Stoke frustrated by slow start
Wednesday 23rd February
Stoke succumbed to their 5th away defeat in a row after sleep-walking their way on to the pitch at the Emirates. It only took 8 minutes for the Gunners to take the lead and we were lucky to still be only a goal down before 15 minutes were on the clock. But the Potters did finally wake up and by the end of the game we were desperately unlucky to come away from North London with nothing to show for our endeavours.
Tony Pulis made just two changes from the FA Cup win last weekend, bringing back Asmir Begovic for Thomas Sorensen and Dean Whitehead for the injured Matty Etherington but opting to leave Jon Walters and John Carew up front and Kenwyne Jones on the bench. Arsenal were without van Persie who injured his hamstring last week, but still had a veritable arsenal to call upon with the likes of Walcott and Febregas. Both caused mayhem among the Stoke defence but by the end of the match both would be off the field nursing injuries. But when Febregas departed after just a quarter of an hour and was able to be replaced by someone like Arshavin, the strength in depth of these championship contenders was there for all to see.
Whilst the home side dominated for long periods, we did have chances. John Carew forced a fine save from Szczesny with a fierce volley from the edge of the penalty area. Rory Delap's long throws were thin on the ground but one incoming missile did find Pennant, whose cross was nearly converted by Ryan Shawcross's header - now that would have shut up Ryan's Gooners' 'fan club' who were as vocal as ever in their continuing, idiotic criticism.
With the second half, the Potters' ship was finally steadied but, by then, the damage had been done. Ricardo Fuller came on for Walters but, while the effort and opportunities were there from the Jamaican, nothing seemed to penetrate the home side's defence. Pennant did come very close with one of his trade-mark free-kicks in the dying seconds but it was not to be.
So maybe next year? But Stoke may get the chance to be the Premier League party-poopers on May 7th when the Gunners make their visit to the Brit or there could be (fingers crossed) another opportunity to knock them out of the FA Cup on the hallowed turf of Wembley itself - now wouldn't that be a moment to savour?