December 9 2013 Latest news:
Paul Chronnell at Emirates Stadium
Saturday, February 2, 2013
Premier League: Arsenal 1 Stoke City 0
Arsenal have been the great entertainers of late, but sometimes you are better off settling for tradition, and the old 1-0 to the Arsenal scoreline was a welcome one after a real battle to break down Stoke City.
Tony Pulis’s dour, resilient side had arrived at the Emirates with five goalless draws in the league to their name already this season, and for the best part of 80 minutes a sixth looked very much on the cards.
But Lukas Podolski’s deflected free-kick finally broke their resistance, and it was perhaps the only way Arsenal were going to find a way past heroic Stoke keeper Asmir Begovic.
Up until that point the Bosnian had repelled everything Arsenal had sent at him, and the prospect of a second home draw of the week and more dropped points became very real for Arsene Wenger.
But now the Gunners boss can look at the league table with a little more satisfaction, as they closed the gap on Everton and fourth-placed Spurs, who play at West Brom on Sunday, to just a single point.
While Wenger had decided to complete Nacho Monreal’s whirlwind week by giving the deadline-day arrival his full debut, he rather surprisingly opted to leave Santi Cazorla out of his midfield as Abou Diaby and Mikel Arteta both returned from injury.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was also preferred to Podolski out on the left flank as Wenger rotated for the final leg of what has been an arduous run of eight games in 27 days.
Given the way Arsenal had attacked Liverpool here four days earlier Stoke arrived expecting to be severely tested at the back and that soon proved to be the case.
Fortunately for the visitors the speculation surrounding their Bosnian goalkeeper Begovic led to nothing on deadline day, and he was in inspired form in the first half.
Arsenal had flattered to deceive before going close from a number of set pieces, firstly when Oxlade-Chamberlain was afforded time and space to control a Jack Wilshere corner before seeing his close-range shot superbly blocked by Stoke’s No1.
Minutes later Begovic denied Laurent Koscielny with an equally impressive save, showing exactly why he is being linked with a big-money move to Manchester United in the summer.
When Oxlade-Chamberlain was denied again by Begovic on 41 minutes after being released on the left by Wilshere’s fine pass, Arsenal fans began to fear it may be one of those days.
It was goalless at the break but given the Gunners have gone behind in the first half in their last five Premier League games, Wenger may not have minded that. With players like Cazorla and Podolski on the bench, the Gunners boss had kept plenty in reserve.
The second started in much the same vein, with Robert Huth called upon to make a valiant intercepting header to prevent Monreal’s cross from reaching the head of Olivier Giroud.
Giroud blasted over after some neat interplay with Wilshere and the frustration grew at the Emirates as the game crept past the hour mark.
There were only a little over 20 minutes remaining when Wenger decided he had seen enough, and summoned Podolski and Cazorla from the bench to replace Oxlade-Chamberlain and Abou Diaby.
Cazorla was immediately in the thick of the action, but failed to release the ball quickly enough on a counter-attack chance even if referee Chris Foy did incorrectly judge him to have been fouled by Glenn Whelan, booking the Stoke midfielder to compound his error.
But the Gunners faithful did not have to wait long for the breakthrough, even if it was fortuitous when it came. Walcott tumbled under a Wilkinson challenge and the Stoke defender, who had struggled with the England man all game, was booked.
From the resulting free-kick Podolski’s left-footed strike was deflected beyond Begovic by Geoff Cameron, although confusion initially reigned as a linesman’s flag was raised.
However, after Foy consulted with his assistant David Bryan, the goal stood. Replays did not seem to show any kind of infringement or clear offside, but the mystery remained with the officials.
Cazorla could and should have made the game safe moments later, but blazed over after surging into the box to ensure the final 10 minutes would be nervy for the home fans.
Stoke boiled over a little as Ryan Shawcross was booked for a nasty tackle on Koscielny and Michael Owen was involved in a scuffle with Wilshere and Arteta.
But Stoke came nowhere near even creating a scoring chance, and it was job done for the Gunners to complete an ultimately satisfying week for Wenger.
His new signing Monreal looked assured, and the defence held firm. After all the 7-5, 7-3 and high-scoring draws, all Arsenal fans headed into the night happy to celebrate their most well-known scoreline.
Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Arteta, Wilshere, Diaby (Cazorla, 69), Walcott (Ramsey, 89), Oxlade-Chmaberlain (Podolski, 69), Giroud.
Subs not used: Rosicky, Santos, Mannone, Jenkinson.
Stoke City: Begovic, Shotton, Huth, Shawcross, Wilkinson, Cameron (Owen, 84) Whelan, N’Zonzi, Etherington, Walters, Crouch (Jerome, 84) .
Subs not used: Jones, Adam, Whitehead, Kightly, Sorensen.
Booked: Whelan, Wilkinson, Shawcross
Referee: Chris Foy
Attendance: 59, 872