Detailed review of the Stoke win, including player reviews and Ramsey thoughts

On Sunday I posted some brief post-game thoughts on Arsenal’s 3-1 over Stoke. Today, having calmed down with the advantage of two days time, I go into more detail.

The game

While the strongest memory of this win will no doubt be the injury to Aaron Ramsey, there is a growing feeling that we might soon look back on this game as the pivotal moment in our unlikely title charge.

After going behind to a goal scored from Stoke’s first throw-in of the match, I had a sinking feeling that we might not be able to overturn the deficit and come away with the three points required to close the gap on Chelsea at the top. When Stoke continued to push for ten minutes after their goal I started to wonder first how we were going to get our rhythm back and second, how we were going to score.

The answer was with the type of goal that only Nicklas Bendtner can score, a towering header from a superb Cesc Fabregas cross. It was the best headed goal I have seen this season and proved to be the catalyst for a superb team performance. From that moment we seized control of the game, moved the ball efficiently and create chances, all the while preventing Stoke from taking one of their trademark throw-ins for almost an hour.

But then Ramsey had his leg broken.

The reactions of our players were justifiably intense and all too familiar. This really was Eduardo all over again and considering the timing of the injury and the way in which we crumbled at Birmingham two seasons ago, I didn’t expect us to go on and win the game. I really didn’t.

Once Ramsey left the pitch on a stretcher and the stadium in an ambulance the match continued, essentially at half-speed. Out passing rhythm had been severely retarded as the attacking players instinctual runs into space were replaced by paralysed half-efforts. In short, it didn’t look like we would get a goal.

But slowly and surely our rhythm returned. Fabregas was at the heart of everything and when Eduardo had an extraordinary opportunity to win the game in headline-grabbing style, he poked wide. It was a huge chance and as he lay on his back reflecting on the miss I felt it might be the last good one we would get in the game.

Remarkably we continued to push and were rewarded with a second consecutive penalty, correctly awarded against Stoke’s goalscorer for handball. Only he knows what he was doing with his hand stuck out that far and although it was quite clearly ball-to-hand, the decision was spot on.

I celebrated the penalty award with more gusto than I’ve celebrated most goals this season, before I realised that the score was still 1-1. I also realised, as Fabregas stood over the ball, that Sorensen had saved his kick from twelve yards earlier in the season.

I was 90% sure Fabregas would do his usual thing and 95% sure that Sorensen would dive the right way. Cesc did, Sorensen got a hand on it but it nestled in the net. 2-1, an unbelievable moment in our season and all of a sudden it looked like we had completed the most courageous of tasks.

The third goal from Vermaelen sealed the victory and gave the boys the opportunity to enjoy their achievement. If the celebrations after Cesc’s goal were full of passion and relief, the celebrations after Vermaelen’s were full of pride. The sight of Vermaelen pumping his fists in typical hardman fashion as a joyous huddle formed around him, complete with Sol Campbell, one leg raised screaming into the away support, is one that I will remember for a very long time.

At the end of the game Gael Clichy and the captain pulled the team together in an Invincible-like huddle. The knew the importance of what they had done and were aware of the effort it took. They had stolen a victory, against the odds in many respects, under the same circumstances that saw us lose the title two years earlier and in the process putting them within three points of the league leaders.

All in all, a fabulous win.

Player performances

I don’t usually do individual performance reviews but I really feel it is justified after such a terrific team effort. Usually there are two or three or even four or five players that stand-out but in this case virtually every one of the eleven who started the match deserve special praise.

Manuel Almunia did a good job in goals, doing what he could against Delap’s throw-ins and was in no way responsible for the goals. He was always quick to get the counter-attacks going when he could as well, often seeking out the cleverly-utilised Emmanuel Eboue as a speedy outlet.

Sol Campbell and Thomas Vermaelen were both colossal at the back, providing excellent physical presence as well as invaluable mental strength. Vermaelen’s response to Ramsey’s injury was the most distressing of the Arsenal players on the pitch, perhaps because he had not experienced it before, but he calmed down quickly and produced a superb effort to score the third goal.

