Stoke 0 Arsenal 0
Arsenal reclaimed top spot in the Barclays Premier League with a goalless draw at Stoke on an afternoon when both goalkeepers earned the plaudits.
The Gunners needed just a point to nudge back ahead of Manchester City and Leicester at a stadium where they have only won once in the Premier League era, and they were attempting to break their Britannia Stadium hoodoo without injured playmaker Mesut Ozil.
Only the brilliance of Stoke keeper Jack Butland stopped them entering the half-time interval ahead as he spread himself to thwart Olivier Giroud in a one-on-one situation.
His heroics were then emulated by a man 11 years his senior as Petr Cech kept out Joselu and Bojan Krkic in quick succession before saving with his feet from the former late on to record the 172nd Premier League clean sheet of his career.
The Gunners were without German midfielder Ozil, the man leading the Premier League in assists, due to a foot injury while Alexis Sanchez was not included either despite nearing a return from a hamstring problem.
Ozil posted a picture on Twitter of him watching the game from a sofa and it was clear his team-mates were missing his guile in the opening 45 minutes in Staffordshire.
Watching the match vs. Stoke! Hopefully I'll be back well for the next match. But for now: COME ON YOU GUNNERS 👏👏 pic.twitter.com/vrS8ncBieJ— Mesut Özil (@MesutOzil1088) January 17, 2016
And while Stoke are a far different proposition from the Tony Pulis sides which used to cause the Gunners such problems, there was also little evidence of the attacking verve that had dismantled both Manchester clubs and Chelsea here this term.
The only early glimpse of their creativity came 20 minutes in when Marko Arnautovic’s flick around the corner was blasted wide by Ibrahim Afellay.
Moments later Joel Campbell’s incisive pass at the other end set Giroud through one-on-one and Butland rushed out and made himself big to block the Frenchman’s left-footed try.
Joe Hart’s England deputy was needed again before the interval to help Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s shaped shot over the crossbar, with the Southampton academy graduate seeing a shot from the resulting corner diverted wide by an unsuspecting Laurent Koscielny.
The two sides entered the break on level terms, after Stoke had been 3-0 ahead at the same point in last season’s fixture, and only another fine Butland save prevented Arsenal from taking the lead 66 seconds after the restart.
From Aaron Ramsey’s corner Giroud lost Ryan Shawcross and guided his header down towards the near post only to see Butland get across and frustrate him once more.
Referee Craig Pawson was keeping his cards in his pocket in an increasingly scrappy game, and he remained unmoved for half-hearted penalty shouts against Philipp Wollscheid on Giroud and Theo Walcott.
Petr Cech has now kept 27 clean sheets in his last 47 Premier League games. Incredible record. pic.twitter.com/z6iGNy1tGT— Squawka Football (@Squawka) January 17, 2016
Butland’s counterpart Cech then came to the fore with a brilliant double save as Arnautovic led a four-on-three break from Stoke’s midfield. The Austrian fed Joselu, who cut on to his right foot, took aim from the edge of the box and forced Cech into a terrific one-handed save, with the 33-year-old then springing back up to prevent Bojan from squeezing the rebound in at the near post.
The Potters nearly mustered a late winner when Jonathan Walters’ header from a corner was cleared off the line by Ramsey before Cech stopped Joselu once more, this time with an outstretched leg.