Arsenal's FA Cup Defeat to Stoke: An Omen of Past Failings?

Jack SpillerContributor IJanuary 24, 2010

STOKE ON TRENT, ENGLAND - JANUARY 24:  Cesc Fabregas and Mikael Silvestre of Arsenal look dejected as they get knocked out during the FA Cup sponsored by E.ON Fourth Round match between Stoke City and Arsenal at The Britannia Stadium on January 24, 2010 in Stoke on Trent, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Just as Arsenal prove they're capable of topping the table, they suffer a heavy 3-1 defeat to Stoke in the FA cup. This all seems very familiar and will leave a nagging thought in Gooner's minds: Can Arsenal really challenge for the title?

The last time Arsenal held pole position in January was two years ago. Up till the end of that month, they looked every bit the Champions apparent that season.

On the 11th February 2008 Arsenal beat Blackburn 2-0, taking them five points clear at the top, having lost only one league game so far that season. I missed the game, but remember it well, mainly because during the match my son was born.

Having finally given themselves some breathing space at the top, Arsenal were then dumped out of the FA cup by Manchester United. Following this they went on a run of four draws, capped by defeat to Chelsea. They finished the season in third place, only four points off champions Manchester United.

After Arsenal's FA cup exit at the hands of Stoke, it appears that history might be about to repeat itself. The question is, what caused Arsenal's slump early in 2008 and will that happen again this season.

You might think that having steam rolled they way to the top, playing some fantastic football, complacency had set in. That wasn't really the case.

Arsenal's next league match, that year, was against Birmingham. It began with Eduardo's horrific broken shin and ended with their captain, Gallas, in tears. These were the events that ultimately shaped the second half of the Gunners season.

Learning to deal with this kind of adversity is an important part of maturing as a team. When your back is to the wall, you need to step up and find the extra drive to see you through.

In the home game against Bolton, Arsenal showed that they can do exactly that, by coming back from two goals down to win 4-2. While this season they've been giving everyone a master class is free-scoring football, in recent years they've often choked in those kind of matches.

Arsenal were again to have their winning resolve tested, this time against Stoke.

Despite going a goal down inside 70 seconds at the Britannia, Arsenal made a spirited fight back to level terms by the end of the first half. Unfortunately, in the second half, Arsenal didn't seem to have their hearts in the game, whereas the Stoke players certainly did.

When Wenger made a trio of substitutes, it raised some eyebrows. Arshavin, Eduardo, and Ramsey were obviously brought on to change Arsenals fortunes. Unfortunately this was in the wrong direction for them.

Shortly after they came on, Silvestre was injured but was able to carry on playing. It's a shame Wenger hadn't left himself with another available substitution, because Silvestre was culpable for Stoke's third goal.

Perhaps it's an indication of Wenger's ambitions for the title, that he fielded so many inexperienced players. It's understandable considering the next four teams they are about to face: Aston Villa, Manchester United, Chelsea, and Liverpool.

There is hope that things will be different this time around, though, and Arsenal won't see their title hopes evaporate in the next four games, as they did in '07/'08.

Since his appointment to lead the team, Fabregas has been criticized for not being vocal enough. Against Bolton, he showed that he's matured in the role and roused the team to victory. Fabergas' leadership in the second half against Stoke was a different story though.

As in the '07/'08 season, Arsenal are again without two central strikers. In that previous season their lead scorer, Adebayor, did not step up to the plate. For the next seven league matches, he didn't score a single goal.

The difference this season has been the determination of the midfield to get goals. With 11 league goals, Fabregas is their top scorer and placed seventh in the Premiership leaderboard.

Diaby has been a revelation this season, netting five times so far. He's starting to look like a real box-to-box player, in the mould of Viera. With Nasri and Rosicky starting to find form again, there could be even more goals from midfield.

The imminent return of Walcott and Bendtner will give more variety to the Arsenal at Wengers disposal. Theo's pace has been missed and Nick's stature can prove to be a good foil for the creativity throughout the team.

Lastly, there's Arshavin. When he joined Arsenal in February last year, the Gunners had had an abysmal season thus far. Scoring a goal for every other game he played in, he had Arsenal highest ratio for scoring.

Undoubtedly he made a massive contribution to turning their season around that year. This term he is currently their second highest scorer and will certainly continue to prove to be a key factor in their title bid.

Whether defeat to Stoke is an omen of a repeat of what happened in '07/'08 will, as it did that year, depend on the next four matches.