Match Report: Lukas Podolski's free-kick seals ugly victory for Arsenal against Stoke City
Arsenal 1 Stoke City 0: Roles reversed as Arsenal add physicality to outmuscle Stoke at the Emirates
the emirates stadium
Sunday 03 February 2013
By compromising, Arsenal may finally have found an element of consistency. Because, although this game was certainly not the best and often got downright ugly, it ended up being a very good day for Arsène Wenger's side.
Aside from results elsewhere going their way, they have now won two of their last three in the league thanks to Lukas Podolski's single goal. What's more, they continued a trend of always beating Stoke at home. So much for the general perceptions of the two sides – even if previous needle was evident, not least when Ryan Shawcross went in heavily on Laurent Koscielny.
As Wenger said of Nacho Monreal's impressive debut, there's "no better culture shock than Stoke!"
There is, however, one caveat to this result. Arsenal have still found no consistency in terms of performance. This was not a case of innovation against industry and they arguably played better during periods of their big defeats to Chelsea and Manchester City. The supposedly typical second-half flourish never quite came.
The nature of the game was encapsulated by Jack Wilshere and Michael Owen squaring up after the latter lashed out at Mikel Arteta for a very Stoke-like challenge.
The nature of Arsenal's uninspired attack was illustrated by the fact the only goal came from a fortuitous deflection from a free-kick.
Even if that was fortunate, though, the most important aspect of the game was that it had the feel of a contest Arsenal would have dropped points in earlier in the season.
Instead, they rallied, persevered and ultimately got the right result.
As Wenger admitted, they "prepared mentally" for the physicality of the contest.
That contrast between ends and means does give rise to two key questions, however. Although Olivier Giroud offered a lot of proactive touches, will Wenger regret not signing another attacking option given that he had to bring on Santi Cazorla and Podolski to inject creativity? On the other hand, will the manner of a result like this finally give Arsenal the mental belief and momentum to kick on and replicate last season's run-in?
"We were in a position where we can't drop points," Wenger said. "Overall, we deserved to win the game. It strengthens our belief and confidence."
The somewhat curious nature of the game was summed up by the fact that, in the first half, it was Stoke taking shots while Arsenal attempted to cross and force efforts from set-pieces. When one corner did drop, Asmir Bergovic reacted superbly to keep out Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's effort, before then touching wide another of the winger's shots just before half-time.
In truth, Arsenal didn't really trouble the keeper in the second half as they toiled for a winner. As such, it was somewhat fitting that Begovic could do nothing about the eventual goal. With the keeper diving to his right, Podolski's strike deflected into the centre.
And, although the flag first went up because Theo Walcott was offside out wide, it was correctly overruled.
It may well prove the stroke of fortune that fires Arsenal's campaign.
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