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Arsenal vs Stoke – Pulis will win nothing with a hat like that

There are hats and there are hats and there is the ludicrous stupidity that only Tony Pulis wears. I mean what is the point of that sort of baseball cap thing that he parades around in? It doesn’t look good, it doesn’t keep the head warm, it doesn’t keep the sun out on a winter’s day. It just looks stupid.

And stupid was the Stoke approach, using the beanpole Crouch for no reason that anyone in the stadium could ascertain, and then keeping the rest of the team behind the ball, with everyone rushing forwards hither and yon when one of their number booted the ball up the pitch.

To some degree I suppose one must argue that the tactic worked for a while, and when it didn’t they could commit more and more fouls, but of course once Arsenal had scored Stoke had to change. However then they found it hard to reconsider their role in the game, and thus resorted to manager sanctioned fisticuffs.

The dull nothingness created by Stoke lasted for nearly 80 minutes, but there was always hope for Arsenal as they pressed and pressed, despite the curious and bizarre activities of the referee – a ref incidentally known for his pro-Stoke leanings.

Nacho Monreal played at left-back, Mikel Arteta returned and ultimately Santi Cazorla popped on as a sub. It was the first time in the entire history of Arsenal that the club had more than one Spanish national on the pitch. In fact so rare are people from Spain in the Arsenal ranks, those around me could only think of Cesc and Reyez as previous members of the squad who owned a Spanish passport. Stoke, with typical insensitivity included the alien being Ryan Shawcross in their squad.  He lived up to his reputation with a series of truly awful tackles near the end.

10 or 11 behind the ball is a pain and a half, but with Walcott looking stunning, and improving with every game there was always a chance that as long as Arsenal could keep their players on the pitch rather than in hospital, the game could be won despite the Stoke line up of 4-5-1.

But to be fair Stoke did have one player of merit; a player who understood the rules of the round ball game: Begovic. Perhaps it is no coincidence that he is a goalkeeper versed in the art of wasting time. But with Wilshere and Oxlade-Chamberlain finding the measure of the game he was called on more and more.

Eventually Podolski took his 20 metre free-kick, Cameron got in the way and the ball went in the net. But reading his instructions correctly the linesman, knowing that the deal with this ref was that Stoke should get at least a point, raised a flag. Embarrassed the ref rushed over and pointed out that yes, they were supporting Stoke, but not so much that they would look utterly stupid on Match of the Day, and never get another game. The ref let the goal stand.

Pulis then made his move. Three strikers arrived, the Bean Pole being removed. Violence increased. Shawcross returned to his natural disgraceful game. Owen raised his fists and thumped anyone in an Arsenal shirt who came close. Pulis urged them on, and in the style required of this team they got better and better. Or in football terms worse and worse.

In fact in footballing terms, they didn’t manage a single shot on target despite the Arsenal scoreboard inaccurately claiming they had got two.

Arsenal actually had 23 attempts to Stoke’s 7, and 8 on target to Stokes zero. There were 16 fouls called by the ref – 13 by Stoke. If we include the fouls in total that the ref didn’t call, including the all-out riot as the player’s squared up to each other after Owen lashed out, the foul rate was something like 87, with 81 by Stoke players.

59,872 tickets were sold – the missing numbers being in the area allocated to Stoke fans. They brought a few hundred, but it is hard to understand why.

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