So sweet for Pulis as his artisans put artists to the sword

IF A list of Premier League managers wanting to stick the knife into Arsenal’s title hopes had to form an orderly queue, Tony Pulis would have been all elbows and clambering over his peers to be at the front.

And Wenger will surely now be reflecting on six years of frustration and underachievement as his distant Premier League challenge was read the last rites by his arch-nemesis, in a clash of the aristocrats and the artisans.

After their 1-0 win over Stoke in February Arsenal were only a point behind Manchester United but now their hopes of salvaging something tangible from an excruciating campaign are finally over.

This performance showed exactly why Wenger has fallen short once again, with his defence and goalkeeper looking flimsy under attack from set pieces and he urgently needs to get the cheque book out this summer.

It is not only defenders he needs to scour Europe for on the evidence of this weak, insipid display where the stakes had been so high before kick off.

What a sweet victory it will have been for Pulis, though.

Nobody gets up Pulis’ nose more than Wenger, with his holier-than-thou attitude and refusal to accept the strengths of other teams that don’t rely on 49 pretty passes before they reach an opponent’s penalty area.

Pulis will now head into Stoke’s first FA Cup final in confident mood after his admirable streetfighters extended their proud unbeaten home run in 2011.

The fact that he could lift a trophy this season, while Wenger is coming under incredible pressure after another wasted season, will not have escaped the shrewd Welshman.

Stoke’s abrasive approach has infuriated Wenger in the past, culminating in the much-publicised challenge on Aaron Ramsey from Ryan Shawcross last February that only served to pour kerosene on an already inflamed relationship between the two managers.

And any thoughts Wenger might have had of Stoke minds drifting towards their Wembley date with Manchester City next weekend will have been dismissed by Pulis fielding his strongest starting line-up.

It was a game Arsenal simply had to win. Since that February evening, when Stoke were beaten at the Emirates, Wenger’s season has fallen apart.

Their Carling Cup, Champions League and FA Cup aspirations have also been terminated and Wenger has faced increasing scrutiny over his much maligned transfer policy.

The bad blood was demonstrated by Pulis’ refusal to shake hands with his opponent before the game but there were no real fireworks on the pitch in a dour first half that only caught fire in the final 15 minutes.

Robin van Persie blasted wastefully wide after six minutes, following a clever through ball from Ramsey, but they did not look like a team desperate for three points.

And they fell behind just before the half-hour, with Stoke’s first real meaningful attack. Jermaine Pennant bent in a delicious cross and Kenwyne Jones easily converted his fifth goal in six games from close range as the visiting defence dithered. The Stoke supporters chanted “1-0 to the rugby team”.

The hosts were further ahead five minutes after a goal that even Wenger could have been forced to grudgingly praise.

Pennant picked up a botched Ramsey pass 40 yards from goal and was allowed to run on unopposed before his shot took a substantial deflection off Johan Djourou to loop over Wojciech Szczesny.

Incredibly, Stoke could have increased their lead barely a minute later when Jon Walters struck the crossbar.

The only headache Pulis will have picked up from this game was the loss of defender Robert Huth early in the second period with what appeared a shoulder injury, making him a doubt for Wembley.

Arsenal did battle valiantly to produce a snarl of defiance and Robin van Persie beat Asmir Begovic with a low drive but Walters was given far too much room a minute later to clinch a sweet victory.


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