Post-Match Report

Stoke City 1-3 Arsenal - Match Report

Stoke City -

Britannia Stadium
Barclays Premier League
Barclays Premier League
  Stoke City
Stoke City
1 3

By Richard Clarke   

Arsenal moved within three points of leaders Chelsea with a sensational 3-1 comeback at Stoke on Saturday.

However in the process Aaron Ramsey picked up a nasty-looking injury.

The visitors began the afternoon in familiar fashion. Rory Delap fired across a ninth-minute throw-in and Danny Pugh steered home a header at the far post.

It was the third successive time they had conceded via the Irishman's unique talents in the early stages at the Britannia Stadium.

This time, however, Arsenal's response was magnificent. They fought their way back into the game and then imposed their football.

Nicklas Bendtner guided home a header to equalise just after the half-hour. The visitors continued to dominate for the remainder of the half and the start of the second.

They seemed set to take over when in the 65th minute Ryan Shawcross flew into a tackle with Ramsey. The Welshman was stretchered off, the Englishman sent off.

Wenger later described the injury as a "bad fracture'. The whole situation was worryingly reminiscent of Eduardo's injury at Birmingham two seasons ago.

The incident threatened to stifle Arsenal's revival. They came into the game with a chance of making up significant ground following Manchester City's win at Stamford Bridge earlier in the day.

In the final minute, Pugh handled Alex Song's through-ball and Fabregas kept a cool head to slot home the penalty. In injury time, Thomas Vermaelen stumbled home a third from a few feet out.

It was the cue for intense, emotional celebrations from visiting fans.

Arsenal won three key points this afternoon but, at the same time, they have lost an important talent in their increasingly realistic title bid.

By kick-off, Chelsea's defeat at home to Manchester City had been fully digested. The Stamford Bridge encounter was a lunchtime affair while this one began in the early evening.  The sound of opportunity knocking must have reached the Arsenal dressing room in the intervening time.

However, in a footballing sense, the Britannia Stadium is arguably the most inhospitable environment you could find in the Premier League.

Arsenal had been well-beaten twice on this ground in the past 14 months. Another defeat, especially in such opportunistic circumstances, would severely dent their title hopes. But of course, victory would do exactly the opposite.

With William Gallas (calf) still out, Wenger swapped Mikael Silvestre for Sol Campbell at centre half. Bacary Sagna returned at right back so Emmanuel Eboue moved forward. Theo Walcott dropped to the bench.
Each of Arsenal's recent defeats had been set up by early goals from Delap throw-ins. The issue had been much-discussed in the build-up to this game but, despite that, Arsenal were caught out in replica fashion after only nine minutes.

This time, the Irishman's Exocet was nodded on by Shawcross at the near post and Pugh arrived unmarked at the far post to steer home a stooping header.

It was an all too familiar tale.

Chances were scarce in the following 15 minutes, every Delap throw-in was greeted with cheers by the home crowd and trepidation by the Arsenal defence. However from then on they always muddled the ball out and kept Stoke to one blocked effort from Ricardo Fuller
Arsenal seemed intimidated and needed time to gather themselves.

In the 25th minute, Fabregas tried his luck from range and a hesitant Thomas Sorensen batted the ball around his right-hand post. A couple of corners later the Spaniard nearly floated an effort towards the top corner with the keeper worried.

It seemed that Arsenal had finally found their feet and, more importantly, their passing game. But that had only come about by matching Stoke's strength.

Gael Clichy and Vermaelen had physically rolled up their sleeves on a bitterly cold Staffordshire night. The rest of the team had done the same thing mentally.

The visitors began to pepper the Stoke penalty area. The home side coped with most of them but the persistent pressure gradually drew them into their shell.

An exquisite Arsenal goal only helped that process.

Fabregas floated in a cross from the right flank for Bendtner, who kept both his balance and his wits about him to guide a gorgeous header back past Sorensen.

The visitors were vibrant. Eboue, Ramsey and Fabregas continued to play purposeful patterns just outside the home penalty. Only a stray Stoke leg or, in fairness, well-timed tackle prevented Arsenal taking their lead.

Fabregas fired a free-kick into the wall five minutes before half time. It was a poor return for all their dominance after the equaliser but it was more than Stoke had mounted.

When the half-time whistle blew, Arsenal were in the ascendancy.

The trend continued after the break with Ramsey having a half-shout for a penalty in the opening minutes when he tumbled under challenge from Abdoulaye Faye.

As the hour approached, Arsenal were still pinning Stoke back into their own area.

In the 58th minute, Eboue fired in a rocked-fuelled effort from 25 yards and, yet again, Sorensen was somewhat unconvincing as he tipped the ball over the bar.

A couple of minutes later Song was booked. It was his 10th domestic caution of the season and means he will miss two games.

But much, much, much worse was to come.

In the 65th minute, Ramsey and Shawcross flew into a challenge. The Welshman was left crumpled in a heap and received immediate medical attention. The Stoke defender was shown a straight red card. The Arsenal players were distraught, particularly Vermaelen. It was a horrid echo of Eduardo's broken leg at Birmingham two seasons ago.

Rosicky replaced Ramsey and the game got underway again. However the atmosphere was flat.  
Wenger brought on Walcott and Eduardo. The latter should have scored with three minutes left. Song scooped a pass forward and the Croatian lashed a shot wide from eight yards out. Given Ramsey's injury, the goal would have been ironic and important in equal measure.

However Arsenal were now beating on Stoke's back door. They got their chance to break through with 50 seconds of normal time remaining. Bendtner tried to clip the ball through but it hit Pugh's outstretched hand.

Fabregas had missed against Stoke in the match against Emirates Stadium. This time he fired low to Sorensen's left. The keeper guessed rightly but the ball found the corner. It was the Spaniard's 16th goal of the campaign.

The captain raced to the away fans and roared his celebration. They responded in kind.

A couple of minutes later, there was a repeat performance when Sorensen spilled a shot and Fabregas turned the ball back for Vermaelen to, almost unknowingly, stab the ball home from close range.

This was a magnificent, potentially, season-changing win. But it had come at a heavy price.

Referee: Peter Walton
Attendance: 27011

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