Gunners sign off in style

24 May 2009 03:09
Arsenal put their recent off-field problems behind them as they turned on the style to defeat Stoke 4-1 at Emirates Stadium on the last day of the Premier League season. The Gunners, and specifically manager Arsene Wenger, had been under fire over recent weeks due to a fourth successive campaign without a trophy. But the Frenchman, who received widespread signs of support from home fans, saw his troops produce an eye-catching display to cool rumours of a summer exit to Real Madrid as all the goals came in the first half. A horrible James Beattie own goal gave Arsenal the lead on 10 minutes and Robin van Persie then netted with a penalty six minutes later. Abou Diaby headed in to extend the lead on 18 minutes, but Stoke grabbed a lifeline from the spot shortly after the half-hour mark as Ricardo Fuller converted. However, Tony Pulis' side's hopes were short-lived as Van Persie took advantage of poor defending to score in the 41st minute. Arsenal continued to dominate in the second half, but a fifth goal proved out of reach as they earned comfortable revenge for a shock defeat at Stoke last November. The Gunners, already secure in fourth place following a 21-match unbeaten run, had little other than somewhat wounded pride left to play for after going out of both the FA Cup and UEFA Champions League at the semi-final stage. Strengthen Wenger is now certain to strengthen his squad over the summer as he looks to claw back the 18-point gap on champions Manchester United. Chants of "there is only one Arsene Wenger" rang out around Emirates Stadium before kick off, as the home fans showed their united appreciation for the French coach who has endured one of the most testing of his 12 campaigns at the helm. There was an early opening for Stoke when Rory Delap's long throw into the penalty area was headed wide by Ryan Shawcross. Theo Walcott got away down the right and cut the ball back to Denilson, whose 20-yard shot was well saved by Steve Simonsen. Cesc Fabregas played a quick corner to Van Persie, who slipped the Arsenal captain back in towards the near post. His ball across the face of goal was knocked into the net by Beattie to give Arsenal the lead after 10 minutes. Before Stoke could recover, the conceded a penalty when Shawcross brought down Van Persie. The Dutchman stepped up to score from the spot, his 19th goal of the season. Arsenal were in overdrive - and moved 3-0 ahead after 18 minutes. Van Persie whipped over a deep free-kick from the right, which Diaby dispatched with a bullet header on the penalty spot. Simonsen looked in some discomfort - not just from picking the ball out of the net - and was replaced, holding his lower back as he limped off, after 22 minutes by Thomas Sorensen. JudgementBeattie's long-range free-kick was then well held by 21-year-old rookie Arsenal keeper Vito Mannone, making his first appearance in a league match since a loan spell at Barnsley during early 2006 following injuries to both Manuel Almunia and Lukasz Fabianski. A clever pass from Van Persie at the edge of the area played in Walcott, but the England forward was denied by a fine reaction save from Sorensen's outstretched boot. After 31 minutes, Stoke were awarded a penalty when Denilson tripped Fuller, who sent Premier League debutant Mannone the wrong way to pull a goal back. That, though, only seemed to fire up Arsenal. Van Persie drilled in a 25-yard free-kick, which crashed off the underside of the crossbar and Sorensen clawed away Andrey Arshavin's follow up shot before Kieran Gibbs headed over. A terrible error of judgment from Delap handed Arsenal a fourth when his back header lacked enough power to get through to the keeper. Van Persie gratefully accepted the gift, collecting the ball expertly on his chest before swivelling to fire it past Sorensen after 41 minutes. Following the restart, Mannone had to be quick out of his area to clear a long through ball ahead of Fuller. Defender Kolo Toure had stayed up following a free-kick and, from 12 yards out, sent his header over the bar after meeting Arshavin's cross. Arsenal went close again just past the hour mark following more good work by Arshavin, twisting and turning down the right, before substitute Nicklas Bendtner cut the ball back across goal and Van Persie fired just over as he leant in at the far post. Diaby's downward header flew wide as Arsenal maintained the pressure, but had to be content with just the four.

Source: SKY_Sports