The list of narratives that can be used to tell the tale of Arsenal’s 1-0 defeat at Stoke City on Saturday is long. But no story is complete without two things: the goal that was, and the various goals that weren’t.
Jesé Rodriguez, Stoke’s newest signing on loan from PSG, wheeled away less than two minutes into the second half to celebrate the goal that sent Arsenal to its first defeat of the season. But it was Arsene Wenger’s curtailed celebrations, and Alexander Lacazette’s protestations, and howls of displeasure from the away fans that will be the talking points from an intense evening at the bet365 Stadium.
And that’s unfortunate, because Rodriguez’s goal was a wonderful emblem of his skill, and of the dimension he brings to Stoke. The former Real Madrid youngster is only 12 months removed from a 22-million-euro move to Paris, and is a delightful yet inconsistent talent.
The debutant picked up the ball in his own half shortly after halftime, played it wide to Saido Berahino, and continued his run into the box to get on the end of Berahino’s finely weighted pass:
But Arsenal fans will look back to the first half, when Hector Bellerin was tripped by Mame Biram Diouf as he charged toward goal. Diouf tried to pull his right leg back, which is likely what convinced the referee to point to the corner rather than to the spot. Bellerin also had lost control of the ball. But neither overshadows the fact that Diouf was out of control and skidded into Bellerin’s lower body.
There were several other penalty shouts either side of halftime as well:
Handball NO PENALTY???!!!
— IG: @Gooners_Online (@Gooners_Online) August 19, 2017
But it was an offside call on Lacazette that had Arsenal and Wenger fuming. Olivier Giroud, on as a second-half sub, flicked the ball on to his fellow Frenchman, who appeared to be level with Stoke’s Eric Pieters in the box. Lacazette smashed a left-footed shot into the roof of the net, but then turned to see a raised flag from the assistant referee:
By the spirit of the offside rule, it was the wrong call. But by the letter of the law, it actually might have been a correct one. Lacazette’s right foot was slightly ahead of Pieters, and the law states that, if any part of a player’s body that can be used to legally play the ball is more advanced than the last defender, that player is offside.
Nonetheless, Arsenal will come away feeling victimized by the many refereeing decisions that went against it. The Gunners also bossed the ball — 77 percent possession — and had the better opportunities.
But Jack Butland stood large in Stoke’s goal, and the Gunners were caught flat-footed 90 seconds after leaving the halftime dressing room. They were caught by Jesé, Stoke’s new hero. It was he who truly won the day.