Arsenal thrown out of kilter by Delap's devilish deliveries
Stoke City 2 Arsenal 1
Arsenal's week went from bad to worse over the weekend when they meekly succumbed to Stoke City, blowing a substantial hole in their championship aspirations.
By comparison to this, the late collapse against Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday was a night gilded with glory.
Fresh from turning a win into a draw against Spurs by conceding late goals in midweek, Arsenal failed to heed manager Arsène Wenger's urgings that they learn from their mistakes.
Yesterday they made plenty without a hint of an educative process. Add a red card for Robin van Persie and a shoulder injury for Theo Walcott and it was a miserable afternoon for the Gunners. What will have made it even more galling for Wenger is that both home goals, scored by Ricardo Fuller and Seyi Olofinjana, came from a wholly predictable source, the physics-defying long throw-ins by Rory Delap. If they had fizzing fuses attached to them Arsenal could not have reacted any worse. There was bewilderment at every missile.
Wenger, who conceded that Stoke deserved to win, said: "They looked very sharp physically, and we looked a bit jaded." Had there been a plan to deal with Delap's throws? "Of course," Wenger replied. "These kind ofballs land in the box with 20 people in there and it's difficult. It's not our greatest strength."
Stoke's manager, Tony Pulis, said the secret was the trajectory of Delap's throws. "They are so flat, they are not lofted in the air at all, and it's very difficult for defenders to pick up the flight of the ball. The media have helped too with the publicity over the long throw. Teams are worried to death before Rory even throws them in."
Certainly Arsenal had perpetually concerned expressions whenever Delap had the ball in his hands. Stoke promised a physical game (when do they ever differ?), packing their side with six-footers, and the route to their 11th-minute goal could have been drawn as soon as the teamsheet was pinned to the dressing-room board.
Delap hurled in a throw-in from 35 yards with the accuracy of a computer- guided howitzer shell. Fuller won his bout of sumo wrestling with Kolo Touré and guided the ball into the corner of the net with his head. Touré put his hand up in hope of help from the referee or linesman, but he might as well have been waving to the crowd for all the attention he received.
Stoke almost doubled their score nine minutes later when Manuel Almunia's punch from a cross lacked conviction. Delap headed over the prone Arsenal goalkeeper from 12 yards but the visitors were rescued by Gaël Clichy heading off the line.
Arsenal improved marginally but looked like an accident waiting to happen every time the ball was launched into their box, and they succumbed again after 73 minutes. This time Ryan Shawcross flicked on Delap's throw and Olofinjana bundled the ball over the line with his chest.
Could it get worse for Wenger's team? Van Persie ensured it would 14 minutes from time when he first lunged at Thomas Sorensen and then followed through with a barge that flattened the Stoke goalkeeper. Wenger said he did not deserve a sending-off, but even the Arsenal manager conceded: "He should not have done it, but I don't think it was a red card."
To compound Wenger's problems, Walcott then was carried off on a stretcher clutching his arm and Emmanuel Adebayor and Bacary Sagna had to leave the field with leg wounds. "We have very bad injuries," the manager said. "When you are less sharp, you are less agile and less quick out of tackles." Would any of the injuries be long-term? "We don't know," he replied.
The only bright spot on a night of gloom for Wenger was that Clichy scored for Arsenal deep into stoppage time with a 30-yard shot that deflectedoff two Stoke players. It was thescantest of consolations.