Arsenal misfire again in dour draw
For the second week in a row, the Gunners left their shooting boots at London Colney as another goalless draw left Arsenal still seeking their first goal since the departure of Robin Van Persie.
A point at the Britannia is certainly not to be sneered at however, with last year’s top six all failing to take maximum points from the Potteries.
Indeed, Arsenal have found it a particularly hard place to go in recent years. Thus overall, Arsene Wenger and his team can head back to London reasonably satisfied with a point.
The pre-match hype inevitably focused on the antipathy between the two clubs and particularly the distaste the two managers have for each other. Beauty vs the Beast was the way one paper described the contest. Arsenal’s line up made two changes from the opening draw with Sunderland, with Theo Walcott making way to give Olivier Giroud his full Arsenal debut, with Lukas Podolski moving out to his preferred position of wide left. The Gunners’ only other change was enforced, as goalkeeper Vito Mannone was handed his first league start in three years following injuries to both Wojciech Szczesny and Lukas Fabianski.
For those tuning in on Sunday lunchtime hoping to see Stoke overpower Arsenal with their dominant aerial presence, they were to be disappointed as the home side barely threatened a resolute Arsenal backline. Steve Bould appears to already be having a superb effect as Wenger’s new assistant, as the Gunners looked well-organised and determined at the back, particularly on set pieces where Stoke’s only real threat came from. The atmosphere seemed strangely flat by the Britannia’s standards. Perhaps an August Sunday lunchtime is no “wet Tuesday night in January” in the Potteries. Even the tough tackling usually associated with Tony Pulis’ men was at a premium bar one horrendous challenge from Andy Wilkinson on Thomas Vermaelen, which somehow only brought a yellow card.
In a week where Wenger faced criticism for his decision to allow Alex Song to leave, Arsenal’s midfield were for the most part, impressive as they by and large controlled the game. Santi Cazorla was again at the heart of Arsenal’s best moments in the first half and had a few snapshots that ultimately failed to threaten the Stoke goal. The Gunners had a penalty shout when Podolski took advantage of a slip from Wilkinson to hammer a shot goalwards that was clearly blocked by the Stoke man’s arm, though the referee’s position made it an almost impossible decision to give. The Gunners’ only other moment of threat in the first half came when Cazorla beautifully threaded a ball into Giroud’s path but the big man failed to take it into his stride and the chance was gone. To be frank, it was the sort of opportunity Van Persie would have taken in his sleep.
The second half progressively stagnated and the goalless draw had an air of inevitability about it by the final quarter or so of the game. Podolski faded, Gervinho produced next to nothing while Giroud, despite no lack of effort, simply lacked the finishing touch to some often promising play. Arsenal’s only two opportunities of note came when the ball fell to Diaby in the penalty box who hesitated somewhat before poking it wide, while late on, Giroud lobbed an audacious 35 yard effort just over the bar. A fantastic effort it may have been but had the Frenchman seen Aaron Ramsey (disgracefully booed by the Stoke fans after coming off the bench) charging through the middle unmarked, a simple square ball would have put the Welsh captain through on goal.
Overall, Wenger may feel the draw represents two points lost for the Gunners but will no doubt be pleased with how in control the Gunners looked. There was certainly no alarm or sense of panic at the back that have characterised Arsenal’s visits to the Britannia in recent years. Of course, the headlines will focus on the new strikers and their current inability to replicate the goals of Van Persie but the season remains only two games old and with a week still remaining in the transfer window for Wenger to possibly strengthen his squad, Arsenal can be quietly satisfied with their season’s start.
Arsenal: Mannone 6, Jenkinson 7, Mertesacker 7, Vermaelen 7, Gibbs 7, Diaby 6, Arteta 6, Cazorla 7, Gervinho 4, Podolski 5, Giroud 5
Subs: Oxlade-Chamberlain 5, Walcott 5, Ramsey 5