Arsenal continued their frustrating start to the new season after suffering another goalless draw against side Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium. The Gunners managed to produce a solid display as they overcame a predictably immensely intimating atmosphere to produce a clean sheet but yet again failed to collect all three points following a series of wasted opportunities from the side’s newly arranged attacking force.
Arsenal made two changes to the starting line-up from last weekend’s goalless draw against Sunderland as Walcott made way for Olivier Giroud while Vito Mannone was handed a surprise start in goal after being forced to deputise for the injured Szczesny and Fabianski. The hosts started the game the strongest and thought they had taken an early lead through Jon Walters but saw his goal disallowed in the 7th minute after the striker had strayed offside. Arsenal then took control of the game and were unlucky not to be awarded a penalty after Lukas Podolski saw a close range shot down the left hand side of the penalty area deflected wide by the hands of Andy Wilkinson after being played through on goal by Gervinho. Shortly afterwards, the Gunners were awarded a free kick on the edge of the penalty area following a foul on Giroud by Robert Huth. The resulting free kick was taken by the impressive Santi Cazorla but saw his strike hit the Stoke wall before witnessing his rebound shot drift wide. Podolski then hit a shot high and wide over the bar after connecting on to a neat exchange with Carzola. Stoke responded by creating a rare attack of their own but Michael Kightly saw his shot from outside the penalty area comfortably captured by Mannone.
Arsenal then continued to dominate the game with Cazorla particularly having a telling contribution and was not far off putting the Gunners ahead after hitting a shot in the 31st minute with his left foot from just outside the penalty area but saw the chance hit the side netting. The Spanish International then came much closer to scoring three minutes later after seeing a long range effort tipped away magnificently by Stoke keeper Asmir Begovic. Stoke threatened just before half-time through Peter Crouch but saw his strike blocked by Arsenal Captain Thomas Vermaelen.
The second half was very similar to the first as Arsenal controlled possession and looked threatening going forward until reaching the edge of the Stoke penalty area where they became toothless. There was however a moment of scare early in the second half when ex-Gunner Jermaine Pennant went down in the penalty area following a challenge by Gibbs although replays suggested a spot kick would have been harsh and referee Lee Mason thankfully ignored the Stoke protests.
Mason was eventually forced into action ten minutes later though after booking Andy Wilkinson following a rash tackle on Vermaelen on the edge of the home side’s penalty area. The resulting free kick again came to nothing as Arteta harmlessly smashed a strike straight into the Stoke wall. Soon afterwards Cazorla saw a long range strike deflected wide, before Giroud acrobatically fired wide from the following corner after failing to properly connect to the ball.
With the Gunners still failing to break the deadlock, Wenger made a double substitution in the 72nd minute as Oxlade-Chamberlain and Walcott were introduced on to the field at the expense of Gervinho and Podolski. Soon after the changes, both Diaby and Arteta contributed to a wasteful afternoon by flashing strikes wide of goal. They were almost made to pay for the misses as Stoke’s Jon Walters found himself through on goal but saw his poked effort fall harmlessly into Mannone’s arms.
Wenger then made his last final substitution in the 81st minute as the hard working Cazorla was replaced by Aaron Ramsey who was once again shamefully greeted on to the field to a chorus of boos from the home supporters. The Welsh International almost silenced the boo boys but was unlucky as he saw a neat low shot dragged narrowly wide of the goal. Arsenal then almost clinched a win right at the death after Oxlade-Chamberlain stole the ball from Wilson Palacios and created a quick break as he passed to Giroud who sprinted down the left hand side and tried a spectacular long range lob over Begovic but agonizingly saw his effort graze the top of the net much to the annoyance of Wenger and in-particular Aaron Ramsey who was free down the centre of the field and would have been clean through on goal had he received a pass from the French international striker. It proved to be the final big moment of the game as the Gunners were once again made to rue a series of missed opportunities and settle for a point.
Overall a point at the Britannia Stadium is never a bad result especially given Arsenal’s recent poor record there. Credit must also be given to the Gunners for showing true resilience to overcome a clear sense of bitter animosity which has existed between them and Stoke ever since the infamous leg break caused by Ryan Shawcross on Ramsey two years ago. It’s also worth mentioning how encouraging it was to witness the Arsenal defence comfortably dealing with everything that Stoke managed to throw at them and continued to maintain their 100% clean sheet record this season. With that in mind, it seems to be evident that the appointment of Steve Bould as Assistant Manager has so far had a positive effect on the team which is a massive bonus. Special praise must also be given to Vito Mannone who was handed a baptism of fire with his surprising start at the Britannia Stadium but managed to deal with everything that he needed to.
However there’s no hiding away from the fact that it’s still been a poor start to season by the Gunners, and the lack of goals is certainly a big worry. This was a game that Arsenal played well enough to win but the failure to convert goal scoring chances has become a big problem so far. While it’s understandable that the new recruits need time to adjust to the team and the league, it’s vital that they start to hit the ground running as soon as possible as any more dropped points will become costly and could lead to another season of struggle. It’s also vital that Wenger manages to dip his hand in the transfer market before the closure of deadline day to ensure that Arsenal can quickly move on from their post-Van Persie blues and compete for glory this season. On another note, it must once again be mentioned that the constant abuse from the Stoke supporters towards Ramsey and Wenger can only be described as beyond shameful.