Arsenal move top of the table again with goalless draw at Stoke

Arsenal’s barren streak at the Britannia continued Sunday evening as they were held to a 0-0 draw by Stoke. Both keepers were excellent on the day, but the result will have best suited Manchester City: while Arsenal are atop the table by virtue of goal difference, the Citizens pulled within a point of Leicester and the Gunners with their big 4-0 win Saturday at Crystal Palace’s expense. 

This was Arsenal’s second straight draw, and while this is not a slump, per se, it does suggest that the Gunners may be in a little stall. Arsene Wenger has not seen the Gunners win at Stoke since 2010, and an infamous incident in which Ryan Shawcross broke Aaron Ramsey’s leg. That has led in recent years to a simmering, grudgeful rivalry between the teams and their managers, and today’s game — while a bit leggy — was feisty and passionate if lacking in end product.

Both teams were playing with a depleted lineup: Arsenal were again without Alexis Sanchez, held out another game as a precaution and Mesut Ozil did not travel due to a slight foot injury suffered midweek against Liverpool. Stoke had Xherdan Shaqiri unavailable, which robbed them of pace and guile.

The first half was a largely sterile affair, with Arsenal failing to fully get into the flow of things and Stoke playing their classically frustrating game. Neither team really had much in the way of offensive production, though Jack Butland was called upon to make a fine save on 20 minutes on Olivier Giroud. 

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But too much of the game was played in midfield, and too many chances were potshots from long range. Ibrahim Affelay let fly from 30 yards and missed just wide, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain saw his attempt from 22 yards out saved.

Giroud knocked on the door immediately after the restart, heading a ball down off an Aaron Ramsey corner that forced Butland into a smart stop at his near post. But after that Arsenal struggled to link up and Stoke began to pile on some pressure.

Petr Cech was called upon twice to make fine saves, both on Joselu. Marko Arnautovic slipped Joselu through the pack on the near left to uncork a stinger that Cech got a signle big glove to. Following up the rebound, Bojan Krkic rounded the back and tried to beat the keeper at the near post, but Cech was alert and scrabbled it away. Joselu then saw the ball fall to him atop the box in the 65th, and his strike was again well-handled by Cech to preserve the deadlock.

Chances were few and far between after that as both teams started to play to protect what they had. Campbell had a pop on goal with five minutes to play, but it was never bending in, and summed up much of Arsenal’s frustration on the day.

Stoke had a late flurry that saw Ramsey head away a corner kick cycled in by Charlie Adam, and Cech following up to clear a strike by Joselu off the line.