Patient Arsenal rewarded against Stoke

Posted by Sam Limbert

Lukas PodolskiAPArsenal's Lukas Podolski breaks the deadlock from a free-kick

It certainly wasn't pretty, but Arsenal secured a very timely 1-0 victory against Stoke, on a day when rival clubs dropped points, that could be hugely important by the end of the season. Given how defensive and tough to break down the visitors were, the three points were extremely welcome.

Arsenal made a few changes to the starting line-up and needed the introductions of Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski to make the difference. Podolski's free-kick to win the game was deflected, but at this stage of the season, Arsenal fans should just be relieved that the ball ended up in the net. It was also great to see the ultimate punishment meted out to Stoke after a foul outside the box, particularly as it was conceded by Andy Wilkinson.

The Stoke left-back was given a torrid afternoon by Theo Walcott, even though the Arsenal man had a frustrating match. Wilkinson was fortunate not to be penalised for a few off-the-ball fouls on Walcott, who never let his head drop and kept up the pressure on the Stoke defender, ultimately forcing the foul that won the game.

When the goal went in, mayhem ensued as the linesman appeared to flag for an infringement. However, after both teams faced up to the officials, the referee overruled his official. The dubious goals panel might take the strike away from Podolski and deem it an own goal, but otherwise there was nothing wrong with the winner.

Arsenal had to work hard for the win as Stoke set up as the most defensive team to visit the Emirates this season. At times it seemed as if the Potters were playing with a back five or six, giving Arsenal no space around the edge of the penalty area to slide through passes. When the Gunners did find space in the first half, Asmir Begovic produced a great save to deny Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Apart from that chance, Arsenal's best moment in the first period surprisingly came from set pieces as Stoke, a team famed for specialising in this field, didn't defend them very well.

Stoke's lack of pace on the counter-attack meant the Gunners were able to maintain pressure throughout the game. Peter Crouch caused Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny very few problems, making the match dependent on whether Arsenal could break down the massed Stoke defence.

Nacho Monreal made his debut at left-back, and although there were a couple of moments when he might have selected the wrong pass or could have pushed forward farther, he impressed. Those moments of slight unease were to be expected as the former Malaga defender has only been with the team for two days, so the fluency and understanding with others will come.

The new man from Spain wasn't pressured much defensively, so it was ultimately a decent game for him to ease himself into the Premier League. It was also encouraging to see him win a header with Jon Walters and suffer a clash of heads, but not come out the worse for it. Hopefully it's a sign he can deal with the physical side of the league.

Monreal will have to get up to speed quickly as the Gunners head into the business end of the season, but the signs are good.

Arsenal had to rely on their patient probing to eventually break down Stoke and although it didn't make for a scintillating match, it did provide a clean sheet and three points. Given the recent defensive shambles, it gives Arsenal something to build on for the run-in this season.

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