Arsenal 1-0 Stoke: It’s a bittersweet victory …

It’s a bittersweet morning as we enjoy the victory over Stoke, and the important three points it brought, but also consider the injuries picked up by Theo and Cesc.

Let’s look at the game first and the fallout after. From a footballing point of view it really wasn’t much to look at. We started the game very brightly, Theo hitting the post in the first minute having been set up by Cesc and a couple of moments later he had another pop which went high and wide. Shortly after that good hustle from Bendtner ensured we won a corner. Jack Wilshere took it, it arrived to Bendtner at the back post and for the second time in as many games he turned provider for an unlikely goal scorer.

Sebastian Squillaci scores against Stoke

This time Sebastian Squillaci headed in from close range to put us 1-0 up. After that the rest of the half seemed like a training exercise. Arsenal had possession most of the time, Stoke left Carew as an outlet but got everyone behind the ball and defended well. We passed it around a lot but with the departure of the injured captain found it difficult to break them down. Arshavin had a shot which was easily saved and apart from that the most exciting moment of the half came when, on a rare foray forward, the ball fell for Carew who forced a decent save from Wojscez©®.

Clearly Tony Pubis had a word with his players at half-time and they came out more fired up. Carew fouled Djourou, Delap’s studs-up challenge might well have been a yellow card and left Sagna limping for a bit, and there was definitely more intensity to the game. They remained well drilled at the back and creating chances was difficult. Arshavin’s new found zip saw him get away from a defender in the box and when he pulled it back for Theo the chance was skewed wide under pressure from Huth.

Their scariest moment came late on when a Pennant free kick hit the side netting although it did look as if Wojscez©® had it covered. Up the other end we didn’t make Begovic work for his money, and at 1-0 it was a bit nervy. However, I have to give props to the defence. Squillaci and Djourou worked well together, the latter really commanding during a period when they had a number of long throws. When it needed someone to attack the ball he was there and he did it well.

With 5 minutes of injury time I was waiting for the inevitable but after being under pressure we took control again and just kept the ball to run down the clock. There was still time for one more interminable Delap throw (I want to see a ref book him for time wasting as he spends so long wiping the ball on his special needs shirt) but we coped and in the end took the three points.

That’s a positive in itself but I think there’s a lot more we can take from the result. Obviously Barcelona and Stoke provide very different kinds of tests and it’s the latter who are more likely to expose our Achilles heel defensively. You can’t go through a game like that without hearing the commentator/pundit go on about our weakness from set pieces etc, but last night I thought we did excellent work defensively. I was pleased that Squillaci’s goal was backed up with a solid defensive display and the hard work and industry shown by the rest of the team was rewarded.

We don’t win a lot of games 1-0 these days, the last time we did it at home was against West Ham and that was in much different circumstances. That day Alex Song’s late goal won it at the death, last night we took the lead early and kept for the rest of the game. And against a team who do provide a stiff test for any defence. So from that point of view, and from the belief that might instill in the team, it was a very positive night.

The downside, obviously, are the injuries. Theo went over on his ankle and was stretchered off. He was due to have an X-ray last night but he misses the Carling Cup final, at least. Cesc went off early with a recurrence of his hamstring injury and the early prognosis is not positive, unfortunately. I was told last night it could well be three weeks which would rule him out of the final and the away trip to Barcelona.

Cesc leaves the pitch against Stoke after suffering a hamstring injury

He’s due to be assessed today, and is being positive via his Twitter account, so fingers crossed he can pull a Djourou, but he looked like a man who knew it was serious enough when he was coming off the pitch. Obviously it’s a big blow for us if he misses those games but you can’t help but feel absolutely gutted for him personally. He might well have a chance for Barcelona if it’s not as serious as we fear but for the captain to miss the chance of leading out the team and playing in a cup final seems particularly cruel.

I really, really hope it’s not as bad as it seems but at this moment in time it seems extremely unlikely that he’s going to be fit for Wembley. Arsene said afterwards that he was ‘very upset’ which probably tells you everything you need to know. It’s a cruel game sometimes. We’ll have to see what’s confirmed over the next day or two, remembering as well we’re still waiting for updates on van Persie and Koscielny, before we can assess the state of the squad heading into the final.

So, overall a good night, because ultimately the three points were huge. It leaves us one behind United who have two league games before we play again, one of which is against Chelsea, and when we play Sunderland next weekend they face a Liverpool team that, under Dalglish, will provide a much sterner test that they might have done under Woy.

As much as the short-term is important there’s still a lot of football left this season and Cesc will have a major role to play. Small comfort when you’re potentially missing a Wembley final and a trip to the Camp Nou, of course, but that’s just the reality of it. Fingers crossed for both Cesc and Theo this morning, get well soon fellas.

In other news Aaron Ramsey will return to the club when his loan spell finishes on Saturday. He says:

I’m getting back to my best form. This is what these games have been for. I’m back in the swing of things now and I have got better and stronger with every game. Hopefully that can continue now and I can get back to where I was and be even better as quickly as I possibly can.

Good news, and under the current circumstances a timely return too. And just to try and finish on an upbeat note, I’m told Thomas Vermaelen could make his first team comeback in two weeks time. Let’s hope so.

And that’s just about that for this morning. Back tomorrow with the Arsecast which will look ahead to the weekend’s rather important game, amongst lots of other stuff.

Until then take it easy.

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