A brace by Fuller and Whitehead’s late strike condemned Arsenal to a humble exit out of the FA Cup on Sunday.
Stoke had done all the talking of a giant-killer prior to this tie.
Tony Pulis had called on his fans to get behind the team for a place in the fifth round of the cup while Ricardo Fuller declared his side were out to gun down Arsenal.
In truth, they lived up to their word.
Within 70 seconds after kick-off, Arsenal were picking the ball out of the net. Rory Delap’s very first long throw-in caused Fabianski and his defense a blood rush as Fuller headed home.
The fashion through which that goal came was a summary of how Arsenal showed up at the Britannia Stadium. The Gunners appeared flat and sluggish from defense to attack and every occasion where Delap delivered a throw-in was a heart-in-mouth moment.
Still, this Arsenal side, whether reshuffled with the likes of Fabinaski, Silvestre, Campbell, Coquelin, Eastmond and Emmanuel-Thomas or not, always had some character in their genes.
So it was encouraging and of little surprise when out of nothing, Arsenal were level two minutes before half-time.
Spurring the equalizer were two of their more accustomed faces in Fabregas and Denilson. The skipper laid off a free-kick to the Brazilian who fired one of his long-range stunners. This latest edition of Denilson’s thunderbolts was not the prettiest though, but his fizzling low shot somehow found its way through a crowded area and past an inattentive goalkeeper.
Like against Bolton in the midweek comeback, momentum was on Arsenal’s side heading into the break. They utilized it well in the second-half but Stoke were able to repel whatever resurgence Arsenal had in them which, in fact, was very little.
The closest Wenger’s men came to fully turning the tie on its head was a dangerous 25-yard drive from Fabregas which was parried over by Sorensen.
The manager sensed all his side needed was some direct and recognized threat now so the ‘still learning’ likes of Emmanuel-Thomas and Theo Walcott were sacrificed for Arshavin and Edaurdo while Wenger stiffened the muscle at right back with Ramsey making a surprise return from injury – after previously been ruled for three weeks – to replace Coquelin.
That triple substitution stated Arsenal’s intent of a match winner very clear but the hosts had their own agenda. That would be an FA Cup upset, and when Sidibe charged onto the right flank and slid in a cross, Arsenal were alerted.
Campbell and Coquelin were unable to deal with it, and Fuller guided home his second. The visitors were desperate again but with time running down on the clock, their fight back was put to a stop as Whitehead capitalized on another teasing cross.
Arsenal were finsihed in the FA Cup for this season.