Arsenal lost ground in the race for the Premier League title after going down 1-0 at Stoke on Saturday.
A tight and tense game was decided 14 minutes from time when Laurent Koscielny handled as Glenn Whelan tried to lift the ball over him and Jon Walters dispatched the penalty.
There had been precious little between the teams before that. The first half was slow and pretty sterile, enlivened only by efforts from Whelan and Santi Cazorla.
There was greater drive about Arsenal after the interval and, ironically, they were starting to exert pressure when Stoke made the breakthrough.
The visitors tried to reply and came closest when substitute Mesut Ozil fired just wide.
Chelsea’s victory at Fulham means that Wenger’s men are now four points off the pace.
There are still ten games to go and 30 points at stake.
Arsenal are still very much in the race but they must respond quickly to this disappointing defeat.
SETTING THE SCENE
Ozil and Thomas Vermaelen were back in the squad but only made the bench.
The pre-match form was hard to gauge. Stoke one had registered one win in their last ten Premier League games overall but that had been at home to Manchester United. Mark Hughes’ side had shown decent form against the major names in the top flight all season.
Arsenal had not won in three games at the Britannia however Stoke had registered only one Premier League win over Wenger’s men in 10 attempts.
The first 15 minutes were tight and scrappy in equal measure. Stoke settled more quickly but neither side created anything of note.
The first chance came to Stoke just after the quarter-hour. Marko Arnautovic fired over a pin-point cross for Walters to nudge a header just wide of the far post.
Arsenal responded with more purpose but still created little pressure. Cazorla’s attempted curler and Olivier Giroud’s flashed header were their most notable efforts.
As we reached the half-hour, it had become a game with little pattern or pace.
There was no spark.
Lukas Podolski went close by firing into the sidenetting but the best chances of the half arrived in the final four minutes.
First, Arnautovic set up Whelan to let fly from the edge of the area. Wojciech Szczesny threw himself to his left to parry the ball aside.
Then Cazorla broke through momentarily only to see his shot was saved by Begovic.
There was more urgency about the game at the start of the second half but the home side made the early running.
Szczesny dealt with Geoff Cameron’s cross at the second attempt
Eight minutes in, Peter Crouch should have turned in Charlie Adam’s left-wing free-kick but his touch was heavy and the Arsenal defence managed to clear.
Between those opportunities, Jack Wilshere’s shot was blocked and Gibbs tried to dart into the area.
In the 65th minute, Stoke might have found the breakthrough. Crouch nodded Arnautovic’s excellent cross towards the corner of the goal but the flying Szczesny tipped the ball around the post. From the corner, Cameron thumped the ball wide from point-blank range.
Wenger replaced Podolski with Ozil on 66 minutes.
It helped Arsenal up their game and they started to string passes together with greater purpose.
Sixteen minutes from time, however, they would make the mistake that decided the game. Whelan tried to lift the ball over Koscielny on the edge of the area and it hit his hand. Referee Mike Jones had little option to point to the spot. Walters slotted home the penalty.
Arsenal searched frantically for a reply. Ozil combined with Giroud for the German to fire inches wide of the far post.
Another substitute, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, sprinted to the byline to set up Giroud but the Frenchman could not generate enough power in his shot.
The former Southampton winger supplied a great chance for Yaya Sanogo deep into injury time but the French striker lfited his effort over the bar.
It was Arsenal’s last chance to grab something from the game.
- Podolski 67
- Rosicky 74 Yellow Card
- Wilshere 81
- Ozil 67
- Oxlade-Chamberlain 74
- Sanogo 81
- Pieters Yellow Card
- Wilson Yellow Card
- Walters Goal!
- Adam 73
- Arnautovic 88
- Etherington 88
- Ireland 73