Belfast Telegraph

Stoke City boss Mark Hughes: Arsenal were there for the taking

Stoke City 3-2 Arsenal

By Miguel Delaney

Mark Hughes said he fancied Stoke City's chances of victory against Arsenal the second he saw the opposition defence, again raising questions about Arsène Wenger's recruitment policy.

The Arsenal manager himself used the word "soft" to describe his back line after Saturday's 3-2 defeat at the Britannia. And when Hughes was asked whether a defence featuring so many young players increased his optimism, he replied "yes".

"We expected (Laurent) Koscielny to play, to be perfectly honest, so that was a surprise for us (when he did not)," the Stoke manager said. "When you've had changes in the back four, as we've had to deal within recent weeks too, it can upset the balance of your team."

That was instantly illustrated as Peter Crouch scored after 18 seconds, and Stoke were 3-0 up by half-time. Wenger admitted Arsenal's defence may have been "a bit young", with two 19-year-olds in Hector Bellerin at right-back and Calum Chambers at centre-half. The latter was sent off for a second booking and, although Wenger described that as a "killer" and railed against the decision, he acknowledged Chambers may have to work on his positioning. "Maybe, yes, he's 19 years old. He has to learn. We were a bit young today at the back, and defending is a job for all of the people," Wenger said.

At the same time, Wenger was not overly critical, and appeared oddly content to get out of Stoke with a defeat that was not as bad as it might have been. He did say Arsenal's second-half comeback to bring the score to 3-2 made it "unbelievable (we) didn't get anything out of this game just because we didn't start well".

The comment itself is almost unbelievable, given Arsenal's recent history of poor starts. Rather than just happening at Chelsea and Manchester City, it is now happening at Stoke.

Wenger put this latest instance down to the fact Hughes' side raise their game for Arsenal.

"They played a game where we had problems to cope," he said. "I watched them many times on television. They are especially motivated against us. You do not see them as much up for it (in other games as) against us."

Hughes denied that, but it was a feeling later confirmed by Jon Walters and Crouch.

"There's a bit of history, words have been exchanged," Crouch said. "Things have happened in the past, there is a little bit there."

The resurgent Bojan Krkic was also great to watch for Stoke, and both Geoff Cameron and Crouch jokingly compared him to Lionel Messi.

"He was built up, a young kid playing for Barcelona, it's always going to be difficult to live up to Messi's standards," Crouch said.

As regards to another former Barça player, Wenger confirmed Alexis Sanchez would be rested for tomorrow's Champions League trip to Galatasaray and not travel.

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