By Richard Clarke at the Britannia Stadium
Arsenal grabbed a well-deserved point at Stoke City on Sunday.
The Britannia Stadium has not been a happy hunting ground for Arsène Wenger's side in the Premier League era but they were well worth their draw this afternoon.
In truth it was a game of few chances - but the visitors had the best of them. Although Jon Walters saw an early goal ruled out for offside, Lukas Podolski had an effort blocked soon afterwards and then Santi Cazorla's long-range effort was turned around the far post by Asmir Begovic.
Neither side created clear-cut chances in the second half but it was indicative that, at the death, it was Arsenal who were frantically chasing the winner. Stoke seemed happy with what they had.
The closest the visitors came was, in the final minutes, when Olivier Giroud skimmed the top of the net from distance with Begovic stranded.
This was a second goalless draw for Arsenal but the spirit and determination they displayed once again bodes well.
All they need now is a goal.
Wenger's squad showed two changes. Fit-again Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain replaced Andrey Arshavin on the bench. But the bigger issue was Wojciech Szczesny's rib injury. Lukas Fabianski was still struggling with a back problem so Vito Mannone stepped in for his first Premier League appearance since the 2-2 draw at West Ham in October 2009. Last season he had made just the one start - at Olympiacos in December - however he had gone seven games without conceding during a profitable loan spell at Hull City.
The other change saw Giroud spearhead the attack. This had a knock-on effect. Podolski went out to the left flank, Gervinho switched to the right and Theo Walcott went to the bench.
It had been only five Premier League games since Arsenal's last trip to the Britannia Stadium. The 1-1 draw on April 28 was satisfactory for both sides. Wenger's men were limping towards Champions League qualification while the home side were seeing out the season from the safety of mid-table.
Incredibly, only three of Wenger's starters that day were on the pitch at kick-off today.
The home side's strong record against Arsenal at the Britannia Stadium has been based on early goals and there was nearly another this afternoon.
In the seventh minute, Stoke had the ball in the net when Peter Crouch outjumped the Arsenal defence and Walters crashed home from close range.
However, almost immediately, Giroud and Gervinho set up Podolski on the left of the area. Andy Wilkinson's stumble gave the German a glimpse of goal but the defender recovered to block the striker's powerful shot.
This was a massive test for Arsenal on a ground where they have struggled. But Giroud's intelligence, Podolski's power and Cazorla probing passes saw them grow in confidence.
Stoke were still pressing. Just before the half-hour, Michael Kightly's shot was held by Mannone and, just before the whistle, Crouch had a shot blocked.
But Arsenal were the stronger side. Cazorla's long-range effort was unconvincingly pawed behind by Begovic and Gervinho continued to cause problems all over the pitch.
Arsenal ended the half by pinning Stoke back into their own penalty area via a succession of corners. The hunter had not exactly become the hunted but the visitors had a much greater semblance of control than usual.
Stoke were better at the start of the second period. They had half a shout for a penalty when Jermaine Pennant went down under a challenge from Kieran Gibbs and Walters fired over.
But Arsenal started to find Podolski in space on the left and his crosses helped the visitors regain an equilibrium in the game.
Arteta fired a free-kick into the wall and Giroud screwed a bicycle kick wide from Cazorla's corner.
With 19 minutes left, Wenger changed his wide men - Podolski and Gervinho off, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Walcott on.
The changes helped Arsenal take further control. Arteta drove through and fired wide then Diaby had a millisecond of space in the six-yard box but could not swivel a shot on target.
As time ticked away, Arsenal sensed victory while Stoke seemed to have settled for a point.
The visitors best chance came from a rare home attack in the 90th minute. Oxlade-Chamberlain robbed Wilson Palacios and Giroud eschewed the option of Ramsey in the middle to drift a shot goalwards from fully 40 yards.
It flew just over the bar.
- Vermaelen (C)
- Cazorla 81
- Podolski 72
- Gervinho 72
- Ramsey 81
- Oxlade-Chamberlain 72
- Walcott 72
- Huth Yellow Card
- Wilkinson Yellow Card
- Pennant 66
- Whelan 81
- Crouch 79
- Shotton 79
- Palacios 81
- Jerome 66