By Richard Clarke
Arsenal bounced back from their recent disappointments with a confidence-boosting 2-0 win over Stoke at Emirates Stadium on Saturday.
Arsène Wenger's side took the initiative in the opening stages and never really let go with emergency striker Andrey Arshavin at the hub of everything.
The Russian won a penalty in the 21st minute but Cesc Fabregas' effort was well-saved by Thomas Sorensen.
In the end it did not matter. Five minutes later the pair combined for Arshavin to guide home a shot then, midway through the second half, the latter set up substitute Aaron Ramsey for Arsenal's second.
It was decent way to celebrate the Club's 100th match at Emirates Stadium and Wenger's 500th Premier League game in charge.
Win No 293 was no classic but, after back-to-back 3-0 defeats, Arsenal needed a safe, well-deserved victory over a decent Premier League outfit to revive their self-esteem.
That is exactly what they got.
So crisis over? No, there never really was one. Arsenal lost a game last weekend and won one this weekend.
If dogged efficiency is the only way to rebuild their title challenge then this was a decent start to the process.
In recent times, Wenger has made a habit of losing strikers to injury and, unfortunately, the trend continued today. Eduardo had picked up a muscular problem in training on Friday and dropped out. As a result Arshavin was given the lead role.
Alex Song also stepped down through suspension. The replacements were Emmanuel Eboue and Tomas Rosicky.
Today Arsenal needed a win of any sort by any means and they started like they meant business.
Within five minutes of the start, Sorensen had twice denied Arsenal and both opportunities involved Arshavin.
First the Russian bundled his way on to Fabregas' pass but his first touch was heavy and the goalkeeper spread himself sufficiently to block his toe-poke.
A couple of minutes later, Arshavin threaded a ball through to Nasri. With his angle narrowing, the Frenchman tried his luck. Sorensen had made sure his angles were correct.
It was all Arsenal but, these days, Stoke are not a side to be overawed. They imposed their game on the hosts and, as ever, Rory Delap's throw-ins were at the forefront of their attacks.
The Irishman flew in a number of Howitzers that caused consternation in the Arsenal area. Almunia dealt with some, his defence dealt with others. Between them, they got the job just about done.
Arsenal weathered the storm and looked to have got their just rewards midway through the half.
In the 21st minute, Arshavin was clipped by Salif Daio just outside the area and then by Delap inside. He was felled by the latter and referee Mark Clattenburg pointed to the spot.
It was the first penalty that Arsenal had been given in the Premier League since Stoke had visited in May.
And they missed it.
With Eduardo joining all the other strikers on the sidelines, the task fell on the shoulders of Fabregas, who was making his 250th Arsenal appearance. His contact was good but, as the old cliché goes, it was the right height for Sorensen, who saved well to his left.
It was a blow but, as it transpired, not a mortal one. In the 26th minute, Arshavin fed Fabregas then raced into the area to collect the return ball. The stand-in striker used all his strength to hold off his marker before steering a cross-short beyond Sorensen and into the far corner of the net.
It was Arshavin's seventh of the season, no more than his side had deserved and, a minute later, it should have been 2-0.
Armand Traore crossed from the left and Diao's near-post touch beat Sorensen but the ball bounced off the far upright. It fell back invitingly for Fabregas, who had the goal at his mercy. Except, that is, for Eboue, who blocked his shot on the line.
Arsenal were now stretching Stoke down the flanks. They played with a tangible confidence until the break however the closest they came to extending their lead was when Fabregas fired across the face of goal and then Nasri hacked an effort over the bar in injury time.
There had been no obvious sign of an injury to Rosicky in the first half but the Czech international failed to appear after the restart. Vela was a straight replacement on the left hand side of midfield.
Arsenal were still effervescent. There was a likable spark about their work this afternoon. All they needed now was the second goal they merited. Arshavin's swivelling snapshot nearly provided it five minutes after the restart.
Shortly afterwards, Eboue hobbled off and Aaron Ramsey came on. Arsenal continue to have no luck with injuries.
As the game reached the hour-mark, the only problem was Arsenal's failure to put the game to bed.
This was illustrated immediately afterwards when Tuncay burst clear. However the Turkish striker needed to control a high, hanging through ball and, by the time he had, Gallas had time to pull off a well-timed block.
Arshavin remained by far Arsenal's leading light. In the 64th minute, he should have got that second. Vela's cross through a crowded area found him at the back post. The Russian's shot was fierce and goal-bound but Abdoulaye Faye deflected it against the bar.
Shortly afterward, Thomas Vermaelen bundled a header wide at the far post.
The second goal arrived just as Stoke were starting to seriously look for the equaliser. The move started way back when Vela slid in to win the ball, eventually it worked its way to Ramsey, who exchanged passes with Arshavin before firing home from the edge of the area. It was the third goal of his Arsenal career.
Arshavin should have made it 3-0 but Andy Wilkinson slid in to block and he was about to pull the trigger.
The Russian proved his worth this afternoon - as had his team.
Now both must build on this performance.
- Traore 88
- Fabregas (C)
- Eboue 54
- Rosicky 45
- Arshavin Goal!
- Silvestre 88
- Ramsey 54 Goal!
- Vela 45
- Delap 82
- Lawrence 75
- Sidibe 62
- Faye (C)
- Whelan 82
- Beattie 62
- Fuller 75