STOKE (3) vs ARSENAL (1)
ARSENAL manager Arsene Wenger admits his side have lost their edge after Stoke extinguished their faintest of title hopes and opened the door for Manchester City to grab third place.
Goals from Kenwyne Jones, former Gunner Jemaine Pennant and Jonathan Walters heaped misery on the visitors and set themselves up perfectly for Saturday’s FA Cup final.
Robin van Persie pulled one back but could not prevent Arsenal succumbing to their seventh league defeat of the campaign with some shambolic defending and toothless attacking.
“Something has gone [and] you could see that today,” said Wenger. “This team has done well overall this season. This is not the best moment to analyse after a disappointing game.
“The competitive level of Stoke was higher than ours. That’s the Premier League. If you do not turn up with the same competitive spirit in every game you can lose games everywhere.”
Wenger was left despairing as his side shipped more goals from set pieces, calling his defence “naive”.
“We have conceded, I think, 21 from set-pieces and only 17 in open play. Less than anybody else in open play [but] we have been caught on set-pieces,” he added.
“It is the easiest thing to correct in the game but you still must understand the flight of the ball and want to be first to the ball.”
Arsenal started the afternoon aiming to move three points from the summit, but ended the day nine points adrift with City worryingly close – only five points behind but with a game in hand. Stoke took the lead after 28 minutes when Arsenal’s back line failed to clear a free kick and Kenwyne Jones evaded Johan Djourou’s attentions to bundle in the opener.
Pennant doubled Stoke’s lead on 40 minutes, stealing possession, running at Arsenal’s defence and looping a deflected shot beyond Wojciech Szczesny.
Arsenal reduced the arrears on 81 minutes when Van Persie held off two challenges before firing a right foot shot under Begovic from the edge of the area for his eighth successive goal way from home. The fightback was shortlived, however, as within a minute Walters capitalised on a Djourou mistake to fire the Potters up to eighth place.
Stoke manager Tony Pulis hailed his team’s professionalism amid the distraction of a trip to Wembley where they will face Manchester City.
Pulis said: “The biggest compliment I can pay our players is that with a cup final only six days away their attitude and commitment to trying to win a game was 110 per cent and that speaks volumes for them.”