Arsenal back on top of Premier League despite dire Stoke City stalemate
Gunners return to the top of the table but their Britannia Stadium hoodoo is extended with a goalless draw against the Potters
Arsenal returned to the top of the Premier League but their Britannia Stadium hoodoo was extended with a goalless draw against Stoke City on Sunday.
A point was enough to take Arsene Wenger’s side clear of Leicester City on goal difference but it was another afternoon of frustration in the Potteries for the veteran French manager.
His side have now failed to win at Stoke’s home ground in six attempts – a sequence that dates back to a 3-1 success in February 2010.
That victory became infamous for the sickening broken leg suffered by Gunners midfielder Aaron Ramsey, who was again singled out for some unsavoury abuse by Stoke fans during his 250th Arsenal appearance.
The bad blood from the injury and Ramsey’s refusal to accept Ryan Shawcross’s apology for the challenge that caused it remains for Stoke fans, who taunted Ramsey throughout on Sunday with boos and a chant about the damage caused to his leg.
Arsenal could not silence the home crowd as Stoke held their own, with both Potters goalkeeper Jack Butland and Arsenal counterpart Petr Cech in good form.
“Overall it was a battle – an old fashioned Stoke battle because they made the game very physical,” said Gunners boss Wenger.
“The crowd was up for it, the players were up for it. They went for a very direct game and we had to show a physical response, solidarity, fighting spirit, togetherness, which we did.”
But a clearly annoyed Hughes responded: “I’ve just heard Arsene say he was a bit surprised that we went direct.
“I’m not quite sure what game he’s been watching.
After a scrappy opening littered with fouls and poor passes, it was Stoke who carved out the first chance through Marko Arnautovic.
The Austrian wandered in off the left flank to collect possession in a central area 30 yards from goal, but his ambitious effort flew high into the Arsenal fans behind Cech’s goal.
The game finally came to a semblance of life in the 20th minute when Glen Johnson and Jonathan Walters found space on the Stoke right to pick out Joselu on the edge of the area.
His deft flick teed up Ibrahim Afellay, whose long-range effort flew a yard wide of the target.
Arsenal immediately broke and created an opening of their own thanks to a fine pass by Joel Campbell and an equally clever run by Olivier Giroud.
The Frenchman found himself one on one with Butland but the England international spread himself well to make an important stop.
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The game remained disjointed but, when Stoke failed to clear their lines in the 28th minute, Ramsey had a goal-bound shot deflected wide for a corner which was dealt with easily by the Potters.
Ten minutes before half-time Arsenal failed to deal with Erik Pieters’s dangerous cross but Joselu headed straight at Cech.
The Gunners then handed cheap possession to Stoke, for whom Bojan fired just wide.
Just over a minute into the second half, Butland denied Arsenal what looked like a certain goal.
The goalkeeper reacted superbly to dive low to his left and turn away a free header from Giroud, who had been left unmarked to meet Ramsey’s corner.
Then Stoke were denied as the tempo of the game was raised a notch.
Arnautovic advanced and fed Joselu, whose shot was clawed away superbly by Cech.
The former Chelsea star then reacted well to scramble Bojan’s follow-up around the post.
Arsenal needed Cech again in the 66th minute as he turned a shot from Joselu around the post.
The game became scrappy once more but it was Arsenal who made most of the running in the closing stages and Campbell tried his luck from a tight angle with five minutes remaining.
But his effort flew well wide to sum up an error-strewn contest.
And in the dying moments Stoke had further chances when Ramsey cleared off the line in a goalmouth scramble before Cech blocked a follow-up from Joselu.