Little Arshavin cuts Potters down to size
Arsenal 2 Stoke City 0
Sunday 06 December 2009
The storm clouds that had begun to gather over the Emirates were blown away by an Arsenal side inspired by the brilliant Andrey Arshavin and a victory that was more emphatic than the scoreline suggests. The two managers shook hands at the end, but for the visitors there was a collective shaking of heads.
Successive 3-0 defeats, most notably last Sunday's against Chelsea, had threatened to derail Arsenal's season but there was enough quality on show in Arsène Wenger's 500th League game in charge for the manager to enjoy his landmark day at the end of a difficult week. Arshavin's exquisite finish in the first half should have signalled a rout but the Gunners had to wait until substitute Aaron Ramsey's equally fine effort 11 minutes from the end to seal the points.
Wenger, his feud with Mark Hughes now filed away, was delighted: "After the disappointments against Sunderland and Chelsea there is some relief for the team," he said, again playing down the Carling Cup's importance after the loss at City. "If we hadn't won there may have been questions that mentally we were touched by it. So yes, it was an important win."
There were only three starters from the trip to Eastlands, but still there were concerns about Arsenal's firepower. The addition of Eduardo – missing yesterday with a muscle strain – to an injured list containing Robin van Persie and Nicklas Bendtner, initially offered little encouragement to a subdued home support.
This left the tiny Arshavin to forage alone against Stoke's giant centre-backs, a contest that might have favoured Tony Pulis's men but the Russian proved a threat from the off.
Cesc Fabregas, sparkling in his 250th game for the club, provided him with an opening after three minutes but unusually Arshavin's first touch was heavy, allowing Thomas Sorensen to save. Sorensen also stopped Samir Nasri's close-range shot after Arshavin's reverse pass.
Stoke already knew the scale of their task here yet some erratic goalkeeping from Manuel Almunia in the early stages, not least from Rory Delap's long throws, offered some hope.
Arsenal lost their foothold briefly and then squandered an invitation to regain it when Fabregas's penalty was saved by Sorensen after 20 minutes. Delap had tripped Arshavin but the Spaniard's spot-kick was saved low to Sorensen's left.
Arshavin shot wildly from a pass by Tomas Rosicky – who picked up a groin injury – but his next effort broke the deadlock. A one-two with Fabregas saw Arshavin in possession with just Andy Wilkinson on his shoulder and before the left-back could intercept, the striker had pulled the trigger and deposited the ball into the far corner of Sorensen's net.
Arsenal should have doubled their lead when Fabregas's shot from Armand Traoré's cross struck Emmanuel Eboué, who had just moved away from the Stoke goalline.
As if their opponents' football was not posing Stoke enough problems, their offside trap was comfortably repelling most forays by the Potters, and Tuncay was caught out so many times he should have been presented with an assistant's flag. On the one rare occasion the Turk managed to stay on, Williams Gallas blocked his shot.
The Emirates demanded a second but Arshavin's effort flew up off Abdoulaye Faye's foot to hit the bar and Thomas Vermaelen's header went wide. At last, though, Ramsey eased the nerves. Not long on for Eboué, the Wales international finished superbly with the outside of his right boot from the edge of the area after a one-two with Arshavin.
"They may have started to get a bit uptight but the timing of the second goal was just right for them," said Pulis. "Arshavin was brilliant. His movement was excellent and he caused us problems all day. We were a bit in awe."
Referee: Mark Clattenburg
Man of the match: Arshavin
Match rating: 7/10
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