Arsenal: Feeble Surrender At Stoke Could Be The Beginning Of The End For Our Season
However the 1-0 defeat to Stoke means Arsenal's run of games in March is even bigger that it was before. There would have been very little margin for error in the next three leagues, now there is no margin whatsoever. With Liverpool past the Gunners on goal difference and Manchester City hovering with games in hand, the Gunners have to step up in the big games to maintain any hopes of the title after a ten year wait.
It was almost as if Arsenal played against Stoke knowing there were bigger fish to fry. The team didn't look focused, and were nowhere near as sharp and clinical as they were against Sunderland last weekend. Playing at the Britannia appeared to be an inconvenience before knuckling down into the tough run of games, but with points up for grabs, Arsenal should have taken the game seriously. The result was a terrible match. Stoke were painful to watch, but Arsenal just didn't do enough to break them down.
There were some Gooner frustrations at the expected Stoke heavy-handed tactics, with referee Mike Jones failing to punish two stamps on Olivier Giroud, the second of which from Charlie Adam was particularly nasty. The penalty that won the game for Stoke was also incredibly soft as there is no way that Laurent Koscielny intended to handle the ball when he was just a yard away from the attacker when it was kicked at him.
Arsenal should have created enough chances to have made that decision irrelevant though. The lack of urgency was staggering given the need to keep up with other teams. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's introduction did bring some opportunities, and in such a sterile game, his pace should have been injected earlier.
Arsenal's responses to set-backs this season have been good, however they need a drastic one to reply to the latest defeat. Play as they did against Stoke in any of the games in the rest of March and there'll be no trip to Wembley in the FA Cup, no title challenge into April and no chance of a turnaround in Munich.
With a week for that result to horribly stew amongst supporters, Arsenal must get ready for the biggest game of the season against Everton next week in the FA Cup quarter final. It's the best chance of a trophy, and Arsene Wenger shouldn't throw it away with a weak team selection. He has got scope for rotation as Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ozil and Flamini can all come in to freshen the team up and add the urgency that just wasn't there against Stoke.
The next few weeks were always going to be important, however a defeat or a draw here and there might not have been terminal. After the feeble surrender at Stoke though, another defeat will see Arsenal's promising season fall off the edge of a cliff. Rather than being the minor prefix to Arsenal's mad March, the trip to Stoke was the horrifying opening chapter.