Jonathan Walters poured the icing on the cake for Stoke in gameweek 28 of the Premier League in a heroic win with Stoke City written all over it, despite it was a sunny Saturday and not a wet and windy Wednesday night. Arsenal and their fans tended to blame the referee Mike Jones, who in fairness didn't enjoy his best performance, but did they really have a sufficient reason to blame others than themselves for the outcome in the end?
Personally I think they didn't. How much did their attack put Stoke under pressure? Did they suffer framework misfortune with every effort hitting the posts? Did Asmir Begovic put in a tremendous shift between the sticks that will be remembered for years to come? Obviously for anyone watching the game, the answer on the former question is not much at all and for the latter two a straight no. At the end of the day, Arsene Wenger's side put the spanner in their own works as the Frenchman was outfoxed by Stoke boss Mark Hughes in the dugout.
The picture above is a slice of Arsenal's tactics for the vast majority of the game. It differed slightly when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was substituted on in the 74th minute, but immediately after he entered the action, Walters converted the biggest chance of the game from 12 yards. Arsenal only saw the time running steadily out from that point on.
With Giroud, who does offer tons of physical presence and basically no pace, up-front, the guests in the unfriendly conditions at Britannia decided to play Podolski and Cazorla to offer him support and Arteta, Wilshere and Rosicky in the middle. The outcome of the blatant lack of pace, exemplified in the long-term-injured Theo Walcott, lead to a congested midfield and Stoke defenders who didn't need to mind their back at all. Absolutely no players at all were offering some menace to the space behind the Potters' back four.
Arsenal's best chance of the first half was a result of Lukas Podolski on a rare occasion moving slightly higher up the pitch than displayed in the picture as he attempted a run in behind behind the hosts' defence. Unfortunately he was unable to make a proper connection with the ball, and the effort went into the side-netting, but for me there is no doubt that this should've been Wenger's recipe of the night. Not crossing it towards the unsupported Giroud facing Wilson and Shawcross aerially, alternated by passing it back and fourth meaninglessly in the middle.
Unsurprisingly, Stoke's confidence rose propotionally with and Arsenal's lack of belief in what they were doing and in the end a pint of Koscielny with Mark Jones flavour edged it in City's favour.
If Arsenal had a winger or striker to exploit the Potter's lack of pace by running in behind them, getting supply by the likes of Arteta and Cazorla (and particularly Özil, when he came on), they would've forced Mark Hughes' side on the back foot, rather than the front one. After all, the average Stoke player is a professional footballer because he can head a ball, so he'll do that all day long if he can. Appoint a winger and/or a striker armed with quick feet in front of a passing surgeon outfit with the likes of Özil, and Stoke will struggle any day of the week. This is what Arsenal failed to do and exactly why they need pacy front men to unlock defences like Stoke's.