Monday 23 July 2018

Debutant Jese discards Gunners firing blanks

Stoke City 1 Arsenal 0

Jese Rodriguez scores the match-winner for Stoke against Arsenal Photo: Reuters
Jese Rodriguez scores the match-winner for Stoke against Arsenal Photo: Reuters

Jamie Jackson

An impressive debut goal from Jese Rodríguez, a superb Jack Butland display and an Alexandre Lacazette goal incorrectly ruled out for offside gave Stoke City a deserved win on an evening when Arsenal suggested they are destined for another frustrating league campaign.

Arsène Wenger's side ended up bombarding Butland's goal yet lacked a ruthless edge. The sight of record £52m signing Lacazette, anonymous apart from the turn and finish with 18 minutes to go that was erroneously disallowed by a linesman's flag, being taken off near the close summed their bluntness up.

Stoke's Xherdan Shaqiri is challenged by Nahco Monreal Photo: Getty
Stoke's Xherdan Shaqiri is challenged by Nahco Monreal Photo: Getty

This was Stoke's first home outing of the campaign and so an inaugural performance at an enhanced Bet365 Stadium that boasts a new south-east quadrant, raising capacity to just over 30,000.

Amid a raucous, vibrant atmosphere, the contest began in invigorating, end-to-end style that went on until the break. Darren Fletcher sparked proceedings with a run and pass to Rodríguez, whose shot was smothered by Petr Cech.

Mark Hughes had made two changes from their defeat to Everton, bringing in new signings Rodríguez and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting for Saido Berahino and Bojan Krkic. The manager's strategy lasted only 25 minutes, though. Xherdan Shaqiri took a knock and so Berahino came on to replace him in a re-jig that featured Choupo-Moting moving to the right. For the visitors, Wenger decided on two changes too as Aaron Ramsey replaced Mohamed Elneny and Shkodran Mustafi came in for Rob Holding.

In addition to the well-documented broken leg Ramsey suffered from a Ryan Shawcross challenge here in February 2010, Rodríguez also faced someone he had history with in Sead Kolasinac, Arsenal's free summer transfer from Schalke. The Spaniard, who arrived at Stoke on loan from Paris Saint-Germain earlier in the week, had his career at Real Madrid halted by a Kolasinac tackle that caused an anterior cruciate tear in a Champions League encounter in March 2014.

Arsene Wenger looks on Photo: Getty
Arsene Wenger looks on Photo: Getty

Rodríguez had been among Stoke's brightest players as the match approached half-time. He will have been disappointed with one weak effort at Cech but a willingness to take on and beat Arsenal players posed the visitors an awkward question.

Two minutes into the second half and Stoke fans regaled Arsenal with taunts of "Who are you?" after Rodríguez's goal which derived from a slick but simple move. Collecting the ball in an advanced area, he swapped passes with Berahino, slipped behind the Arsenal defence, then pulled the trigger to beat Cech.

Cue a jubilant Hughes, while Wenger was left to rue the slipshod defending. Stoke's menace was further illustrated when an attack had Cech beating away a Berahino header. Now, Wenger acted, bringing on Olivier Giroud for Kolasinic on 66 minutes. It reaped a near-instant dividend as his one-two with Danny Welbeck called on Butland to be brave.

From this a corner was claimed but Arsenal failed to profit. Next Ramsey, broke into the Stoke area though the Welshman's run yielded nothing.

So, with Lacazette's strike chalked off, Arsenal drew a blank. And, despite there being 36 matches left, Wenger's challenge of ensuring they are genuine contenders looks difficult already.

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