Meanwhile Campbell, in one game, has justified Arsene Wenger’s decision to resign him to the club. He was brave and powerful but like Vermaelen, excelled even more in the leadership and inspiration department. His anger after the Ramsey incident may have swayed the red card in our favour while his celebration at the end said it all. He bleeds red and white and his drive is certainly wearing off on the players around him.

Sagna had an efficient game while Gael Clichy enjoyed an excellent return to form. Many people, myself included, have been worried about his performances since returning from injury but this was vintage Clichy, driving forward when possible and using his speed to great effect in mopping up at the back. What’s more, like the central defenders, his leadership qualities were to the fore, giving support to Vermaelen after the injury and getting quite vocal to ensure the team remained focus.

Alex Song seemed to switch on after the first goal and from that moment was superb. He did his job perfectly and even got forward a number of times, providing Bendtner with the pass that setup the penalty and cleverly feeding Eduardo for his late chance. The yellow card that he received was nonsense and will see him miss the next two games.

Alongside Song was the unfortunate Aaron Ramsey and the irreplaceable Cesc Fabregas. Ramsey was having a good game before he was taken out, providing great drive and purpose from the central areas. His loss will be a big one not only in the long-term but also in short-term, as Ramsey was playing consistently well and really starting to make his mark on the team.

Cesc meanwhile was the best player on the pitch, setting up the first and third goals, scoring the crucial penalty and providing several moments of inspirational leadership. This was the individual performance of season and if we go on to win the title we will all look back on his effort with immense respect. A jaw-dropping effort by a stunning player.

Up front Bendtner got his second goal in two games and proved a handful all day. I’ve said to a couple of people that I really feel he could do a Freddie Ljungberg from 2001/02 and score ten league goals before the end of the season to push us over the line. His goal could not have been scored by any other player in the squad and his general willingness to get involved makes the players around him improve.

On the wings Samir Nasri had a great game, proving a perfect pivot for the likes of Clichy and Fabregas to work off, while Eboue repaid the manager’s faith in starting him by delivering an immense performance. In many ways Eboue played like Diaby, pushing into the space behind Bendtner and driving at the defenders, but it was clear that his primary purpose against Stoke was to provide us with a counter-attacking outlet. Every player looked for him on the break and he didn’t let them down, controlling the ball well under pressure and consistently turning defence into attack by winning a throw-in or a free-kick.

So all in all, a great team performance. Every single player played well under pressure and they thoroughly deserved the victory.

Ramsey’s injury

I can’t really put it any better than Arseblogger already has. His take on things is absolutely spot on and you can read more here if you want.

League chances

We are in a terrific position to win the title, it’s as simple as that. If the bottle we showed at Stoke can be consistently replicated throughout the remainder of the season then I believe we will win it. In fact, looking at the table and the fixtures and galvanising effect that the injury to Ramsey appears to have had on the players, I’d have us as favourites.

Not that I’m getting ahead of myself, of course.


Have your say on Arsenal’s remarkable win over Stoke by leaving a comment.



  1. still feelin emotional about the injury, ramsey was one of my favourite players.

    The team showed what they are made of in this match lets hope the fa and refs take notice of the dirty tactics that the lesser teams are employing and give our team the protection of the laws (thats one thing i dont get when people say we need more protection than other teams, no we dont, we just need the laws of the game to be properly used).

    And lets hope the shit kickers of the premiership also take notice of our response and realise that we wont be pushed around.

    one last thing sol campbell is a LEG END, always had a lot of respect for big sol and was glad that Mr Wenger resigned him and like you said it has been justified already.

  2. Just wanted to post these comments by rafa benitez after the rather dirty tactics of the blackburn team and there c@nt of a manager. You may not like rafa but i think he gives some good qoutes.

    He said: “If they [Blackburn] are pleased with the way they play under this manager, it is their decision. We won so they have to be thinking about whether the style is good or not.

