wojciech Szczesny.

After the half, Wenger brought on Chamakh and Bendtner for Ramsey and Arshavin, and if nothing else, the switch to a more attacking 4-4-2 with the Dane out on the left allowed Arsenal to create slightly more havoc in the Stoke area. It didn't really come to anything, although Chamakh held up the ball well and Bendtner lent an air of danger cutting in from the left at times.

It wasn't until Tomas Rosicky came on for Song to truly attack that Arsenal found their breakthrough. The Czech swiveled in midfield and found van Persie with a lovely through ball, and the striker buried a hard shot with his right foot under Asmir Begovic.

It didn't last.

One minute later, Stoke countered, were initially turned back by Laurent Koscielny, but when the ball squirted through on goal, Johan Djourou could only clear it into the path of an onrushing Walters, who took one touch and poked it past Szczesny. Game over for Arsenal, a typical loss for them this season, weaknesses fully on display.

Some thoughts from BeltransMole to sum it up:

1. Against teams that play deep, we should play 4-4-2. It gives us a target for crosses, but also we seem to play better with it (WBA away, for example) when we have to break teams down.
2. Djourou was rushed back I think. Like Nasri and Fabregas before him.
3. It is however, not the players at fault on set pieces. It is the system and lack of, I feel. How many times were we caught with balls over the top? No pressure on the passer, high line.
4. And at the end of the day, the manager is responsible for that. So he has to change it.

It will take all summer to find out if and how he will.