Say what you will about this campaign, what with its ups and downs (okay, mostly the latter). We were humbled in the League Cup final, humiliated in the FA Cup’s Third Round, and we never had a hint of a chance at winning the Prem. Yes, we’re still alive in the Europa League and look likely to advance to the semi-final, but even there, we’re not yet favorites. Still, we battered Stoke last weekend, driving one more nail into the coffin that is their campaign. On Sunday, we (eventually) did the same to Southampton. ‘Twixt the two, you might struggle to find two minnows further apart in their footballing philosophies and at the same time so strangely successful against Arsenal. To see one or both sent down would almost be balm enough to the allergies and aggravations of an otherwise fruitless campaign. Throw in the second sacking of Mark Hughes, and, well, there’s enough almost lipstick to put on this pig.
And so it is with Stoke. They’ve long been a nemesis if not a rival ever since the Shawcross Revulsion. Under Pulis, they were the antithesis to Arsène’s Arsenal—physical, primordial, punishing. While it’s true that Pulis has moved on, and Mark Hughes has tried to redefine the club, the reputation (as well as many of the Orcs) remains. Defeating them last weekend moves them one step closer to relegation. Even if that’s something Pulis was infamous for avoiding, we can still relish the idea of relegating not just Stoke itself but Mark Hughes, who has made himself more than a nuisance over the years. Even if he had tried to reinvent Stoke for the better, he’s still the gaffer who’s bested Arsène’s Arsenal more of than he should have. Without delving too far into the details, he’s done quite well for a manager who’s moved around as often as he has.
To see him end up at Southampton, a club that in and of itself has been bit of a bogey in recent years, seemed almost too much to bear, almost an “enemy of my enemy” kind of situation. After all, by contrast with Stoke, Southampton had made a name for itself as a club willing to play aggressive, creative football, rather than hacking and mauling opponents to bits just in case this led to a point or three While it’s true that, under Hughes, Stoke softened ever slightly, it does seem that the opposite seemed to infect Southampton, if only on this past weekend. Yes, our own Jack Wilshere was guilty of accosting Jack Stephens and then putting his face into Mr. Stephens’s forearm, it’s also true that Mohamed Elneny was guilty of being shoved off the ball by not one but two, um Saints. He was also rather rudely run into by a third would-be Saint.
All in all, it was starting to feel more than a bit Orc-ish. Throw in a few rash tackles in stoppage-time, and we’re a broken ankle short of a “classic” Arsenal-Stoke match. To have therefore plucked from our saddles not one but three burrs has to feel pretty good, if only spitefully so. Stoke and Southampton are each one step closer to relegation, and Mr. Hughes, OBE, is also one step closer to a sacking. All in all, that’s a none too bad for one week’s work.
Oh, we also thrashed CSKA Moscow somewhere ‘twixt the two.