Arsenal show tough side to see off Stoke

Arsenal 1 Stoke 0
As Jon Walters received stitches and new arrival Nacho Monreal stood ready for more, it made for an interesting reversal of perceptions: Stoke City suffering from the physical side of a game against Arsenal.

It wasn’t the only time on a Saturday afternoon that saw a lot more tackles than technique.

What’s more, it perhaps offered proof that Arsene Wenger had finally signed a player who could immediately improve his squad. He certainly thought so — and asked for a bit of praise.

“We are quite lucky to have found Nacho because [Kieran] Gibbs got injured for four to six weeks and we found in 48 hours a player of that calibre... I found at least one. You have to give me credit for that. I know that I don’t get a lot but that is true.”

What is more open to question, though, is whether Wenger will regret not signing any extra options in attack. Although they eventually found a way to beat Stoke, it was only through a deflected Lukas Podolski free-kick rather than any dynamic interchanges. And, as much as Olivier Giroud regularly bothered the likes of Robert Huth with some impressive lay-offs, he still didn’t have enough conviction to properly hurt them. That may well come with time, but it could have been accelerated with a bit of extra help.

Wenger, though, returned to an old argument.

“I said yesterday, give me Manchester United, who did they buy? Chelsea, who did they buy? Liverpool, bought. Man City didn’t buy. Because just for one single reason. The top, top, top clubs, it’s difficult to strengthen your team in the middle of the season.

“I would have loved to take somebody else but... we were everywhere. In the African Cup of Nations, the best player is Gervinho. It’s simple. Why should we go there when the best player is Gervinho? We already have Gervinho.”

At the least, Arsenal also now have something else: more backbone. Wenger felt the Stoke result illustrated his team can no longer be bullied — either physically or, more importantly, mentally.

“We are a bit more mature, but we dealt well with it,” the Arsenal manager maintained. “In England you have to cope with all kinds of football without losing the quality you want to play, and that is not always easy because, if you have 10 [Santi] Cazorlas, you would have a very good technical team, but against Stoke you would struggle.

“I think it is more mental preparation.”

Wenger believes that kind of fortitude is going to be essential in a very open Champions League chase that may now include up to five teams.

“Four certainly, yes. Maybe Liverpool can still have hope. For us, I always said that it’s the first year you cannot predict the results of anybody and that’s why it’s down to consistency.”

And, possibly, conviction. Another stand-out image of the game was Jack Wilshere squaring up to Michael Owen after the forward appeared to lash out at Mikel Arteta for a very Stoke-like challenge. The FA will decide today whether the incident needs to be reviewed.

“If you look at the challenge, I think it is a poor challenge,” Tony Pulis said. “He has reacted because of that. He shouldn’t do that. He’s old enough but he’s desperate to play.”

Arsenal, though, showed they can finally do more than play themselves.

© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved

Email Updates

Receive our lunchtime briefing straight to your inbox

More in this Section

John Caulfield: Sean Maguire key to Cork City’s challenge for 2017

Robbie Fowler: Liverpool will keep Ben Woodburn well grounded

Money not everything to my players, says Arsene Wenger

Man City under fire but defiant Pep Guardiola stands by his men


Breaking Stories

Mercedes consider Fernando Alonso as Nico Rosberg replacement

Joseph O'Brien biding his time with Landofhopeandglory

Here's our pick of the matches from the FA Cup third-round draw

Thomas Bjorn to captain Europe at 2018 Ryder Cup in France

Lifestyle

Children's hospice makes sure families experience a truly precious Christmas

Making Cents: PCPs are the deals for those looking for new wheels

Other Voices has been expanding horizons on the Dingle peninsula

100 years ago Cork knuckled down to the coldest winter in living memory

More From The Irish Examiner