By Randy Osae
We might have seen it coming but Arsenal lost more than just three points at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday afternoon. Injuries to Adebayor and Walcott, sandwiched by Van Persie’s sending off hampered the Gunners’ gradually denting Premier League aspirations.
On arguably the most woeful afternoon any Arsenal fan has witnessed this campaign, the solitary positive was Gael Clichy’s first ever goal for the club, which came too little too late in an already lost match.
Arsene Wenger made four changes to the side that gifted Tottenham a point in midweek, bringing in Kolo Toure for the injured William Gallas while Alex Song, Abou Diaby and Nicklas Bendtner replaced Theo Walcott, Samir Nasri and Robin van Persie.
Arsenal had been warned on training ground, at press-conference and generally in the build-up to this trip that Stoke’s main threat was a long thrower in the form of Rory Delap.
But as if there had not been enough caution, it took just eleven minutes for the Gunners to suffer at the heavy hands of Delap. He launched a deep throw-in reminiscent of a set piece into the box and Toure allowed Ricardo Fuller to head past an unchallenging Almunia.
That was the sixth time Stoke City had done that this season and soon after, Gael Clichy heroically guarded another effort from the home side off the line when Almunia was again helpless.
In a game very similar to the defeat at Middlesbrough last year and games at Fulham and Sunderland recently, Arsenal met a physical brick wall every time they attempted to respond with attack.
The early moments of the second-half saw quite a different attitude from the Gunners. They forced Stoke’s back line as much they could but that unique source for an equalizer never arrived. Out of anxiety, Wenger then pulled his strings by replacing Bacary Sagna with Walcott in a bid to force another result from scratch.
Even so, Stoke were poised for their three points and could have sealed it had Almunia not tipped off Salif Diao’s low drive from the edge of the box. Arsenal’s dullness never ended and that intrigued Wenger to gamble some more. Van Persie was then brought on to replace Denilson.
But the game was in tatters for the north Londoners when Olofinjana somehow managed to chest Delap’s latest throw-in beyond Almunia to mold Arsenal’s hill to climb into a mountain. Subsequently, Carlos Vela replaced a stricken Emmanuel Adebayor – perhaps the last throw of the dice – with 15 minutes to go.
As if there had not been enough trouble for the visitors, Robin van Persie then worsened matters. The Dutchman was sent off for absurdly shoving down Sorensen after Stoke’s stopper grabbed the ball to stop an Arsenal attempt.
Defeat was granted now but so were more woes as Theo Walcott was soon stretched off with a horrible fracture to the shoulder.
Then came some consolation at last.
Deep into injury time, Gael Clichy struck home a laid-off free kick. Despite the ball taking a few deflections on its way, Premier League statisticians approved Clichy’s first goal in professional football.
For some spell in a lengthy injury time, Arsenal looked almost certain for a fortuitous equalizer, but then on, the home side had worked harder for the points and they deprived Wenger’s men all of it as the Gunners lost for the third time this season – as many as theydid last term.