May 13th – Stoke 1 Arsenal 4

World Beaters! Are we rediscovering how to play football? I doubt it. But today was fun. Borderline enjoyable. I mean, even Michael Dean could not destroy the game for us. Though, in the lead-up to their second goal (and the previous 5 minutes) he randomly decided to let them foul us at every opportunity.

I’ve been to Stoke. It’s a shithole. Their stadium is decent but their fans are tossers. How dare they whistle AR8 when he comes on. And, truly, their players were are drab and dreary as their fans. They set up as though they were the away team with no intention of playing. What’s the point of that when you’re safely ensconced in the middle of the table without fear of relegation. It’s a free option for you. Why not come out and play football – take some chances and put Arsenal under pressure? It makes no sense. It’s not like they even tried to blood some younger players. Instead they tried to bore everyone to death. What’s the point in that when it’s your last home game of the season.

Thankfully we turned up today. At least one team played. And today Alexis finally reappeared after his long spring hibernation. Gone were the careless passes. Instead he buzzed around the field and helped create all things good. And how big was our Coq today? Immense. Playing slightly further forward he was imperious. Xhaka played a little deeper but was again excellent. That balance we’ve lacked previously was there today. Partly because the Stoke morons gave us such much space. But for our first goal I had initially thought it was Ozil that played that pass behind their full back for Bellerin. But, no, knock me down with a feather, it was our Coq.  Bellerin then got in a great cross for the elephant man to convert.

With injuries to both wing backs we benefitted my moving Monreal up into that left wing back slot. It meant all our creativity came down that left hand side. On another day Monreal could have had two goals – he was our primary threat at 0-0.  On the right Bellerin remains deep in a funk. He had moments where he sparked into action. But overall he looks lost. When receiving the ball he seems unsure what to do with it. Contrast that with the Ox who powers on forward. Naturally he does though help on the defensive side (sometimes). But neither he nor Holding is brilliant at stopping crosses coming in from that side of the pitch.

How strange was it to see us start the game aggressively and to dominate in the first half. It was slightly worrying that we were only 1-0 up at half-time. How likely would it be that we’d play two good halves of football? Fortunately today the odds were in our favour. I had have expected that the “real” Stoke would come out in the second half but thankfully they’d already left for their summer holidays (on a beach somewhere under a cloudy sky in Margate).

But that second goal was majestic. Arsenal at it’s best. Alexis at his best. Beautiful to watch. It felt like slow motion the way Alexis held the ball for, what seemed like, a second too long. But even leading up to that pass we’d held onto the ball for a long time. It would be interesting to know how many passes proceed that pass. Dare I say it was Bergkampesque in precision, timing and weight of passing. And Ozil finished elegantly. A lovely example of role reversal. As has been said – Alexis is our Creator in Chief.

We were lucky enough to witness the hilarious miss of the year by Diouf; and his reward was to be taken off. There is no justice.  With the introduction of the lanky Couch (intentional) Stoke reverted to type. Both with their physical play and pumping high balls into our box. We failed to cut out their crosses from our right and Couch pulled a Maradona and punched the ball into the net.

And then moments after indicating he needed to be subbed, Alexis, with a hand from Ozil and Xhaka, attacked the box as their defenders backed-off and scored the deciding goal. He left the field to a standing ovation from our travelling fans. Let’s hope he’s fit enough for Tuesdays game.

With all the subs AR8 made an appearance. And, playing, higher up the pitch he made an immediate impact. He could have scored twice before setting up Giroud for his second goal from within the 6 yard area.

All in all a good result. A good performance. A good day. You’d still get long odds for us clinching that last place – we left it too late. It would seem we’ve found a more settled framework that the team is starting to settle into. It’s a little unrealistic though to measure our success against the teams we’re now playing their frame of mind. When we needed this formation to prove itself – at WHL for instance – the formation and the team failed miserably. So beating the trash teams we’re now playing does not prove too much. Still, it’s better to win than lose (or draw) and you can only beat the shit that’s put in front of you.

Up next another world-beating Sunderland team with their ex-MU manager. I hate to see this as the “easy” game. Let’s hope Alexis is fit to play and WHU do us another favour on Sunday.


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