Fuller double wrecks Campbell's big comeback
STOKE CITY 3
Fuller 2, 78 Whitehead 86
Wenger shuffles pack but plan misfires badly, Stoke’s spirit and zeal too much for Arsenal
THE FAINT trace of a smile playedacross Arsène Wenger’s face from themoment he walked into the pressroom to dissect the match and his impeccably deadpan line – “I did it” –when asked if he had been trying toavoid a replay with his substitutionsdid not look like the delivery of an individual suffering any sense of loss.
Even Stoke City’s fans could not conjure much interest in an FA Cupfourth-round tie which their sidelooked equal to – the turnout was less than 20,000 – so you could hardly blame Wenger for not being too possessed with it either.
The four prospective top four sides are the next fixtures, starting with Aston Villa on Wednesday, make this Arsenal’s make-or-break period and for a sense of twin perspectives yesterday, compare two players. Stoke’s Ricardo Fuller – who carries a tattoo of a lion – plays like one when the mood takes him while Wenger’s substitute Andrei Arshavin was about to run onto the field with a woolly hat on unti lhis manager whipped it off him. TheoWalcott was one of the players substitutedas Arshavin and two others ranon and though his name was on theteam sheet it was only as he left the field that you remembered he’d actually been on it.
Even though Walcott and CarlosVela both wore yellow boots, it wasn’t so much a spirit of cowardice which saw Arsenal pounded into submission as the far greater spirit and zeal which Pulis has engendered in Stoke. Integral to it was the half dozen or so missiles Rory Delap hurled into the Arsenal area in the first half alone –though why referees allow Stoke the advantage of towelling the ball down is a mystery. Martin Atkinson, yesterday’s official, presided in December when one of the ballboys who carry the towels refused one to Birmingham’s Liam Ridgewell.
Stoke played the physical, pressing game they needed to, though they can play football, too. Matthew Etherington tormented Francis Coquelin,Wenger’s 18-year-old right-back, GlennWhelan and DeanWhitehead tackled and distributed with vim, Fuller showed why his fleeting drifts into form so frustrate Pulis at times and Mamady Sidi be provided the energy, drifting between midfield and the front line.
For his own part, Campbell cuta chunkier figure than thedefenders who lined up alongsidehim and laboured towards the end, but he was the one memorable aspect of Arsenal’s largely dispiriting performance.The trials of that run-out at Morecambe for Notts County, being out jumped at corners by a 33-year-old called Jim Bentley, must have seemed a cake walk compared with the wet, inhospitable Potteries, but he looked a lot more at home. There were his handful of thumping aerial challenges on Sidibe in a first half which left Arsenal looking poleaxed, though Campbell’s gestures as he guided Coquelin, standing to his right, spoke much for why Wenger has decided he is worth a return to the fold and why his return to Arsenal is not about just sentiment.
Wenger did not leap on to the suggestions put to him in the press room that this display reveals Campbell to be a potentially integral part of the campaign to come and, while his aerial ability is intact, faster sides than Stoke could punish his lack of pace.Wenger acknowledged, too that Campbell tired as the game wore on.
Briefly, it looked as if Arsenal’s defence might be overrun in a predictable way, as Stoke took a mere 70seconds to go ahead from the first of Delap’s missiles. Cesc Fabregas was the culprit who lost Fuller, who ducked into the header.
Campbell discerned the weakness which other sides may seek to capitalise on. “With the long throws, as long as you steady yourself and as long as you are covering your mate, it’s OK,”he reflected. “But there were moments when we didn’t and they capitalised.”
Campbell was the principal contributoras Wenger’s side held back the tide and, improbably, equalised courtesy of a rather different throw-in of their own. Armand Traoré threw short to Fabregas whose flick Whitehead handled, delivering the free-kick which the Spaniard squared for Denilson to blast in, courtesy of a Whitehead deflection, three minutes from the break.
It looked as if Arsenal might make it through the second period, despite several flaps by Lukasz Fabianski, and the triple substitution – prompting Craig Eastmond’s move back to the right side of defence with Aaron Ramsey in his place – gave the impression of Wenger’s side moving in for the kill.
But the perfect challenge Mikaël Silvestre needed to make as Delap had chested down a Whitehead ball and ran on to it in the box took him from the field and when he returned Stoke struck twice in the space of eight minutes. First Whitehead sent Sidibe running down Stoke’s right channel, evading Denilson and crossing before Silvestre could arrive to Fuller, who angled a header after the ball had looped over Campbell.
Then Campbell was at fault again, allowing Tuncay to knock him off the ball 20 yards out and then allowing Etherington space to cross low for Whitehead, who tapped home.
Pulis’s hopes of a home tie for Stoke were dashed last night, with Manchester City away next, though he grinned at the suggestion that he has the Indian sign over Arsenal at the Britannia. “I hope so. We’ve got them here in the league next month.”
That date is 27 February. Wenger’s first priority isn’t looking any easier than the competition he was prepared to dispense with.
Stoke City (4-4-1-1): Sorenson; Huth, Shawcross, Higginbotham, Collins; Delap (Diao, 85), Whitehead, Whelan, Etherington (Pugh, 90); Sidibe; Fuller (Tuncay, 85). Substitutes not used: Simonsen (gk), Lawrence, Beattie, Wilkinson.
Arsenal (4-3-3): Fabianski; Coquelin (Ramsey 68) Campbell, Silvestre, Traoré; Eastmond, Denilson, Fabregas; Walcott, (Eduardo, 68), Emmanuel-Thomas (Arshavin 68), Vela. Substitutes not used: Mannone (gk), Rosicky, Bartley, Frimpong.
Referee: M Atkinson (W Yorkshire).
Man of the match: Fuller.