11 January 2015

Middle Earth 3-0 Mordor: setting things right again...

By rights, it should have been 3-0 inside of five minutes. But for a pair of high-class saves from Begovic inside of five minutes, Stoke would have been on the wrong side of a 2-0 scoreline. As it stands, Begovic was the only one standing between Arsenal and a proper mauling, and one well-deserved. Normally, I try to stay above the tribal fray, but I have to admit that Arnautovic's shove on Debuchy—which occured well-after the ball was out of bounds and Arnautovic himself had both feet beyond the byline. Debuchy comes away with a dislocated shoulder, and Stoke emerge with intent announced: win or lose, we are here to injure. With that in mind, a 3-0 scoreline is all the more satisfying.

Perhaps more than Tottenham or Chelsea, Liverpool or Man U, this fixture grips me more than any other. I've tried to see it from Stoke's point of view, and I've suggested that Shawcross was guilty of nothing more than bad timing, but I just can't ignore the body of evidence that this squad has turned in. At times, it starts to feel as if this squad will literally turn in a body as evidence, shrugging their shoulders nonchalantly as if to say, "what? It's a body. Deal with it."

It's not revenge but justice then to see us win as we did. First goal, scored from a set-piece, on a header. Koscielny scooped up a failed clearance, tapped it out to Alexis, and curled in to the box to nod it home. Ace. Shortly after that, of course, came Arnautovic's shove. We'll shrug it off, but Debuchy will be sidelined. Something in me wishes that the transgressor should sit out just as long as the victim, but that would open up the door on all sorts of hijinks. Pity. Referee Jonathan Moss certainly didn't see the shove or he would have seen fit to address it; I'll have slept soundly knowing that his match-report will not mention the event, freeing the FA to sanction Arnautovic after the fact. While I sleep, I may dream of pigs that can fly. Don't wait up.

Fine. So one goal would not be enough, not when Stoke seemed hell-bent on punishing us. So be it. Enter Alexis. Not content to have assisted Koscielny's goal (giving him 16 goals and 10 assists across all competitions), Alexis won the ball, dodged a reckless N'Zonzi tackle, ran onto to Cazorla's pass, and outdanced Shawcross in order to go near-post to beat Begovic. Vintage Arsenal. Stoke had tried to bully and wrestle us off the ball but failed—and would continue to do so until late in the second half when Moss finally remembered that he had some conveniently-colored cards in his pocket—and it was therefore all the more delicious to see that our second goal came on such a technical display. A 17th goal for #17 while beating #17. I do like prime numbers.

Still, I can't help but feel for Begovic. He turned in a number of nifty saves to keep the final score far-closer than the run of play suggested, but he was victimized on Alexis's free-kick, which squirted through the wall and hit the post, only for Begovic himself to nudge it across the line as he tried to save.

That's about all there was in it, aside from a Peter Crouch, uh, "breakaway" that seemed to take roughly 11 minutes to unfold. Walcott took a moment to remind us that (a), he's back, and (b) he's been out of action for most of the last 12 months.

Still, there's enough in it to see us climb to fifth, just a point behind Man U and three behind Southampton. Currently if not comfortably in the rearview would be Tottenham, West Ham, and Liverpool. Whichever way you slice it, it's three points gained. Justice done.