Illustrated Premier League Match Report: Arsenal 3 – 1 Stoke like you’ve never seen
Wow yall, three great English Premier League games this weekend, all of them on Sunday! (Sorry Liverpool.) It was infuriating because more MS Paint doodles for me to do means less time for watching old Donald Duck cartoons in French on Youtube and/or listening to “Alarm Call” for hours on repeat while daydreaming about what it’s like to eskimo kiss Björk.
But enough blabber about the desolate wasteland of my inner life, let’s get to the games! First up is the least exciting one. I’m talkin’ ‘bout our biannual battle for the stylistic/aesthetical soul of English football: Arsenal vs Stoke! (SPOILER ALERT: The Gunners took it 3-1)
Peter Crouch started for Stoke, while Per Mertesacker more or less matched him for height and Robin van Persie sat on the bench for Arsenal.
Alex Song, the Premier League’s Designated Wildman, filled in as captain. Aside from that he had a pretty low-profile game, no doubt just to keep us guessing, you know?
Stoke matched Arsenal’s formation in a 4-3-3, with Matthew Etherington on the right as an inverted winger. This move, while tactically astute on Tony Pulis’ part, was fucking criminal. Matthew Etherington, one of the last great classic wingers left in the game, playing the inverted role like he was Arjen Fucking Robben. It was some bullshit.
The opening half hour was pretty laid back and relaxed, with neither side pressing much or doing anything interesting. The stadium was silent but for the singing Stoke fans in the away section. Arsenal in particular looked eerily calm. At first I thought they were experiencing something akin to the serene catatonia of an old man staring at the sea, brain rotten with dementia. But then I saw something fishy…
The TV cut to a close-up shot of long-beleaguered manager Arsene Wenger, nothing special in itself. His face was lined and craggy as ever, but the malaise that had haunted him for months was gone from his eyes, replaced with the cold hatred and hunger of a predator out for revenge.
It may have been a simple trick of the angle or just me overly reading into nothing, but for an instant I felt like it was 2004 again.
Sure enough Gervinho—GERVINHO of all people—put Arsenal up on the scoreboard.
Lil’ Gerv managed to stay onside as Ramsey beautifully bopped a ball over the centerbacks at close range, leaving the Ivorian striker alone in front of goal to calmly slide it past Begovic.
Arsenal gon’ Arsenal though. I’m pretty sure they’re contractually obligated to blow at least one lead per game. Less than ten minutes later Crouch equalized for Stoke off a brilliantly worked and horrendously defended free kick. Credit to Stoke: they are probably the best team at set plays, full stop. No one gets more out of them. Incredible organization.
This guy knows what I’m talking about.
The game went on, and on into half time, and on after half time, and nothing happened. Arsenal looked completely toothless but Stoke weren’t all that much better.
The crowd got antsy and started chanting for Robin van Persie. They kept chanting and chanting until it was all you could hear, and then finally, FUCKING FINALLY, Wenger relented and sent him on to thunderous noise.
I doubt it was intentional, but the way that unfolded must have had a huge effect on the players. Arsenal were instantly sharper, hungrier, and angrier. Stoke by contrast played like they were about to shit their pants. Van Persie lived up to his talismanic status and immediately got into the game, instantly the number one danger man. I’m willing to bet that every Arsenal fan watching got at least a little bit sexually aroused.
The confidence boost they got was almost too much though. An RVP cross floated across the box wound up in Potter control and they broke out like escaping prisoners. Poor play from Johan “The Bungler” Djourou and keeper Szczesny almost resulted in what would been a Comedy Goals Hall of Famer.
I laughed SO hard when this happened, you guys. I might have sprained my ribcage, something I’m not even sure is possible.
Less than five minutes later Walcott got subbed off.
The poor kid, he had what feels like his 837th straight bad game. Something about him makes commentators (and me, to be honest) want to give him the benefit of the doubt and cover for him, talk about the great talent he’s got and such potential, really, but no. It’s a lie borne of irrational sentimentality. In the cold light of day, Theo Walcott just isn’t that good of a player. His previous highs, such as they were, look more and more like lucky flukes with each passing game.
Russian disappointment factory Andrey Arshavin replaced him.
Two minutes after coming on, Arshavin played an outside through ball to Gervinho, who brilliantly ran onto it and crossed into the box for Van Persie to poke in past Begovic. Arsenal were back in the lead. Supersub to the rescue.
Arsenal were still Arsenal though. Five minutes later Not Marcelo (aka Andre Santos) gave away a stupid foul in the home side’s half. Kenwyne Jones (who’d come on for Crouch earlier and who should have started instead of the scarecrow on account of being a much better footballer) managed to get a free header and bounced it toward a charging Cameron Jerome. Szczesny caught the ball just before Jerome could reach it but the Stoke man’s momentum carried him into the young Polish keeper in a classic slapstick routine type of collision.
Szczesny was NOT happy about it.
Luckily for the Gunners, they didn’t Arsenalize themselves again. Instead, van Persie scored his second goal. This was almost exactly 15 minutes after he’d first come on. Dude. “I don’t want to comment on speculation,” but if Arsenal don’t want to lose the Dutchman over the summer they MUST keep their Top Four spot and probably at least win a cup. If they can’t do the former then there’s absolutely no way he’ll stay. He’s simply too good to not play in the Champions League.
RVP’s second goal was again assisted by Gervinho, who was again played a great pass by Arshavin. While van Persie was obviously the one who made the difference, the other two’s contributions were worth noting.
Over the last few weeks Arshavin’s been teasing with flashes of the brilliance that first made me fall for him in Euro 2008 those three long years ago, when he ripped the Netherlands a new one for real though. Imagine if Pavlyuchenko came to Arsenal on the cheap and the pair of them underwent a buddy movie-esque career renaissance! The chances of it happening are basically zero, but a guy can dream…
But you guys, Gervinho—he actually had a really good game! I’m not kidding! I’ve been pretty hard on the guy since he arrived but he’s finally starting to settle in. Particularly promising is that he improved dramatically when van Persie came on, and I mean that his individual play was much better. Although I’m not a sports psychologist, I bet it was from knowing that he could rely on his strike partner to get into good positions and basically be trusted to keep up when he went off-script. Whatever happened, it bodes well for Gervinho and for Arsenal.
Speaking of which, Gervinho himself almost had a second goal but in trying to beat Begovich and slide it to the far post he drifted it just wide. Wenger rewarded him with a substitution.
I would have been like “hey wtf not cool bro” BUUUUUT the sub to come on was none other than my favorite Arsenal youngster and tweeter extraordinaire Emmanuel Frimpong so I was ok with it.
#DEEEEEEEEEEENCH indeed, my friend. #DEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEENCH indeed.
The final whistle blew shortly after. Wenger and Pulis shook hands and walked down the tunnel together, side by side.