Jesé Rodriguez’s single strike in the 47th minute was the difference between Stoke and Arsenal in a remarkably engaging 1-0 game up at the Potteries.
Arsenal started the game brightly, with the early possession and a controversial penalty appeal denied from a debatable foul on Bellerin early on in the game. Despite forcing some key saves from Jack Butland – most notably from Ozil’s freekick finding Ramsay free on goal – Stoke stood firm, with an imposing 6ft something back four of Zouma, Shawcross, Pieters and Cameron keeping Arsenal camped outside their box.
On the occasion Arsenal posession broke down, Stoke broke promisingly with the combined pace of debutant Jesé, Shaqiri, Berahino and new signing Chopo-Moting keeping Arsenal on their toes and drawing fouls. A combination of free-kicks outaide , and a Diouf long throw reminiscent of Rory Delap, brought about their most promising chance of the half, with Shawcross heading over the bar where he arguably could have done better.
Arsenal were made to regret wasted possesion early on in the sexond half, with Jesé delivering on a promising first half – bursting into the box from a deft ball from Berahino and slotting away to the far post only 90 seconds from the restart. Arsene Wenger would have been pleased with his side’s respons however, with Mustafi and Welbeck forcing critical saves from an imperios Jack Butland.
Arsenal’s pressure looked to have paid off with 15 minutes to go as a stunning finish from Lacazette made from Ozil’s tireless work in the midfield was ruled offside by mere inches. By this point Wenger hit the panic button, bringing on Olivier Giroud for Kolasanic to add some much needed physicality to the Arsenal forward line which had been bullied by a solid Stoke defence.
However, the introduction of Iwobi and Walcott for Xhaka and Lacazette smacked of a manager running out of options to deal with the task at hand. By contrast, Mark Hughes was able to bring off Jesé to a standing ovation for the promising Ramadan Sobhi while adding Martens-Indi, back at Stoke on his second spell, to shore up the defence during the closing stages.
The 4th official adding 5 minutes of injury time did little to calm the nerves of the Stoke faithful – but with the assured performances of Kurt Zouma and the Stoke defence Arsenal were left with a few half chances resulting in shots off target barely troubling Jack Butland.
Stoke will cherish a valuable 3 points – with tricky fixtures against City, United and Chelsea on the horizon early on. Wenger on the other-hand will see this performance as a demonstration that his side may still not be up to the task of a challenge for the title and may usher in a signing or two before the transfer window slams shut in a few weeks time.
Written by Fabian Wood.