Arsenal 3-1 Stoke: Robin to the rescue. Again.

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Video highlights and reaction

So, three goals, three points, another masterclass by Robin van Persie and Stoke go home unhappy. All in all that was a pretty satisfactory day at the office, even if it did look a little bit unsure at certain times.

Arsene Wenger rested Robin van Persie, a decision arrived at after consultation between player and manager apparently, meaning Marouane Chamakh started a league game for the first time since the final game of last season, when everything was academic. It has to be said that the Dutchman’s shoes are big ones to fill but the Moroccan never really looked a danger in the final third.

Stoke had obviously spent the week working on their ‘Get everyone apart from Crouch behind the ball’ tactics when Arsenal had it, which meant a lot of Arsenal possession but little space in which to try and find openings. There were a couple of chances, a Chamakh header from a corner which he really didn’t get right and a Ramsey shot which flew just wide. Ramsey then tried to find Gervinho over the top but the Ivorian’s control let him down.

That should have been something of a warning sign to Stoke but thankfully they didn’t pay attention. After another move broke down on the edge of the box, the ball came back to Ramsey, he scooped it over the top of Lennie and his knuckle-dragging cohorts, this time Gervinho took it down and fizzed it home to make it 1-0 to the Arsenal.

Stoke were aided and abetted on the day by Lee Mason, who has some previous when it comes to reffing at our place and making crap decisions. This time he gave a free kick against Koscielny for a foul on Crouch when the Frenchman won a header perfectly cleanly in midfield. From said free kick Stoke played a bit of head tennis, the Arsenal defence looked a bit bamboozled by the whole thing, and when the ball dropped a couple of inches from the line Crouch was there to apply the difficult finish.

Amazingly, having decided that Koscielny not touching Crouch in an illegal fashion was a free kick, Mason then ignored Chamakh being hauled to the ground by a Stoke defender who grabbed him around the neck. That said incident was in the box and should have been a penalty merely added to the frustration. Late in the half Chamakh had a great chance after Arteta kept the ball in play down our left but let Upson get there ahead of him.

The second half was more of the same, Arsenal possession, Stoke parking the bus and little in the way of goal scoring opportunity coming our way. The arrival of the captain was inevitable, as was somebody to replace Walcott with Arshavin being the man in question. Within 7 minutes of his arrival on the pitch van Persie put us ahead. Gervinho drove into the Stoke box from the right hand side, pulled it back and van Persie’s movement and finish at the near post were really excellent. Begovic got something to it but not enough.

And the same pair combined for the third goal. After Arshavin put Gervinho in down the left, a burst of pace took him away from the defender, another cut back provided Robin with the chance and again, although Begovic got a touch, the ball ended up in the back of the net for 3-1 to the Arsenal.

Afterwards Arsene said:

Overall it was a good, spirited performance and the crowd feels that this team wants to do well because they stood behind the team again and that is very positive.

And after another van Persie brace secured the points denied suggestions we’re a one man team:

I don’t have that feeling at all. When you want to be a team with quality you always have a player who stands out and who gets on the end of things. We had Thierry Henry before. Robin has exceptional quality and so you get these questions.

It’s a rather strange suggestion to make on a day when Gervinho had his best game for the club. A goal and two assists is hopefully a sign that the new boy is finding his feet in English football. The burst of pace over short distances really reminded me of Overmars and if he can keep that up, and become more effective with his finishing (a little more direction, less spanking them), we’ll have quite a player on our hands.

However, in terms of sheer goalscoring you can see why the question was asked. Robin’s form is quite outstanding. 25 goals in 26 league games in 2011 (via Orbinho) and 29 in 36 games in all competitions. That he says he wants to improve is a wonderful attitude to have and watching him is a real pleasure, but concerns over how we might cope in his absence are only highlighted when you see the impact he made yesterday.

Chamakh is a player clearly struggling for any kind of form but he seems to have reacted to van Persie’s fitness and emergence as the best striker in England (Europe?) with a kind of resignation. Arsene admitted as much yesterday, saying:

I think he knows in his mind that at the moment Van Persie is untouchable. So unless I change the system it will be him or Van Persie. It is difficult. But he will get confidence by playing games and scoring goals like all strikers.

However, since he scored against Aston Villa on Nov 27th last year he’s scored just one league goal. I get that van Persie is the man in form, the man who is the automatic choice, but by any standards that’s an abysmal record for a striker. Again we saw Park on the bench, clearly he’s not an option (yet), and while it’s wonderful to see van Persie in the form he’s in, every player needs a bit of a rest and somebody to share the burden a little bit.

Ultimately though, it’s down to the other players to contribute more. Having one player who scores a lot of goals on a consistent basis isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There’s a little Argentinian who seems to have carved that niche out rather well in Spain but it would be good to see some of the other players chip in a little more. Arshavin has just one goal all season, Walcott hasn’t scored since the Old Trafford game, Chamakh we know about, but yesterday showed Gervinho knows where the goal is while Ramsey looks like a player who could get a few from midfield.

We might want, or need, the manager to add to our attacking options in January but it’s pointless thinking about something that can’t happen for two months. And it does seem rather churlish being so concerned about something that is, essentially, a positive so I’ll leave it there on this particular issue for now.

Overall, since the Blackburn game, we’ve played 7 in all competitions and won 6, scoring 15 goals. Only a bit of duff keeping at White Hart Lane blotted the copybook and after the dark day at Ewood Park you have to credit the players and the manager for turning things around somewhat under very difficult circumstances. If Arsene Wenger is ripe for criticism – justifiably so – after that kind of defeat then he deserves the props for guiding the team back into something which is approaching decent form and towards the right end of the league table. I’m still reluctant to talk about turning corners yet but you cannot deny we’re going in the right direction.

Chelsea next weekend will provide a stern test, especially for a team which has yet to win away in the league this season, but there’d be no better place to do that than at Stamford Bridge. More on that game later in the week, tomorrow there’s Carling Cup action and a chance to see some of the fringe players get their chance.

Until then.

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