Arsenal 2 – 0 Stoke
By Ian Hughes
Arsenal ended their three-game losing streak by comfortably beating Stoke.
Andrey Arshavin missed a one-on-one chance, Samir Nasri was denied and Cesc Fabregas had a penalty saved as Thomas Sorensen kept Arsenal out early on.
Arshavin poked in a shot to open the scoring, before Armand Traore’s cross hit the bar and post, and Fabregas’s goal-bound shot hit Emmanuel Eboue.
Arsenal sealed the victory when substitute Aaron Ramsey rifled home from the edge of the box.
The result will be a welcome relief for Arsene Wenger, who has endured a difficult week, and it will help the Frenchman fondly remember his 500th Premier League game in charge of the Gunners.
Stoke had a chance to take advantage of Arsenal’s poor form of late to spoil the occasion of Wenger’s landmark, which was also Arsenal’s 100th game at the Emirates, but they never looked capable.
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Other than Rory Delap’s long throw-ins which caused Arsenal keeper Manuel Almunia to flap uncertainly, the visitors were the kind of guests that were too well-behaved to create an upset.
Respect, not in evidence when Wenger refused to shake Mark Hughes’s hand in midweek, was apparent all afternoon – and too much at that as Stoke allowed Arsenal to stroke the ball around at will.
But as is often the case with the Gunners, their intricate build-up was sometimes too elaborate and with only Arshavin up front their options were limited.
However, when they did get it right – as they did for the opening goal – it was typically fluent.
Arshavin collected a return pass from Fabregas, dug the ball out from under his feet and slotted a low shot into the bottom corner.
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It was a relief for the hosts, who had already missed a number of chances by then.
Arshavin’s heavy touch allowed Sorensen to save and Nasri saw his shot beaten away by the Stoke stopper. Sorensen was also at his very best to save Fabregas’s penalty after Delap had tripped Arshavin.
While Stoke’s rearguard was just about being held together by Sorensen’s excellent performance, their forward play consisted of hopeful balls over the top and Tuncay being flagged for offside.
Just after Arsenal’s first goal, they almost doubled their advantage but somehow contrived to miss the chance.
Traore’s cross was deflected on to the bar and post, and Fabregas smashed the rebound goalwards but the ball hit Eboue, preventing a certain goal.
After the break, the lively Arshavin tested Sorensen with a low shot, but the keeper did well to get down to his left to push the ball away.
Pulis pleased with Stoke ‘spirit’
Despite his diminutive stature the Russian, who earlier in the week said Arsenal need some taller players, was leading the line very well.
He was involved again when the Gunners launched a fast break and worked the ball across goal but Arshavin’s shot smacked the top of the bar after taking a deflection.
A second goal was proving elusive, and there were signs that Arsenal were a little nervous at the back while the lead remained as the slenderest of margins..
But any lingering worries were calmed when Ramsey played a one-two with Arshavin and fired in a shot with the outside of his boot that gave Sorensen no chance.
Arsenal now move up to third place in the table, leapfrogging their neighbours Tottenham, who play at Everton on Sunday.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger:
“Arshavin did very well. He played through the middle and, considering his size, he gave the central defenders big problems.
“His movement was good as was the quality of his control, and he finished his goal well – he could have scored three goals but he had a very good game.
“It should have been a more comfortable victory but Stoke never gave up and we had a very good first half but in the second half, our recent defeats played on our minds and we were a bit more restricted in our play.
“It was good for us to keep our focus, not give any chances away and in the end we won the game.”
Stoke manager Tony Pulis:
“Arsenal have so much quality that they get their chances no matter how well you play.
“It was a big, big challenge, but the lads never stopped working. They did smashing and it was a much improved performance on last year.
“Arsenal played some smashing football but I was really pleased with the character and the spirit of my squad.”