Arsenal 2 Stoke 0
Arsenal leapfrogged Tottenham into third place in the Barclays Premier League with a morale-boosting win over Stoke.
Andrey Arshavin, who was by far the Gunners’ best player, slotted home from a tight angle in the first half minutes after Cesc Fabregas had missed a penalty on his 250th appearance for the club.
After a largely frustrating second half, impressive substitute Aaron Ramsey sealed the win with a cool finish 10 minutes from time.
With Robin van Persie, Nicklas Bendtner and Theo Walcott out injured, Arsene Wenger’s options up front were further reduced by the late withdrawal of Eduardo, who was left out with a minor muscular problem.
Arshavin spearheaded the Gunners attack in a line-up that included eight changes from the 3-0 defeat at Manchester City in midweek while Fabregas captained the Arsenal side in Wenger’s 100th league game in charge.
Abdoulaye Faye, Rory Delap and Tuncay Sanli came in for Stoke, who were without Ryan Shawcross after he failed a late fitness test.
Wenger admitted yesterday confidence in the Arsenal camp had been hit following their defeat at Manchester City in the Carling Cup and last week’s 3-0 humbling against Chelsea, which put them 11 points behind the leaders.
The Gunners started brightly, however, and Fabregas put Arshavin through one on one with Thomas Sorensen but he came out to block the Russian’s shot.
Stoke’s first meaningful attack came eight minutes in when Manuel Almunia had to come out and punch away one of Delap’s trademark long throws.
Delap’s throws were the Potters’ main attacking option and Almunia looked nervous as he struggled to deal with the defender’s third throw of the game 11 minutes in.
Arsenal were then given a golden chance to take the lead in the 20th minute when Arshavin was tripped by Delap in the box and referee Mark Clattenburg pointed to the spot.
Fabregas stepped up to take the penalty but Sorensen stretched to his left to palm the ball around the post.
Six minutes later, Arshavin made amends for a horrible mis-hit by slotting the ball home from a Fabregas pass to pick up his seventh of the season and give Arsenal the lead.
They then came agonisingly close to doubling their lead straight after the goal.
Armand Traore slipped in Fabregas, whose shot rebounded off Faye onto the post. The ball then fell back to the Spaniard, who lashed the ball towards goal only for Emmanuel Eboue to accidentally block the ball on the Stoke line.
Arsenal felt they should have had a second penalty on the stroke of half-time when Samir Nasri’s pass brushed Faye’s hand but Clattenburg waved away the Gunners’ appeals.
Tuncay turned neatly on the edge of the box but shot straight at Almunia for Stoke’s first attack of the second half as the rain started to fall on the Emirates pitch.
Wenger had accused Stoke of deliberately attempting to injure his players during the fixture between the two at the Britannia Stadium last year and the Potters maintained their physical approach in the second half.
Andy Wilkinson was lucky to escape a booking after his late challenge on Thomas Vermaelen two minutes after the break.
Arshavin, who continued as Arsenal’s lone striker despite Carlos Vela’s introduction, continued to pose a threat and forced Sorensen into a fine save shortly after.
Ramsey replaced Eboue, who hobbled off and went down the tunnel with an injury.
Tuncay then broke the offside trip to latch onto Liam Lawrence’s long ball down field but he lacked pace and composure, allowing William Gallas to track back and block the striker’s shot.
Arshavin was unlucky not to add his second when his shot was deflected onto the bar by Stoke captain Faye.
The home crowd sensed the Gunners needed a second and it came with 11 minutes left when Ramsey picked the ball up on the edge of the box, jinked inside and calmly stroked the ball past Sorensen.
Fabregas and Arshavin both had chances towards the end for the Gunners while Gallas finished the match hobbling with what looked like a thigh injury.
Unlike Wednesday, Wenger shook his counterpart’s hand at full-time.