By Declan Taylor
Jack Wilshere's brace was enough to secure a point for 10-man Arsenal at a soaking wet Britannia Stadium on Wednesday night.
Ashley Page handed the Potters a 19th-minute lead with his head but a superb bending effort from the 17-year-old Wilshere levelled things up five minutes later.
Another set piece provided Stoke with the lead just before the hour and a straight red card for captain Mark Randall made Arsenal’s task a tricky one.
However, within minutes, Wilshere was on hand to slash home the equaliser from the corner of the area.
In fact, the Gunners could have turned one point into three but Eduardo saw his late, late strike ruled out for offside.
The Croatian striker ploughed a lone furrow in attack with Amaury Bischoff supporting him from the ‘No 10’ spot. Newly-appointed reserves skipper Randall partnered Fran Merida in the centre of midfield while Wilshere and Henri Lansbury provided the width.
Havard Nordtveit, making his first appearance since spending time on-loan at UD Salamanca, started alongside Kyle Bartley in defence. Francis Coquelin slotted in at right back with Tom Cruise on the left.
Lashings of rain ensured a slightly tepid start to proceedings with neither side able to string together any meaningful passes in the early stages.
Thanks to a mid-season break to the UAE for the Stoke first team, it was a youthful Potters outfit that faced the Gunners but it was they who broke the deadlock.
Centre-back Ashley Page, who had stayed in attack following a Stoke freekick, was on hand to head a long diagonal cross over Vito Mannone and into the back of the net.
The goal appeared to galvanise the visitors and, five minutes later, the scores were level.
Eduardo was responsible for causing problems in the box when he surged through the Potters’ backline. A last-ditch tackle stopped the Croatian in his tracks but the loose ball fell only as far as Wilshere.
The 17-year-old took one touch before bending a glorious shot with the outside of his left foot over Danzelle St Louis-Hamilton and in off the post.
More neat interplay from the visitors was to follow but Mannone had to be alert twice in quick succession to keep Stoke at bay.
First the Italian got down smartly to hold another Page header before some superb agility enabled him to divert a vicious deflected volley from Tom Thorley.
A typical Arsenal breakaway almost handed the Gunners a half time lead minutes later but Eduardo found St Louis-Hamilton in exceptional form.
A Stoke corner was cleared to Randall who controlled well before sliding an inch-perfect through-ball to the onrushing Merida. The Spaniard took the captain’s pass in his stride and fed Eduardo on the edge of the box. However, his curling effort was clawed away superbly by the goalkeeper.
The rain and wind was unrelenting in the second half and once again clear-cut chances were at a premium.
It wasn’t until three minutes before the hour mark that either side got a real sight of goal, and it proved all-important for the Potters.
Once again it was a long, diagonal cross that was the visitors’ undoing, and striker Thorley peeled away at the back post to stab the looping delivery underneath Mannone.
Banfield threw caution to the wind replacing Lansbury with striker Rui Fonte and the Portuguese should have restored parity with his first touch. Unfortunately he could only prod Bischoff’s low cross wide, with the goal gaping.
A tricky task was made ever harder four minutes later when referee Amy Reiner showed Randall a red card for a strong challenge in the middle of the park.
Unperturbed by their numerical disadvantage, Arsenal continued to search for the equaliser and, after a sustained period of pressure, the visitors finally made the breakthrough.
Wilshere collected a short Bischoff corner on the edge of the area before lashing a low right-foot shot through a mass of bodies and past the goalkeeper, with the help of a slight deflection.
Stoke were running out of ideas on the front foot and struggling to contain Arsenal at the back.
Nordtveit headed against the post from a corner before Eduardo saw a classy finish ruled out for offside.
In the end it was Stoke that looked most likely to nick victory late on and Thorley was twice denied by Mannone in stoppage time.
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