    “I think it is a model for all the managers around the world, their style of football, his [Allardyce’s] behaviour.

    “It is the perfect model for all the kids and I’m sure all parents will enjoy this model and encourage their kids to be the same. The style of football I think Barcelona are thinking of copying”, added Benitez.

  3. I unashamedly cried during that Stoke game, it was one of the proudest moments I’ve had as an Arsenal fan. I am nervous and excited about our chances for the championship and if, on the back of Stoke with this team, it will one of our greatest.

    Great article Andrew and well said. Echoes my thoughts precisely.

  4. sorry to be hogging all the comments but i just had a thought.
    If these shit kickers carry on with there dirty tactics and fouling will it get to the point where the top teams say screw this we dont need them and create a super league with only 10 teams and the rest will be a poor mans ‘premiership’?

  5. Alex Song also has 1 yellow in Fa cup and 1 in Carling cup..this makes 10…..

  6. Twice Arsenal showed real character in this fixture. The English media will point to how upset he was and what a good English pro he is. Will they be showing replays of his assault on Adebayor in November 2008? The man is exactly the kind of wreckless thug who should be drummed out of the sport, but is actually encouraged at places like Stoke, Sunderland, Birmingham and Bolton. He was probably crying about his red card and the three games he will miss. I haven’t read the ‘The lad’s inconsolable’ quote from Tony Pulis yet, but I’m sure it’ll be there when I read the reports of the post-match press conference. F*** off Tony Pulis and well played Cesc Fabregas for telling the Stoke boss to shut his hypocritical mouth when he had the audacity to complain when our captain hacked down a Stoke player. You can’t have your cake and eat it pal.

    The second Groundhog Day moment was obviously Ramsey’s (assumed) broken leg. All that can be hoped is that the break is a clean one and that the lad recovers. The match went predictably flat for a few minutes after he was loaded into an ambulance. In 2008, Arsenal did rally from Eduardo’s injury to take the lead in the second half at Birmingham, but ultimately the late concession of two points became a turning point in the campaign, and the team never recovered.

    However, on this occasion, Arsenal were able to establish a lead and hang onto it, and this was the second time that they showed immense character. It took real balls for Cesc Fabregas to step up and take such a pressure penalty under the circumstances, but the goal he scored was a moment of affirmation. The Gunners’ winning the game – that was already so vital to the season even before Chelsea’s defeat to Man City, and then losing Aaron Ramsey until at least the following campaign – suddenly developed even bigger significance, real make or break for this season, perhaps even for this generation of players. Time will tell.

    But in a horrible kind of way, they needed something like this to set them up to battle with real purpose in the games ahead. There is talk of an easier run-in on paper, but when every match becomes a must win fixture, it’s all about determination, focus and attitude. The players had to get it from somewhere and the adversity of this victory might be what galvanises them and actually gives them the fighting spirit to go on the necessary run of victories at places like St Andrews and White Hart Lane.

    I like the sentiment of the notion of ‘doing it for Aaron’, but in reality that idea did very little after the Birmingham match in 2008. What is more of a factor is the drawing on reserves of character to overcome injustice, to battle against the odds and triumph in adversity. It’s what makes boys become men, and this misfortune might just provide the spur. The table certainly offers hope, but so does the response of Arsenal to win at the Britannia. It’s backs to the wall and a siege mentality from here on. And in the seasons that this club has triumphed in the league, that is usually the story. This has nothing to do with the beautiful game and everything to do with winning your battles. Aaron Ramsey’s broken leg is a very unfortunate incident, but the response on the pitch might just be a turning point in a very weird football season.

  7. @loverkln – great post. I was at the Britannia Stadium last season and wondered how the hell Shawcross got away with the Adebayor tackle.

