Stoke City 1 Arsenal 0 match report: ‘Massive setback’ leaves Arsene Wenger fearing collapse
Arsenal are four points off leaders Chelsea following the defeat after Jon Walters converted a penalty when Laurent Koscielny was adjudged to have handled the ball in the area
There was no glossing over a result like this. A “big worry” and a “massive setback” were the phrases that bubbled to the surface as a troubled Arsène Wenger began to process the consequences of a defeat heavy in meaning, if not in goals. This was not the thrashing of Anfield but the loss of three points was just as hard to bare.
Wenger is not only fighting the dynamic of a season that has seen them return four points from 12 and lose successive matches on the road, he is also battling the sense of inevitability about Arsenal’s failure to stand up to the kind of rough and ready challenge presented by Stoke.
The defeat, to a second-half penalty described unjustly by Wenger as a gift from the referee, leaves Arsenal four points adrift of a brutally efficient Chelsea, who also lost here but not at a critical point when mistakes are more costly and difficult to recover. A four-point deficit to the leaders is not overly dramatic but there was little in the leaden feet of Arsenal to suggest they might chase it down in the final 10 games of the season.
“You have to give credit to Stoke,” Wenger said. “They defended well and they had a good spirit. In the end, we were punished. It is a big worry to lose a game like that, a massive setback. To win a title you have to win when you are expected to in games like that. It is as simple as that. We now have to focus on our own performance and play well in the next game.
“Overall I thought it was a good defensive performance by us. They commit more fouls than any team in the Premier League. I thought we stood up well to that and were unlucky to lose this game but offensively we did not create enough. We didn’t score because of that. We conceded a goal which was a gift from the referee. He couldn’t get his arm out of the way.”
So Stoke puncture another big ego at the Britannia Stadium. Wenger was right it wasn’t pretty, but aesthetics are not high on the Stoke agenda. Survival is and the three points gained had a very solid feel. The only purposeful action of the first half was theirs, resulting in a brilliant effort from Glenn Whelan that Wojciech Szczesny did well to save.
Arsenal piled forward in the second half and conformed more readily to the elegant template so beloved of Wenger than at any point in the opening 45 minutes, which was comfortably among the worst they have been involved with all season.
For the second game running a penalty proved fatal to Arsenal prospects. On this occasion there could be no complaint when Laurent Koscielny handled on the edge of the box with 14 minutes to go. Jonathan Walters, the Stoke forward, sent Szczesny the wrong way and quite possibly Arsenal on the road to nowhere once again.
Wenger loaded his bench with insurance and, when the game was crying out for the pace and vision, introduced Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and the reconstituted Mezut Özil. Lukas Podolski had 14 touches in the first half, none of them remotely influential, and should not have returned after the break. Olivier Giroud was no more effective, falling over mostly at the hint of contact, yet he lumbered on throughout. Stoke may have changed the emphasis under Mark Hughes but not at the expense of commitment. To beat them you have to match them. Arsenal didn’t and worse still, allowed themselves to be unsettled by the robust examination.
The second half was better, the ball flowing through the yellow shirts with a little more zip. But Asmir Begovic was hardly rushed off his feet. Yaya Sanogo skied Arsenal’s best chance in the final minutes on the rare occasion the visitors managed to get behind the Stoke defence.
Hughes smiled at Wenger’s suggestion that the penalty was fortunate. “I’ve been made aware that they thought it was unjust but we can disregard that,” he said. “I thought we deserved to win it anyway. I know that in recent years they have found it difficult here but they can have no complaints.
“We showed in our intensity, desire and drive our commitment to win. We took the game away from them. They could not cope with it. All in all, it was a very accomplished performance.”
Stoke City (4-5-1): Begovic; Cameron, Pieters, Wilson, Shawcross; Nzonzi, Whelan, Adam (Ireland, 73), Walters, Arnautovic (Etherington, 88); Crouch.
Arsenal (4-5-1): Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs; Arteta, Wilshere (Sanogo, 81), Rosicky (Oxlade-Chamberlain, 74), Cazorla, Podolski (Özil, 66); Giroud.
Referee: Michael Jones.
Man of the match: Arnautovic (Stoke)
Match rating: 6/10
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