Frank Stubbs, Fans' Diarist, January 26, 2010
With 15 minutes to go on Sunday, we were enjoying our strongest period in the match and if anyone was looking like advancing to the Fifth Round it was us. Being caught on the break is something many of our opposing teams have endured over the years, on this occasion it was our turn. A disappointing end to a chilly and damp day.
Journey and pre-match refreshment-wise it had all been very successful, indeed the latter stages had been graced with sunshine, not something that was to hang around for too long!
Even the journey home proved unproblematic, unfortunately it was just the bit we were all there for that didn't go the way we wanted it to.
Something I have mentioned before that I feel is hugely important in every game we play is the state of the pitch. Every time I see our players warming up on what looks a fine playing surface for fast-flowing football I am extremely confident we can get a result. Stoke's pitch did not fall into that category.
Many will always use the argument that it is the same for both sides and of course this is an accurate statement but more importantly for me a bumpy, slippery, 'squidgy' pitch is a huge leveller. Our passing style of football is slick, fast, accurate, almost 'one touch' at times but when it takes you that split-second longer to trap the ball as it bobbles about, your attempted pass comes off your shin or your foot just slides away when you try to stop or turn, that pace and accuracy naturally becomes more infrequent and erratic.
It is no coincidence down the years that the majority of major cup shocks have taken place on difficult surfaces.
Of course, many would consider me offering this as just an excuse but believe me I don't think we did enough on Sunday to deserve to win the game. I do think however, that the above is a huge contributory fact, not an excuse.
As far as an opinion on the Stoke 'throw in' scenario I really haven't got a problem with them using a towel to dry the ball each time. The hypocrisy however, comes with how the referees deal with it. If a player taking a throw-in was to take as long without using a towel, he would be disciplined for time-wasting, there is absolutely no doubt about it.
Talking of opinions, the argument regarding who should have been in our team line-up is massively split down the middle in my experience. Before a ball was kicked the vast majority I spoke to seemed to agree that in such a busy season it was our only opportunity to give some players a breather.
Coming home on the other hand, this was far outweighed by those who felt we should have played all of our 'first choice' names. It would have been interesting to hear those same fans' views had we gone through but picked up a couple of serious injuries to key players.
For me, whatever the view, I feel we had a team out there that were good enough to win on the day. The fact is, they didn't play well enough to achieve just that.
Wednesday's intensely tough trip to Villa Park begins an enormous period in our season.
To get a result we will certainly have to play better than at Stoke.
And you, I and every other Gooner knows we are very capable of doing just that.