    For me these injuries are a direct result of the worst ever refereeing performance by Mike Riley when “kicking Arsenal” became an Olympic sport. The Old Trafford game in October 2004 which ended Reyes career with Arsenal and the thuggery that the Mancs got away with that day was the blueprint for all teams wanting to beat Arsenal. Had Riley reffed the game to the rules, Man U would have finished with eight, possibly seven men and then the FA should have thrown the book at Ferguson and his sycophantic gang. Eduardo’s injury was as a direct result of that day – as was yesterday’s ‘let ‘em know you’re there’ tackle. Stoke has a plaque somewhere in their complex with the words for visiting teams “this is going to hurt”, so when you send out a team to hurt the opposition you are never more than a tackle away from disaster and on Saturday disaster struck again for Arsenal.

    It’s the cowards at the FA who have created the Araldite, Pull-this and McLeish brand of football and they are the real culprits in this recurring horror story. Ramsey’s injury would probably not happened if the politicians in Soho Square had acted in accordance with their own rules and thrown the book at ‘Red Nose’ the morning after United kicked Arsenal to pieces in 2004. I used to believe in ‘rough justice’ but with Shawcross now in the England squad and the Neville Sisters still free at large to kick who ever they like, it seems to have done their careers no harm at all.

  8. It is not just an insult to Wenger’s intelligence but to everyone’s to pretend that Arsenal do not come in for harder treatment than other teams. They are roughed up.

    How can it be denied when Ricardo Fuller, the Stoke City striker, says: “Some people say before the games, ‘We know how to play Arsenal . . . we have to kick them.’ Nobody in the whole country is upset by that.”

    More revealing still is that such a statement should go unremarked. Kick Arsenal? Well of course you do. You aren’t going to beat them with pretty passing.

    Even Manchester United have resorted to such roughhouse tactics against them on occasion, notoriously for the visit of the “Invincibles” in 2004. There is an acceptable limit for intimidation, and United strayed very close to that line.

    This is the background against which he wants Shawcross’s crunching tackle on Ramsey on Saturday to be re-examined; and the widespread view, which I share, that the challenge did not intend to cause such grievous injury does not make the inquiry less valid.

    Wenger’s point is that terrible accidents are more likely to happen if one team are more intent on kicking the other than they are in their other 36 Premier League matches — if one side are furiously revved up to get in the other’s faces and to disrupt them by overtly physical means.

    Does that make Stoke — and Bolton Wanderers, Blackburn Rovers, etc — too hard? Or Arsenal too soft? Wenger may be prone to bouts of self-serving cant, but as Ramsey sits in a hospital bed we owe it to the Welshman to stop and consider the argument.

    After all, no one in Spain kicks Barcelona. Few teams in La Liga can match them for skill and verve, but you don’t hear of opponents concluding that booting them is the only option.

    I checked with a Spanish journalist yesterday who couldn’t recall anyone talking about kicking Barcelona out of a match — although he did remember one attempt at roughhouse tactics.

    When Juande Ramos took a depleted Real Madrid to the Nou Camp in December 2008, he instructed his players to get heavily stuck in. Sergio Ramos dumped Lionel Messi on the floor several times, but Real lost the game and it was seen as a one-off, the tactics of last resort.

    Kicking to stop a team when necessary isn’t the culture in La Liga, but, sometimes, particularly with Arsenal in opposition, it is ours.

    We celebrate the physicality in the game, we breed players who thrive in a tough environment. This is English football, warts and all, and we might make the case that Wenger knows the league, with its expectations of furious physicality. We may conclude that he should buy his own enforcers.

    But we should also acknowledge what Barcelona, what Spain, what the rest of Europe might say if they heard that Pep Guardiola’s team were going to play another club — let’s call them Stoke — and the pre-match talk was full of threats about roughing them up and hitting them with aggression.

    It is a fair guess they would not shrug their shoulders, but be appalled. And they might think it beyond a coincidence if serious injury resulted.

  9. Yes, some may argue that Shawcross didn’t intend it, that he isn’t malicious, that he isn’t that type of player. Well, someone who was speeding down the road and then hit a little boy didn’t intend to do that either but he did hit the boy and is responsible. That’s how I see it. This was no accident. And it’s unacceptable that we’ve suffered such horrific career-threatening injuries: Diaby (1 May 2006), Dudú (23 February 2008) and now Ramsey (27 February 2010). Is it any wonder that Wenger cries foul?

