Slow starts at the Emirates seem to be normal these days. Arsenal did not look all that great in the opening 15 minutes against Stoke, which kept the crowd on edge. The Potters were doing a decent job of creating spaces, as well as taking advantage of whatever Arsenal gave them.
An early dead-leg for Nacho Monreal looked concerning, but then again, Gibbs has played well. Round of applause for having some adequate depth in the squad.
Things got real concerning when Mustafi pulled up short, clutching his hamstring.
All I could think was that he’d get some of that magic spray, he’d walk off, and jump right back into the match. Come on Mustafi, get up!
The German international didn’t have much time to even think about it though. Hector Bellerin who was finally back from an ankle injury was already running his hands through his hair at midfield. Mustafi was coming off, breaking up the Kostafi combination. How the hell was this going to play out, seeing as Gabriel now moves to the middle, and speedy Bellerin slots in on the right?
Well, life without Mustafi today didn’t start all that well.
Just four minutes after coming off, Stoke was awarded a penalty. Of course, the player I probably dislike the most stepped up and slotted it past Petr Cech, who I’m not sure has ever saved a spot kick.
Having featured in the match, Mustafi’s undefeated record since joining Arsenal was on the line. Would Arsenal lose at home against Stoke City, something that hasn’t happened in over 10 years. Certainly, it won’t happen now right?! Of course not!
As seems to be common, when Arsenal gets off to a slow start, after conceding, they finally wake up.
Movement off the ball was getting better, and most importantly, they were moving the ball with more pace. We all know that if Arsenal gets into a rhythm and starts moving the ball, they can compete with anyone on their day. Unfortunately, that speedy ball movement doesn’t always happen, but fortunately it did today.
Mesut Ozil started to come into the match, Alexis was getting more involved, which if these two are in sync, they are amazing to watch. So amazing that the Chilean’s beautiful pass out wide found an unmarked Bellerin. The Spaniard’s one-time cross found Theo Walcott, who did well to knock it past Grant, who spent most of the first half wasting time every opportunity he got. As I said in one of my tweets, Stoke would regret wasting time, and they’d wish they had it back later in the match. Nailed it!
Theo got his 100th goal for Arsenal, and his 50th at the Emirates. Making that goal even more special for Theo is the fact that he won himself a new coffee machine!
Not really sure why Theo would want a coffee machine for Christmas as an award for scoring 10 goals. But hey, if that’s what will keep him scoring, get him two damn coffee machines.
That goal came at a good time. Just before the break, the crowd got a lift, Stoke’s players would go in doubting themselves, and the supporters watching on TV were a bit more relieved. If only they could come out flying in the second half, that would set things up nicely.
I was trying extremely hard to not yell at the TV, as my wife was in the next room watching her Lifetime movies. Not that I didn’t want to disturb her because I quite frankly don’t care for the Lifetime channel, but specifically because I didn’t want her Snap Chatting me and my frustrations. She’s quicker to pull up the app and catch you when you least expect it than the old school western gun duels.
Ox wasn’t all that impressive in the first half, although he did get on the ball a few times. If he wasn’t able to make an impact early on in the second half, I would have expected him to make way for Iwobi. A frustration I have with the Ox is that he’ll put in a solid performance, as he did against West Ham, and then he’ll drop off.
Today, he wasn’t all that involved, but, his perfectly weighted pass found Mesut Ozil all alone in front of Grant. I think everyone expected him to bring that ball down and slot it past the Stoke goalkeeper. Instead, he decided to be different. A cheeky floating header over Grant put Arsenal in front after 49 minutes. The perfect start to the second half.
At this point, I jumped up off the couch, making noise, but of course, in a composed manner. The wife didn’t even react. Normally she’d say, you have problems! Ugh, no, I do not have problems!
Even with a one goal lead, I still was not feeling assured of all three points.
Stoke continued to get in behind the back four, which was giving me anxiety. You could just anticipate the ball in behind, yet somehow the Arsenal players weren’t seeing it. Time after time, Arnautovic found space. Thankfully he wasn’t able to get the ball on target.
When Peter Crouch came on, now my anxiety was through the roof.
Either I was going to yell some extremely vulgar words at the TV if Stoke snatched a second, or, I’d be counting every second until the final whistle.
Crouch hadn’t even been on the damn pitch for a minute, and he almost leveled things. How the hell do you let Peter Crouch jump nearly uncontested from a corner kick?! I just don’t get it. Seeing him and Andy Carroll score against Arsenal absolutely infuriates me. They aren’t technical, and you know exactly what their only threat is, yet, you’re naive and still allow them to expose you?!
Today, that wasn’t the case. Big Ol’ Petey didn’t get another chance.
On the other side of the pitch, Iwobi got a chance, and he took it brilliantly. After a great individual play from none other than Alexis, he skinned Martins Indi. Surprisingly, Lee Mason didn’t blow the whistle straight away. Alex Iwobi quickly latched onto the free ball, Mason waved play on, and in a very familiar motion (Henry-esque), the Nigerian international slotted a low shot past Grant.
Arsenal’s maturity was on display. After going down 0-1 and not starting the match all that well, they bounced back with three unanswered goals. These are the things that the Gunners lacked in previous years. Being able to keep their composure and battle back when against the ropes. As they did in Bulgaria, Old Trafford, at home against PSG and again today, Arsene Wenger’s squad showed composure and maturity.
After The Final Whistle
As they say, it’s not about how you start, it’s how you finish. Things didn’t look beautiful and smell like roses to start the match. Arsenal were down, without Mustafi, the crowd were awfully quiet, and Arsene Wenger was not wearing his big puffy coat.
Xhaka and Coquelin continued to nail it down in the center of the park, Le Prof came out from the break wrapped from neck to shins in his grey coat, and Steve Bould likely zipped it for him.
This is the Arsenal we love to watch. Although realistically they aren’t going to be able to play at a frenetic pace every game, or even for the entire 90 minutes, they need to battle. They’ve done that all season, and they rolled up their sleeves and went to battle again today.
With their 3-1 victory, the Gunners top the table, even if temporarily. My prediction for the month of December is still 100%, and as I watch Leicester smash three past Mancester City, I know that the lads are on the right track. It’s going to take hard work and determination, but with this attitude and belief within the squad, together, they can accomplish a lot.
Onto Tuesday’s match against an Everton side who are struggling. As I mentioned in my prediction for December, this could be a potential banana peel in the schedule. Let’s hope that’s not the case. But for now, let’s enjoy the three points, Ozil’s finish, Mustafi’s undefeated record, and the fact that Man City’s defensive unit is in absolute shambles.
Happy Saturday Lads!