By Josh Clarke at the Emirates stadium
Arsene Wenger's post-match assertion that Arsenal are not a one-man team was delivered against the backdrop of yet another match-winning, virtuoso cameo from Robin van Persie.
Of course, such words were tempered by the need to attribute credit to the entire team but on the evidence served up at Stade Velodrome in midweek and backed up yesterday against Stoke, the Dutchman is beginning to acquire a support cast, if not of worthy stature, then at least of one markedly more competent.
For the first time in back-to-back games this season Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny looked more than just ships passing in the night. Stoke were always going to provide an uncomfortable challenge for the Gunners, yet – aside from the free kick that subsequently led to the hosts losing three 50/50s in the box before Peter Crouch toed over the line – it was a test that Mertesacker and Koscielny more than stood up to.
|KOSCIELNY & MERTESACKER'S STATS|
In the middle of the park, Alex Song provided a sturdy platform upon which Aaron Ramsey and Mikel Arteta could go and play. The latter is looking increasingly at home at the Emirates while the former, in a game that will surely bring back some bitter memories for the young Welshman, glistened in a midfield performance brimming with craft. This is a trio which, come the return of Jack Wilshere, can lay claim to being up there with the Premier League’s sleekest.
However, to say that this was an Arsenal performance that symbolised the turning of a corner would be misleading at best. Before Sunday, the Potters had scored just six goals in eight games in the Premier League – hardly a scoring record that would leave defences trembling.
Rather than an out-and-out goal threat, it was always the violently juxtaposing threat that Stoke possess, one which Arsenal traditionally struggle to find answers to, that was going to demand addressing. But the Gunners were not outfought and, by and large, were more than equal to the battle in the air at the back.
Big question marks still remain over Arsenal’s potency without Van Persie. Before the captain was brought into the fray, the lack of incision for the Gunners was worrying. Theo Walcott notably struggled for ideas while Gervinho, who nonetheless finished with a goal and two assists, seemed ill-equipped to breach a resilient Stoke rearguard. The less said about Marouane Chamakh the better.
For Arsenal, this was a game that demonstrated another small step in the increasing stability that has been building since the 4-3 slip-up at Ewood Park. How long the new-found stability of the Koscielny-Mertesacker partnership will stay intact, however, is doubtful after Wenger revealed in the match programme that Thomas Vermaelen is two weeks or so away from a return – not that the return of the Belgian is anything but a massive bonus for the Gunners.
Whether or not people swallow Wenger’s claim that his side are not a one-man outfit remains to be seen, but at least Koscielny and Mertesacker are taking the steps to ensure Van Persie’s strides ahead are not too distant.