Friday 23 March 2018

Wenger laments loss of spirit as Gunners misfire again

Stoke City 3
Arsenal 1

Tim Rich

When victory was assured, the Britannia stadium launched into a chorus of 'Swing Low, Sweet Chariot'.

They had not forgotten Arsene Wenger's comment that Stoke played like a rugby team and now they were celebrating like one. And, had Robin van Persie not driven home a late goal, Stoke would have won by a rugby score.

Arsenal's victory over Manchester United was, after all, an aberration and the implosion of their season continued apace.

The one shard of optimism was the sight of Thomas Vermaelen on the bench.

Had Wenger had his first-choice centre-half available all season, there might not have been so many regrets now.

The memory of the broken leg inflicted on Aaron Ramsey on his last appearance here added spice and both Jack Wilshere and Jermaine Pennant risked red cards when their tempers spilled out of control.

Apart from the scraps and spats that littered the contest, the only sour note was the sight of Robert Huth hobbling off with a knee injury.

Since their humbling of Bolton that took them to the final, Stoke have lost first Matthew Etherington and now their hulking German centre-half to injury. Both are doubtful for the final but it is a sign that Stoke's commitment is beyond question.

Wenger agreed it was too much for Arsenal. "We lost the game because Stoke defended much better and with more purpose. Other than that, there is not a lot else to say," he said. "That is the Premier League. If you do not turn up everywhere with the same competitive spirit, you will lose games, especially at Stoke.

"Something has gone. You can see that but this is not the time to discuss it; we have to analyse it from a distance."

Close up, the analysis was easy. Arsenal have conceded more goals from set-pieces than any other club and it was a sequence that was extended when Andrei Arshavin witlessly gave away a free-kick that saw Kenwyne Jones run through a thicket of yellow shirts, leave Johan Djourou in his wake, and chest the ball home.

As Wenger remarked with a sigh, Jones didn't even have to jump.

To compound the error, Arsenal allowed Pennant to run nearly 30 yards and, when Djourou did intervene, he succeeded only in deflecting the shot with the toe of his boot to send it looping over Wojciech Szczesny and into the net via the 'keeper's glove.

Wenger made two changes during the interval but it was nine minutes from time when Van Persie broke through.

Even then, it took less than a minute for Irish international Jonathan Walters to seize on a half-clearance from Djourou and re-assert Stoke's stranglehold on the afternoon. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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