    And we were denied at least three penalties. Bloody referee.

  10. fantastic team effort on saturday,its wot iv been talking about for so long,everyone rowing in for one another,shame that it took such an event to galvenise the team,but it ended up being one of the most memorable performances in recent years….the unity and pride shown was the stuff of champions…….finally!!!!
    it could be a turning point,not just in the season,but the future of this group
    now for my usual gripe!
    andy,i know u like almunia and are always reluctant to critisise individuals but i just cant understand how you can issue praise to some1 for doing the basics of their job right,i mean c’mon releasing the ball quickly is a minimum requirement dude.he didnt make a save and when called upon to collect a cross in the 2nd half at 1-1 with the game in the balance he displayed the type of ‘strong hand’ that a 6 year old girl cud rival,had the referee not bizzarely intervened we cuda been in trouble…..heaping praise on him isnt gonna miraculously make him better im afraid,your only pacifying yourself…..its the same with nic,hes still raw and far from the finished article and so often has failed to deliver yet becos hes scored a tap in and header you now predict a hot streak???to be fair eduardos fa cup header was just as good….dont mean to sound like a stirrer its just i dont think players shud be given false praise just becos some1 likes them or to confirm a prediction,as in ‘bendtners gonna be a 20 goal a season guy one day’…..lets keep it real,while nic maybe one for the future almunia is was and always will be an inadequate keeper at any level.
    check this out, wev got the worst 1st and 2nd goalkeepers in the division,our main striker has been injured most of the season,wev lost fellas like arsha,abou,eduardo,nic,gallas,clichy,etc for weeks at a time thru injury while having passengers like nasri and denilson in the team,wev been mauled by utd and chelsea and surrendered maximum point to both on 2 occasions,wev had our fair share of controversy with edus dive,city away,the fa cup exit and the porto joke,now ramseys injury,aswel as the managers refusal to strengthen in the summer and january when its has been declared funds were readily available……. yet wer still right bang in the middle of a threeway title race.
    id love to think this is because we are as good as our rivals and that wer a great team,but my head tells me its probaly down to the fact that inconsistancy has plagued the two teams above us…..i truly believe that if wed bought another midfielder and top class goalscorer wed be home and hosed right now….seriously id say a good 10 points clear….but heres to the chase!!!!!!
    come on boys

  11. Could not agree more about the celebration after the 3rd goal. It was nice to see so many different players step up and be leaders when the team really needed it. Have to note that clichy seems to be getting his form back and the same can be said for nik. Big sol played great and inspired the lads for sure, so glad to see him back playing well and with so much love and excitement for the arsenal. This game was one of the few times where i can honestly say that i was an emotional wreck at two seperate times during the game. Brilliant performance form the lads. Lets go get this title for young mr. ramsey.

  12. great summary, but it’s really difficult to talk about situations of the match because it’s all overshadowed by this broken leg……….. 😕 so let’s watch the nationals in silence………… 😕

  13. yeah lets hope our boys come back uninjured cross your fingers and toes and anything else you can get crossed.

  14. dont know if any of you guys have ‘the mirror’ if so did you see what scouser shite derek Mcgovern wrote on page 60,damn insulting,having a right go at arsene,then said wasnt even a booking and fab’s penalty was a joke !!!!!!!!

  15. I feel a little cynical for even posing the question but, does anyone think Ramsey’s injury might give Arsenal a little more sway with the officials? Could we possibly have penalties given to us we our players are felled in the box?

    I guess it all depends on how much grief the media give the official that misses the next blatant Arsenal penalty, if any of them will at all.

  16. couldn’t be prouder to be a gunner after that win. The injury… horrible and nothing more to say. that celebration after the 3rd goal…a picture in my mind i will never forget. stick it to ’em all arsenal! let’s do the unthinkable and take the title.

