Dismal defeat all part of Wenger's masterplan

By Avenell Dave

It's not often you see Arsene Wenger smiling at the end of a game.

But after yesterday's defeat against Stoke, I'm sure I saw him smile when he shook hands with Tony Pulice at the end of the game.

When the side was announced, I initially thought that Wenger had decided to give it a go, by playing Cesc Fabregas who was unquestionably due a rest.

Word came in the commentary that Jack Wilshere had taken ill before the game, prompting a re-think, but so...

Yes, we all want to win the FA Cup.

Yes, the FA Cup comes third in the list of priorities.

Yes, losing still sticks in the throat, especially against a team who, though they deserved it on the day, get right up my nose for their chip-on-the-shoulder northern workers against the southern softies attitude whenever they play us. It's pathetic.

Was it a shock, as many make out? Not massively. When the draw was made, most of us groaned and however much Stoke try to make out they're a poor weak side, they would have fancied it yesterday.

There were some encouraging performances, for sure, and some that cause concern.

Sol Campbell played well for an hour before tiring, looking as assertive and dominant at the back as he did at his peak, and that's reassuring, especially with Mikael Silvestre still looking undeserving of another contract.

In spells, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas also did well and showed real promise and I have high hopes for Craig Eastmond as well.

Can we criticise Francis Coquelin for an abject display at right back? While it could be argued that there is no excuse for poor passing, the lad was playing against a physical team and out of position - making a mockery of Wenger's decision to let Kerrea Gilbert go on loan with Manu Aboue expected top be away at the ACN.

There were others who didn't live up to expectations, most notably Lukasz Fabianski, who dithered and fumbled his way out of contention to take over from Manuel Almunia. It doesn't bode well.

We looked lightweight in attack again, underlining the fact that we could do with another forward - Nick Bendtner is not the messiah who will score 20 goals alone in the next few months, should he stay fit.

I hate losing. It sticks a knife through the heart, especially when it's against sides who revel in playing on rubbish pitches where passing the ball is an optional extra.

And the fact that gobshite Ricardo Fuller scored twice after his mouthnig off about roughing us up doesn't do much for my mood.

But, as long as Cesc has come through the game ok, let's hope this is just a blip and we don't suffer the same slip in league form that has previously affected us after a Cup defeat.

The worst thing about such a defeat is that in all honesty, we well and truly got what we deserved.

But if a few less games allows the players more time to rest and focus on the big two competitions, that can't be a bad thing, as long as we end up winning or at least competing until the final whistle.

Ask yourselves this - would you rather lose to Stoke in the FA Cup and get through relatively unscathed injury-wise or lose to them in the Premier league when we play them later on?

I'd rather not lose at all thank you very much, but let's see this as one less distraction ahead of the main targets.