Thursday, 24 February 2011

Arsenal win but lose on the same night with Walcott and Fabregas injuries

Morning Gooners,

I don't know about you but I'm feeling a huge mixture of different emotions following last night's victory. My first instinct is to feel down - Cesc Fabregas and Theo Walcott injured and probably both will miss Sunday's final - but on the other hand proud that the players came through a tough test to win under difficult circumstances.

I'm also ecstatic we're now just a point behind Manchester United, albeit they have a game in hand and will play twice before we are next involved in a league fixture.

That is the one positive from last night. We carried out a thoroughly professional job on Stoke City and made sure we took all three points.

The game started brightly. Theo Walcott smashing a shot past Begovic but his effort inside 70 seconds hit the post and came straight back at the keeper who gathered comfortably.

Another chance fell to the Englishman just a couple of minutes later, but off balance he volleyed wide. 

It was a positive start from the home team, who seemed to find their passing and rhythm from the get-go.

Another chance fell to Walcott but his shot was weak and went straight into the arms of Begovic.

Stoke weren't the threat in the opening exchanges we might have expected them to be. But took an age when the ball went out for a throw in anywhere pass the half way line. Delap would position himself, then there was the ball rubbing and then finally it was launched like a missile into our area.

To be honest I was surprised the referee Peter Walton allowed them to take so long with each throw.

With eight minutes of the game gone, Arsenal won a corner. Wilshere fired the ball in and it found Nicklas Bendtner at the far post.

The big Dane passed the ball back across goal and Sebastien Squillaci was there to head home. I thought it was an excellent finish from the Frenchman.

Arsenal suffered their first injury blow of the night after 14 minutes of the tie. Cesc Fabregas came over to the touchline to speak with Colin Lewin and Arsene Wenger. There was nothing to suggest the Spaniard had been involved in a bad challenge and after their brief conversation Andrey Arshavin was prepared to come on.

The captain headed straight down the tunnel, looking very annoyed and disappointed.

With Fabregas off, Nasri switched into the middle and Arshavin into his normal position on the left of the attacking three.

However the change seemed to knock the team. We just weren't able to find the same rhythm we'd had minutes earlier and the half was played out pretty much without much incident. 

Arsenal had plenty of the ball but seemed not bothered to do anything with it. The only thing of note was a John Carew shot from outside the box which forced Wojciech Szczesny to make a good save. It was probably the first effort the visitors had had on target and it was good to see our keeper was still alert despite not having had much to do.

Stoke looked a poor side. Everything revolved around set pieces or long throws. If neither of those two were coming off, they were launching the ball long and trying to win a free kick high up the pitch. They offered nothing if neither of their tactics came off.

At the break it was 1-0 and the Gunners needed to employ the same professional attitude for the remainder of the match.

Stoke had an excellent opportunity to draw level shortly after the restart. A short Delap throw to Pennant saw the former Arsenal player whip the ball in to find Ryan Shawcross at the near post. His bullet header was deflected wide for a corner.

Arsenal didn't seem to be creating chances and it was Stoke who had another opportunity to draw level when Huth headed over the bar. From where I was sitting it looked like the ball had dipped over Szczesny and in. Luckily it hadn't and we survived the scare.

We then took a chance to race forward. Arshavin running down the left with little or no support. The Russian arrived at the byline just as Shawcross threw himself at the Arsenal player. He had no control of his body was his slid into Arshavin. It was a seriously dangerous "tackle" but luckily the Russian had the trickery to maneuver his way out of the situation to pull the ball  back into the box to find Walcott. However the Englishman's shot went wide of the far post when he should have added Arsenal's second.

Moments later Walcott recieved the ball in a central position and ran towards the Stoke goal. He was able to get past a couple of players but then Dean Whitehead took him down on the edge of the box.

The Stoke player then stood on Walcott ankle as he went down with Walcott. Why the referee didn't award a free kick I'll never know. 

Gael Clichy put the ball out of play so that Walcott could receive treatment but it was the last bit of action the Englishman would be involved in. He was asked to run the injury off but when he was pulled to his feet couldn't walk and had to sit back down again before being stretchered off, with Denilson his replacement.

With ten minutes to go, Marouane Chamakh came on for Nicklas Bendtner. The Dane having headed over another Arsenal chance in the minutes preceding his withdrawal.

There was a minor scare when Stoke were awarded a free kick just outside the box. Pennant saw his shot ruffle the side netting.

Arsenal played out the game in a professional manner. Five minutes of injury time saw Nasri and Arshavin exchange passes inside the Stoke area high up by the penalty box on the left.

It was good to see the players trying to see out the game by holding on to possession rather than going for another goal.

The full time whistle came and for the second midweek game in a row, many Gooners stayed right to the end to applaud the players off the pitch.

A word on a couple of the players. I though Jack Wilshere was again outstanding last night and for all the criticism he gets, Sebastien Squillaci played well also. That's six times he's played alongside Djourou in the league and we've won each time.

Afterwards, Arsene Wenger said:
"We did the job in a very professional way. We faced a Stoke team that defended very well, very compact, but we were intelligent, calm, patient and overall I believe that we were resilient as well when Stoke had their strong moments because we didn't give in when they did what they do very well."
As for the injuries to Walcott and Fabregas, the manager said the Englishman is definitely out of the Carling Cup final, whilst Cesc will have a scan on his hamstring today. I'm told it could be three weeks out, but that's just an early opinion of the medical staff.

They are unsure how long Theo will be out for. He left the stadium on crutches and in a protective boot. Lets hope the swelling on his ankle goes down and his absence is not too long.

Overall, three points were there for the taking and although very disappointing that two players picked up injuries, we have enough to go on and win on Sunday without them.

Elsewhere, there is talk from Eden Hazzard about a possible move in the summer. He indicates he'd rather move to Spain in The Sun but L'Equipe say the player could instead extend his contract to stay with Lille. While the Daily Mail link us to Lorient striker Kevin Gameiro.

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