  17. i think all arsenal fans shud search for that derek mcgovern article,read it and then find the idiots email and let him have it,i mean i buy the mirror everyday and hav actually stopped reading the guys column,its just full of uneducated betting ‘tips’ and dumbass side swipes at everyone from alex ferguson to his wife…the guys a clown and most of his articles are designed to get notice purely through provocation,because noone wud read it on its literal merit……oh yeah and the guys a liverpool fan
    read this and see if it doesnt drive you to boiling point….iv tried in vain to track this fellas email address but if anyone else is successful please pass it here

  18. Nice post. After the game I didn’t think I’d be able to watch it again. But I’m glad I did and it was great to see how Vermaelen and Campbell dominated their attackers, and also to see Fabregas and Nasri tackling hard even before Ramsey’s imjury.

    Realistically, I’ll be amazed if the FA or referees start to enforce the rules against dangerous challenges, though it was good to hear a couple of analysts start to condemn that type of tackling even if they stopped short of calling Shawcross a brutal clogger. Looking forward, our “easier schedule” is going to contain more lesser skilled teams desperate to survive the drop. I’d like to see us continue with the 4-3-3 formation with Song and Vermaelen playing alongside Fabregas in midfield. These two could provide the intimidation to stop Fabregras getting kicked so much and carry out any “enforcing” when required. Both are skilled and Vermaelen might even score more in this role. The central defence then becomes a choice between Gallas, Campbell and Silvestre, with Campbell’s age perhaps requiring some rotation for the mid week games.
    I don’t think this is dropping down to the oppositions level, but their clogger cowards might think twice if they see a couple of enforecers in midfield. After all, we have Blackburn away on May 1st.

  19. Good match analysis. The only questionmark I would have over Almunia not being at fault for the Stoke goal. Not directly he wasn’t but I would expect the keeper to be taking the lead in the box and making sure players are where they supposed to be. he allowed Song to go walkabout and for that he needs to take some of the blame. But after that he and the defence looked rock solid which hasn’t happened often this season. Song will be a big miss for the next two games.

    Fully agree with the views on the Ramsay injury. I am sick of hearing how there was no intent. If there was the guy should be locked up. it’s the recklessnees combined with the whole philosophy of having to kick Arse to win so to speak that is the cause. Still it looks like it may galvanise the side and spur them on for the rest of the season. Can’t wait!

  20. lol andy. Favourites? ha. I really like your optimism. And it makes me a bit more hopeful that we can do it. I love Arsenal. When Ramsey’s injury occured i felt like falling to my knees and despair. However. The players pulled through, and instead of falling as i had felt like doing, they pulled together. I watched a classic match, Arsenal vs United a couple of weeks ago. And looked at the players. We had Adams, Vieira, Ljundberg. And they could not be pushed around. Vieira even had his little biff with Keane. And players were not afraid to pull the jeresey, and show the mean streak. I think if we can find that, we will become the dominant team. it is what Arsenal need. It is shown to work. In hockey they have a position called a running goon. Who’s job is to be so mean that when the marquee player is fouled they take revenge in a very sever fashion. I think in a sense this is what Arsenal need. Someone who will muscle up, and is not afraid of anyone. Fabregas has a bit of a mean streak in him. And it makes me respect him more as a player. Not because i like violence, i tend to shy away from it the same as a child fears being fed vegetables. But it is a leadership quality that really pushes players to do the same, knowing that they always have back up.

  21. Looking at the fixtures in March……if we can get past Birmingham(which is the most difficult fixture for us) and with Manu playing Liv, and Chelsea having quite a few away games we might poke our heads ahead of our league competitors. Also MANU play chelsea 1st week of April. So things are looking great for us…….!!!

    April will see us play MANC and Spuds………so before that a cushion wont be bad!!

  22. Good article.Unfortunately I couldn´t see the group-hugging in the end .I saw that Fabregas called verybody but they cut the picture direcly after that here in Sweden.

    I really hope we win the title,but the problem with Arsenal is the complacency in easier games..

  23. get well soon aaron.let your injury inspire the guys to win all the remaining matches.GOD is with you

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