Arsenal stumble at Stoke as Jese makes dream Potters debut
STOKE-ON-TRENT, England -- Three thoughts from Stoke City's 1-0 Premier League victory against Arsenal at the bet365 Stadium.
1. Stoke sink Arsenal yet again
Stoke City are never to be taken lightly, and definitely not against the opponent they love beating most of all. For the third time in five seasons, they mugged Arsenal at their home ground.
Jese's 47th-minute winner came after Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka was caught out in possession. Saido Berahino's link-up play was cool and considered before speeding Spaniard Jese boomed down the inside right channel to smash his shot past Petr Cech. "1-0 to the rugby team," sang the mocking Stoke faithful, for whom Jese became an instant hero, having trained just once with his new teammates since joining on loan from Paris Saint-Germain this week.
Arsenal had failed to heed the warnings of a first half in which they dominated possession, yet Stoke still created the better chances. Jese went close after his first real burst of action, and captain Ryan Shawcross should have done better with a free header created by a fine run and cross by Maxim Choupo-Moting.
Arsene Wenger's team had been guilty of that old problem of seeking the perfect goal. Alexandre Lacazette's link-up play, both long and short, will be an asset to Arsenal this season, but too often there was one pass too many by his teammates. Danny Welbeck at the left-hand post and Aaron Ramsey with a header from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's free kick were Arsenal's best first-half chances, and Stoke goalkeeper Jack Butland was able to divert both away from danger.
The Xhaka carelessness that led to Jese's goal was by no means an isolated moment of laxness, especially from the Swiss midfielder himself. It was as if Arsenal, after winning 4-1 here in May, had underestimated a team at whose home they have been tormented so often down the years. And Mark Hughes' team were ready for them.
Just like last week, when he scored the winner in a 4-3 defeat of Leicester, Olivier Giroud was thrown on as a substitute to make it Arsenal three strikers on the pitch. The push for an equaliser became relentless with Stoke only rarely able to get out of their box, let alone into Arsenal's other half.
A Welbeck shot was saved at point-blank range by Butland after chaotic scenes in the Stoke box, and then Lacazette had the ball in the net in the 72nd minute only to be ruled offside. Arsenal's No. 9 looked offside by the smallest of margins, if at all.
After that, an increasingly downcast Arsenal seemed to lose some of their momentum even after Theo Walcott and Alex Iwobi came on for Lacazette and Xhaka.
2. Jese gains sweet revenge
Jese coming up against Sead Kolasinac was a grudge match. It was a 2014 tackle by Kolasinac, playing for Schalke, that ruptured Jese's knee ligaments to halt the momentum of a promising career at Real Madrid.
Hughes initially placed Jese on the opposite flank of attack to Kolasinac's left-sided position, though he would show little fear of his nemesis when blazing past the Bosnia and Herzegovina international to set up Choupo-Moting for a decent headed chance.
Rendered superfluous at PSG by Neymar's arrival, Jese is the latest exotic talent Hughes has tempted to the Potteries. Like Bojan, benched here, Ibrahim Afellay, missing through injury, and Xherdan Shaqiri, who lasted 20 minutes before leaving the field with injury, Jese's career so far is a tale of seemingly limitless talent lapsing into diminishing returns.
None of that quartet could have dreamed of North Staffordshire as a stop on their footballing journey, but the lure of the Premier League is strong, as was the appreciation for the match-winner when he was subbed off the field, exhausted by his efforts. Kolasinac, who could not be blamed for the goal since it happened out of his jurisdiction, was meanwhile served with a revenge of sorts. And when Wenger threw caution to the wind by chucking on Giroud with 24 minutes to play, it was Kolasinac he sacrificed.
3. Ox finds his role at last
There was no sign of Alexis Sanchez, despite his being back in full training this week, but another of Arsenal's sizeable contingent of contract rebels is finally carving out a niche. Oxlade-Chamberlain played well last week in that 4-3 opening victory over Leicester at left wing-back, but the right-hand side looks like his optimum position.
Wenger had swapped over Oxlade-Chamberlain with Hector Bellerin. At times, the Spaniard looked awkward on his unfavoured left side, especially when faced with Mame Diouf's hard running from his own wing-back position.
Oxlade-Chamberlain, by contrast, usually glided through the game, with opposite number Erik Pieters constantly on the back foot. He has always been something of a confidence player, prone to slides in performance levels, though that probably owes much to never having found a regular spot in a particular position. Winger on both sides, central midfielder, even off the striker: Wenger has used him all over the show since his 2011 arrival.
A player of such physical capabilities and skill levels suits the wing-back position. Though Jese's goal came down his side of the pitch, Oxlade-Chamberlain could hardly be blamed, having moved up in expectation of a Xhaka pass that never came. In a Wenger team, the first job is to attack, rather than cover the defence, and he was a regular outlet as his team pushed for an equaliser.
The current fashionability of the 3-4-3/3-5-2 formation has been opportune and will probably be good for his contract negotiations. Should he leave the Emirates, then his next club will have a more than decent and adaptable wing-back on its hands.
John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.