Saturday, April 28, 2012

Stoke 1 - Arsenal 1

Arsenal played well today, especially in the first half, and were clearly the better team throughout the match, but after Peter Crouch scored for Stoke at the ten minute mark, against the run of play, Arsenal needed to muster their mental toughness to pull back an equalizer at a ground where very few away teams have won this season, against a team playing a high-pressure defense, marking closely and closing down quickly all over the field.

Ironically, that is the very kind of defense against which Arsenal's midfield play is most dangerous, when the Gunners' short-passing game is in top form, as it was throughout the first half of today's match. Several times, Arsenal's sharp, close-range passing broke Stoke's high pressure and broke through onto Stoke's goal creating good chances. Unfortunately, the Gunners were able to capitalize on just one of those opportunities, when Robin van Persie finished from two yards out from a sublime cross by Thomas Rosicky.

By the end of the first half, Stoke had dropped its defensive pressure back onto its own half of the field, which made it a bit more difficult for the Gunners to break through. Indeed, the second half saw many fewer chances created, despite the fact that Arsenal had nearly 70% of the possession. Stoke were content to play on the counterattack and hope for set pieces near Arsenal's goal. As the game moved into the final 15 minutes, the Gunners appeared to tire, and Stoke created a few chances of their own. Szeczsny was forced to make one of his few saves of the game on a sharp shot by Cameron Jerome from the right channel. Arsenal bought on some fresh legs, in the forms of Andre Santos and Marouane Chamakh, and tried to pile on the pressure in the final 10 minutes, but to no avail.

Given Arsenal's massive edge in possession, Gunners fans might be disappointed to come away from Stoke with only one point. It marks the third consecutive game without a win. But it's not a terrible result, especially when combined with the fact that Newcastle lost 4-0 at Wigan with a game at Chelsea to come in midweek, while Arsenal rest up before their next match at home to Norwich City. As the League Table now stands, Arsenal are holding onto third place with 66 points, 4 points ahead of Newcastle, 7 ahead of Spurs (who are at home to Blackburn tomorrow), and 8 ahead of Chelsea (who host QPR tomorrow).

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