Lukas Podolski’s deflected free kick was enough to edge Arsenal to a deserved 1-0 win over Stoke at the Emirates in the Premier League. The Gunners enjoyed over 70% of the possession in the match, and had to contend with Stoke City’s heavy-handed defensive display, but having been frustrated for 78 minutes the German substitute finally struck to give his side all three points.
Even then there was drama as the assistant referee raised his flag
for an offside against Theo Walcott, but the strike was deflected in via
a Stoke player, and referee Chris Foy ruled that the goal should stand.
The Potters, having been on the back foot throughout, made a
last-ditch triple substitution, but did not get close to an equaliser.
And in fact the end of the game was more notable for an unlikely spat
featuring Michael Owen, Mikel Arteta and Jack Wilshere, after the
former England striker appeared to swing an arm at the Spaniard.
With Kieran Gibbs out for up to six weeks, it was little surprise to
see deadline day arrival Nacho Monreal parachuted into the Arsenal
line-up at left-back. Santi Cazorla and Podolski, meanwhile, were
afforded a break and benched.
Stoke, for their part, fielded none of their January captures,
sticking to a containing 4-5-1 formation with Peter Crouch as the
For half an hour that defensive ploy worked. The Potters have one of
the better defensive records in the division, and they spoiled Arsenal’s
every attacking foray in the early stages.
The visitors did not provide a great deal up front, however, and were
limited to snapshots from the edge of the area, and leaving Wojciech
Szczesny largely untested.
But once Arsenal eventually clicked into gear Stoke were lucky to survive the last 15 minutes of the half unscathed.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had the best two chances. First he escaped at
the far post on a corner, chested down and shot, only for Asmir Begovic
to block it from point-blank range. Then he popped up on the end of a
wonderful through ball from Wilshere, angled a shot at the far post,
again tipped away by the Stoke goalkeeper on the stretch.
Meanwhile Laurent Koscielny had a header saved, and Olivier Giroud
inexplicably nodded across the six-yard box when unmarked at the far
post and with the goal seemingly at his mercy.
Arsenal swarmed all over their opponents, but Stoke somehow made it
to the interval, battered and bruised (literally in the case of Jon
Walters, who came off worse in a clash of heads with Monreal and had to
be bandaged up), but on level terms.
The pressure continued in the second half, but apart from a shot over
the top from Giroud after Wilshere had cut the ball back into his path,
the chances began to dry up.
The contest got increasingly tetchy – twice Walcott went down in
off-the-ball incidents with Andy Wilkinson, and on both occasions he was
furious that the assistant referee did not intervene.
Wenger threw on Cazorla and Podolski for Abou Diaby and
Oxlade-Chamberlain with a quarter of a match to go, and it was the
German who finally broke through.
The free kick, fittingly, came from another Wilkinson challenge on
Walcott, and the deflection left the otherwise-excellent Begovic with no
chance of stopping it.
Cazorla could have doubled the lead just a couple of minutes later, the Bosnian’s fingertip save denied the Gunners again.