Manure have their worst side for years, plus an injury list that is about as bad as ours - with barely a recognised defender fit to play at the moment. The Scousers that are still alive are suicidal. As are the Evertonians. Even Chelsea fans are hesitant - the sensible blues (there are some) know they are incredibly reliant on Drogba and worry about January. Plus their second half of the season form has been traditionally poor. Which really only leaves the constantly delusional Spudders, but they are not crowing much at the moment either. I suppose if the Spudders get three points this afternoon then normal service will see Robbie Keane announcing after the match that Spurs are a shoe-in for the title this year. The twat.
Anyway, I digress. So what is there to say about the 2-0 victory against Stoke. Well, compared to recent weeks, with blanks against Sunderland, Chelsea and Man City, this was a drug fuelled sex romp with more cocktail waitresses than Tiger Woods has ever met. Except it really wasn't. This was more like the teenage fumblings of a blind impotent.
The absence of Eduardo from the match squad was apparently due to a late injury/illness, but it meant we had no recognised strikers whatsoever. Arshavin was given the central strikers' role, and to give the little 'un his due, he played a major role in almost everything that Arsenal did well against Stoke. Eboue took the semi-advanced right side role, Rosicky the left, in a very makeshift version of the 4-3-3 system, which with Denilson sitting in from of the back 4, Cesc tucked in behind Arshavin, and everyone else pretty fluid around that, was more like a 4-1-3-1-1.
And Stoke were rightly bamboozled by the bizarre hourglass formation. Tony Pullis ignored Ricardo Fuller's advice in mid-week that you just need to kick Arsenal to beat them, and dropped him to the bench. The 4 Stoke defenders had no-one to mark, because we had no forwards and Arshavin dropped deep, plus we hit nothing over the top at all. But Stoke did not adjust their formation or try and man mark Arshavin or Cesc, were content to mark space and effectively conceded possession of the ball to us and said "do your worst". Which is pretty much what we did.
Now, don't get me wrong. We did create some decent chances in the first half, Arshavin put clean through by Cesc after about 8 mins, Nasri through on the right after about 35 mins. But we barely looked like scoring. There is simply no belief that the ball will go over the line. So when Rory Delap bought Arshavin's dummy and hacked him down for the easiest penalty the Mark Clattenburg will give this season, I had no confidence that Cesc would slot the spot kick home. And so it proved. And by the way, that was not the worst penalty in the world. Sorensen guessed right and made a very good save.
Thankfully though, Arshavin kept plugging away and a semi-neat exchange of passes with Cesc put him through, Andrey kept steady under pressure from two defenders with the ball a little stuck under his feet, put he somehow neatly tucked it away. It was probably the hardest chance he had all day.
The relief was short lived however. A desperately empty Emirates stadium did not think 1-0 was enough, and sat and waited grumpily in the rain for something to go wrong. In a comedy of bad luck, a decent Traore cross took a massive deflection off Abdoulay only to hit Stoke's post rather than going in (no such luck for Vermaelen last week), but the ball fell kindly to Cesc to smash it in, except Eboue managed to block the ball on the goal line. Whilst the official attendance was over 60,000, the 50,000 who had actually bothered to turn up all whimpered a collective tear of frustration.
Rosicky, who did ok but is clearly not flavour of the month with Wenger, was replaced at half time but Carlos Vela down the left. Carlos did very little wrong second half, but also did very little to think that he is ready at this level. Wilkinson, the Stoke right back, is clearly the son of a butcher and was knackered after chasing Traore and Arshavin, but Carlos did not really take him on for pace once. And having seen the little burrito machine do a good impression of out-pacing Jolean Lescott at City, I find that almost unfathomable.
Arshavin continued to plug away, but after about 55 mins the limping Eboue was replaced by Aaron Ramsey (who has slightly disappointed in recent outtings), but Rambo was pretty excellent down the right for 40 mins, and scored our much needed second goal after 78 mins, a blocked pass was collected by the young Welshman, which he trapped nicely into his stride, jinked in between the defenders and shot nice and early from outside the box. It was no thunderbolt, but he used the outside of the right boot to swivel the ball over the wet grass into the bottom right hand corner.
It was a nice goal. But as Rambo celebrated in slightly muted fashion in the corner with Vela, my eyes remained fixed on Cesc, who avoided the celebrations and trudged back to the centre spot with his head down, eyes on the ground at all times. Cesc did not even acknowledge Rambo as he jogged back to position. Maybe its a Spanish thing, but I found that very odd indeed. My impression, at least, is that Cesc was still sulking about missing a penalty and Eboue doing his Tigger impression on the goal line to block his shot. Well, in a week where good sportsmanship has been high up the agenda for Arsenal, I would like to have seen our captain do a lot less sulking yesterday.
I guess, with a bit more luck, Cesc would have scored twice yesterday and we would be basking in the glow of a 4-0 thrashing. Stoke are no mugs and the fact that we produced a relatively decent performance with an injury list that reads like something from the Somme is no bad thing. I just hope that Arshavin manages to find this much space at Anfield next weekend - another four goals please Andrey !!