MATCH REPORT: Arsenal 1, Stoke City 0
Arsenal 1, Stoke City 0.
STOKE City's game resistance was finally blown apart by a deflected free-kick here at the Emirates this afternoon.
Stoke defended with gusto and numbers throughout, but were eventually undone when the Lukas Podolski's 20-yard free-kick was wickedly deflected past the excellent Asmir Begovic.
It was cruel on a Stoke side threatening precious little in attack, true, but defending stoically against Arsenal's far superior football.
The afternoon ended tetchily –as it often does between these two – when the likes of Michael Owen and Jack Wilshere squared up following a few late scrapes.
That was hardly in keeping with a contest often lacking the usual kind of passion you expect between this pair.
Stoke, with Geoff Cameron switching from full back to midfield in a 4-5-1, weathered some early Arsenal fire to start branching out themselves into more attacking situations.
And the first effort on either goal came from the visitors in the 13th minute when the ball sat up for Jon Walters to thump one from distance straight at Wojciech Szczesny.
Arsenal – making five changes from midweek and resting the likes of Podolski and Santi Cazorla in the process – remained full of pace down both flanks through Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain however.
The game reached the midway point of the first half with very little incident to report – much to Stoke's satisfaction – as the visitors only looked flustered on the few occasions Walcott or Oxlade-Chamberlain revved into action.
The atmosphere was suitably subdued, too, before livening up just after the half-hour when a right-wing corner wended its way to Oxlade-Chamberlain to control on his chest and crash a close-range effort against the diving Begovic on his line.
A terrific save and one adding another few grand to his summer asking price… but there was soon more to come.
For that transfer fee was cranked up again shortly after when Laurent Koscielny met Walcott's deep cross with a downward header which Begovic was well placed to block.
Stoke were now being pinned back inside their own third and being forced to defend worryingly deep as Arsenal manipulated the ball almost at will.
It was no surprise to see the Gunners fashion another chance, therefore, and no real surprise to see the ever alert Begovic flinging himself to his left to palm aside Oxlade-Chamberlain's fierce cross shot from Jack Wilshere's through ball.
It remained 10 men behind the ball for Stoke as they greeted the half-time whistle with a welcome sigh of relief.
Half-time: Arsenal 0, Stoke 0.
It was threatening to be backs-to-the-wall again in the second period as the home side probed away and very nearly teed up an opener before Robert Huth brilliantly headed clear under pressure from Olivier Giroud.
Huth, his head still bandaged from a war wound last Tuesday, was then caught a touch flat-footed as Giroud smashed over from 10 yards out following another searing build-up from the Gunners.
Stoke reached the hour mark with their goal still intact, but with little hint of upsetting the odds at the other end of the pitch.
Arsene Wenger threw on the cavalry midway through the second half as Cazorla and Podolski were thrown on to freshen up the home side.
Cazorla was soon winning a free-kick for a foul that wasn't and which earned Glenn Whelan the day's first yellow – then two minutes later the Spaniard was crossing for Giroud to head off target in promising territory.
It was now going to take a late goal to beat Arsenal's stubborn visitors … and guess what?
Wilkinson's on-going duel with Walcott ended with a booking for the Stoke defender and the resulting free-kick finally saw the deadlock broken amid some confusion.
For PODOLSKI's 20-yard free-kick took a deflection off Cameron to wrong-foot the unlucky Begovic, but the goal was only awarded after the referee checked with a linesman that the ball hadn't gone in off an Arsenal player standing offside.
Cazorla drilled half-a-yard over soon after as Arsenal went for the kill, while City responded by throwing on Kenwyne Jones, Michael Owen and Cameron Jerome.
Stoke were now committing men forward, all right, but to no avail sadly.
Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Monreal, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Diaby (Cazorla,67), Wilshere, Arteta, Walcott (Ramsey,90), Oxlade-Chamberlain (Podolski,67), Giroud. Subs: Mannone, Rosicky, Santos, Jenkinson.
Stoke: Begovic, Shotton, Wilkinson, Shawcross, Huth, Walters (Jerome,84), Cameron (Owen,84), Whelan, Nzonzi, Etherington, Crouch (Jones,84). Subs: Sorensen, Adam, Whitehead, Kightly.
Referee: C Foy (Merseyside).
Cards: Arsenal - . Stoke – Whelan (foul,69), Wilkinson (foul,76), Shawcross (foul,88).