Watching the Stoke City against Arsenal match on Sunday was a role reversal. Stereotypes aside, it was Stoke City who were playing some silky football at times, cutting down the wings and showing incredible skill while Arsenal looked tired, unimaginative and too entirely predictable.
For Stoke City supporters or anyone who has watched this team during the season, this wasn’t much of a surprise. The team has transformed itself this season thanks to the dominance by Jermaine Pennant and Jon Walters down the wings. The two, along with their colleagues, continually defended well in numbers but pushed forward pretty deep on the counter.
The secret to Stoke City’s win Sunday was that they left Arsenal to their own devices when the Gunners had the ball in their own half, spraying it around the pitch and letting Arsenal provide silky passes back and forth between their own players. But the moment Arsenal got the ball into Stoke’s half, Tony Pulis’s side pressured Arsenal on the ball, worked hard to defend as a team and employed man-to-man marking. Stoke then broke forward on the counter or whenever an opportunity presented itself. And it was no surprise when Kenwyne Jones scored Stoke City’s first goal from a corner when he ran towards the near post and scored one of the easiest goals you’ll see all season. It wasn’t a surprise because 56% of the goals scored against Arsenal this season have been from set pieces.
Under Pulis, he wanted his team to play more attractive football this season and they’ve certainly accomplished that. And they’ve done it without spending a lot of money in the transfer window. They picked up the on-again-off-again Jermaine Pennant for €3.2m from Real Zaragoza. And they got John Carew from Aston Villa on loan.
Stoke City’s win Sunday was a perfect tonic to lead them into their next match, the biggest in their club’s history. This Saturday’s FA Cup Final between Stoke and Manchester City may not be the dream final that some people wished for, but it promises to be a competitive match between two teams who are desperate for silverware. That desperation is a good thing since both clubs are not renowned for winning silverware in recent years. And it’ll mean so much to both clubs to lift the trophy at Wembley on Saturday.
Stoke’s defeat of Arsenal gives the neutral fans, such as myself, hope that the match will be a close and entertaining affair. Stoke certainly has the skill and confidence going into this match knowing that they can achieve anything. They outperformed Chelsea at Britannia Stadium and were unlucky to draw. They steamrolled past Arsenal. And this season, they beat Liverpool 2-0. They’re a tough team to beat who are going places under the tutelage of manager Tony Pulis. They’re one step away from greatness. And it wouldn’t surprise me if they will win this Saturday.