Report: Arsenal 4-1 Stoke
2008/09 has now come and gone.
It was put to an end in resounding fashion today courtesy of a virtuoso season sign-off from top scorer Robin van Persie.
The Dutchman had a hand in every single Arsenal as Stoke City studied revenge lesson when they came back to town.
Arsene Wenger’s flirtation with Real Madrid, which followed the rough treatment he received from a section of the Arsenal shareholders, had the desired effect as the sometimes silent Emirates Stadium majority pipped up to leave the manager in no doubt as to their true feelings.
The fans had marched en masse to the ground, singing Wenger’s name and the banners that they stuck up around the upper tier reinforced their message. ‘Thirteen years and still the man’. ‘Arsene; on t’aime toujours’.
It is unusual to see semi-colons on such banners, but these are sanitised times and stage management is a club speciality. The scrawled message of support on a white bed sheet for Emmanuel Adebayor, the injured striker, who might leave in the summer, appeared out of step, almost a throw-back.
The Gunners went ahead in the 10th minute from an own goal by James Beattie.
The Stoke striker was making his 300th career Premier League appearance, but was not celebrating when he turned in Cesc Fabregas’ cross from the right flank past his own goalkeeper.
Stoke’s heads dropped further four minutes later when Robin van Persie converted a penalty with clinical precision after he was brought down by Ryan Shawcross.
Abou Diaby made it 3-0 when he rose highest to head home powerfully from van Persie’s perfectly flighted free-kick.
The Gunners were enjoying themselves and substitute keeper Thomas Sorensen was tested in the 27th minute by a fierce Diaby shot and then got his outstretched boot to the ball to deny Theo Walcott three minutes later.
At the other end, rookie keeper Vito Mannone got his eye in with a fine save from a Beattie free-kick.
There was little he could do however in the 31st minute when he was sent the wrong way from the penalty spot by Ricardo Fuller after he had been brought down by a needless Kolo Toure challenge.
Van Persie came close to an immediate response but his rocket of a free-kick cannoned back of the crossbar and Sorensen was on hand to palm away Andrey Arshavin’s overhead kick form the rebound.
Sorensen denied the Russian again in the 38th minute after he let fly with a shot that the Stoke keeper gathered in mid-air.
Van Persie made it 4-1 four minutes before half time when he fired in an overhead kick when beyond the Stoke rearguard but onside as a consequence of the ball being headed to him by Rory Delap.
The Gunners continued to dominate in the second half and could have gone further ahead just after the hour when van Persie was fed by Fabregas, but Sorensen bravely smothered the ball.
Sorensen was well beaten when Diaby met Emmanuel Eboue’s precise cross from the right but his glanced header bounced inches wide of the right post.
That was the extent of the action as Stoke packed their defence and the Gunners seemed happy to pass the ball around in pretty triangles.