Arsenal kept their second clean sheet of the season, but again failed to find the net despite a dominant performance against Stoke City. Having drawn 0-0 in their opening game against Sunderland, a second stalemate will no doubt have Gunners supporters nervous at the lack of goals. Nevertheless, for all the frustrations in the final third, there remain positives to be taken from this afternoon’s visit to the Britannia.
The first half pretty much went as expected. Despite having to enlarge their pitch to meet with Premier League regulations, Stoke still took great pleasure from thumping the ball long whenever they got the ball. Arsenal’s passing meanwhile was swift and crisp. Even though the home side had decided to let the grass grow long it didn’t seem to adversely effect our ability to move the ball from back to front.
Santi Cazorla ran the show in the centre of the park, while Abou Diaby and Mikel Arteta were his able assistants. The Spaniard is a magnet. With two quick feet, a willingness to run directly at opponents and deft distribution he picked up where he left off against Sunderland. He skewed three long range efforts wide before finally stinging the palms of Begovic close to half-time with swerving rocket of a shot.
In goal Vito Mannone, a late replacement for Wojciech Szczesny, had little to do, despite watching a rightly disallowed goal fly past him as early as the sixth minute. We looked organised at the back, Gibbs and Jenkinson tenacious in the tackle, Mertesacker and Vermaelen combining well to nullify the threat of Peter Crouch.
Up front the best chance fell to Lukas Podolski. After good work from Gervinho and Olivier Giroud the German pounced inside the six yard box to crash a low shot goalwards. It was blocked by Stoke defender Wilkinson at close range, although replays later showed he used his hand to do so.
Podolski for his part looks a meaty player. Not afraid to do his share of defensive work on the left, he dovetailed nicely with Gibbs and did well breaking up Stoke attacks.
One man who didn’t look like he was enjoying himself very much was Olivier Giroud. It wasn’t that he wasn’t putting himself about; he was…and he looked devilishly handsome while doing so. You just sensed he was frustrated with his own first touch and the fact he wasn’t having enough impact in the Stoke penalty box.
I suppose if there was a worry at the half-time whistle, it was that in 135 minutes of dominant football this season we still hadn’t put the ball in the net.
In the second half it was more of the same. Slinky moves saw us manoeuvre to the edge of the Stoke box, but the final ball never quite found its intended target.
At the other end Stoke could well have had a penalty. Kieran Gibbs was a little clumsy trying to coax Jermaine Pennant off the ball. The ex-Gunner took a tumble, but Lee Mason wasn’t interested. On another day he may well have been.
The referee did have to get involved 10 minutes later when a ridiculously reckless challenge from Andy Wilkinson took out Thomas Vermaelen on the edge of the Stoke box. A booking for the Potters’ oaf was followed by an Arteta free-kick into the wall.
A speculative Cazorla shot was followed by an acrobat effort by Giroud, but neither tested the keeper. It was the cue for a double change with Gervinho and Podolski making way for the pace of Oxlade-Chamberlain and Walcott. In the minutes after both Arteta and Diaby squandered chances with slices that would embarrass even amateur golfers.
Having taken a hefty knock in the first half Cazorla was finally withdrawn from play with ten minutes remaining. Aaron Ramsey, to a chorus of boos, took to the field. He became the fifth young Brit in the Arsenal line-up (if you count Jenkinson as British) and after a couple of nervous touches had a smart shot which nearly crept in.
With 90 seconds left on the clock a quick break saw Olivier Giroud race down the left flank. While a ball inside to a rampaging Ramsey was probably the easier option, the Frenchman instead attempted an audacious lob over the keeper which clipped the top of the net. It would have been an amazing goal, but Wenger’s annoyed reaction on the touchline suggests he should have played the percentages by setting up his Welsh teammate. It was the last notable action of the game as both sides settled for a point.
A word about the Stoke City fans. Cunts.