Arsenal reclaimed top spot in the Premier League, but only just, as they recorded their second draw in a row at the Britannia on Sunday afternoon.
There were a few surprises in the team as Mesut Ozil was missing with a foot injury (he’ll be back next week) while Alexis Sanchez was not included but new boy, Mohamed Elneny was picked on the bench.
In what was a quite bitty and uninspiring first half, the Gunners struggled to carve out any openings in the first 20 minutes with Olivier Giroud’s effort being saved at close range by Jack Butland the only real chance of note.
Stoke, on the other hand, seemed to have the better of possession but they couldn’t get close to Petr Cech’s goal to fashion any chances themselves in the first quarter of the match.
The Ox did manage to force Butland into a splendid save as he looked to curl one in to the top corner just before the half hour mark, the ball going for a corner from which Arsenal could have scored had the ball not struck Laurent Koscielny after the Ox had drilled it goalwards but for the most part, the first half was 45 minutes of not much at all.
— Stoke City FC (@stokecity) January 17, 2016
It took just over a minute of the second half for Giroud to test Butland; his powerful header being saved, low to the keeper’s left from an Arsenal corner. In a game that saw the Premier League’s two best keepers in terms of save percentage (Cech 76 v Butland 78) go glove-to-glove and two teams that looked like they were struggling offensively, it didn’t seem like there would be many goals in this one.
Wollschied, who should have been booked in the first minute of the game for blocking off Theo Walcott then threw Olivier Giroud to the ground in the box. Referee Craig Pawson was having none of that either and just a few minutes later Walcott was pulled down by the same player on the very edge of the box and the ref just waved it away.
The best league in the world? Not with the worst referees on the planet it’s not.
The game was, however, now on fire and the Stoke fans took some time out from booing Aaron Ramsey and singing ‘Aaron Ramsey, he walks with a limp’ to cheer on their team as they started to apply pressure to Arsenal.
A double save from Cech kept the game goalless; the Arsenal man saving from range and then getting up to get down for the rebound which was goalbound. The game was better but, from an Arsenal point of view, was getting too frantic and they were struggling to exert control leading to a number of Arsenal-related heart attacks and collective blood pressure rises across the globe as Cech was called on again after a mistake by Kos gifted the ball to Stoke.
The game then settled into a pattern of Arsenal pressuring with Stoke looking to hit on the break and the referee just letting them do what they wanted while penalising Arsenal players for going near a Stoke player – standard really in this part of the world as they cheated their way around the pitch.
Only one team was trying to win this game and it wasn’t Stoke although, in typical Arsenal fashion, the Orcs almost snatched it in the 90th minute as Ramsey was forced to clear off the line from a corner and Cech then had to save with his foot from the rebound.
The effect of not having Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, and Santi Cazorla is clearly showing in Arsenal’s lack of creativity, while at the back Aaron Ramsey is being tasked with picking up the slack caused my Mathieu ‘what do you do’ Flamini and that, obviously, had a negative effect on his game meaning Arsenal were even more hamstrung up top.
Two points from two away games this week is not good enough if we want to win the title, even in a season when no-one else can be bothered either.
But at least we didn’t lose and don’t have to go back to Stoke for another year. Silver linings and all that…