“Robin van Persie, he would have scored that,” sang, what appeared to be, the entire Britannia Stadium after the new Manchester United forward’s replacement Olivier Giroud spectacularly missed the target from Santi Cazorla’s corner midway through the second half.
Even Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, could not argue afterwards that it is proving difficult to replace a man of van Persie’s calibre.
Arsenal have now gone 180 minutes at the start of a Premier League season without a goal and Wenger has now called on his new signings Giroud, from Montpellier, Cazorla, from Malaga, and Lukas Podolski, from Cologne, to score the 37 goals van Persie managed last season between them.
“The understanding was missing,” said Wenger. “One month ago Cazorla and Podolski did not know each other. There is work to be done on the training ground.
“There is potential but something is missing. I am very positive about my team. We haven’t scored in two games but we played against two units that defended very well.
“If you want to convince me we lost an exceptional player you are wasting your time. I was the first to say that. We must find a way around that by sharing around the goals we scored with van Persie.
“I work for 30 years on the football pitch every day and I know what it takes to improve a football player.
“Giroud can’t think like he should replace van Persie. I had the same questions when Thierry Henry left. We have to take perspective.
“The team we played against it was a cup final for 90 minutes. But we behaved like men who were ready for a fight.”
Neither side really looked like finding the net in a game that did nothing for the image of the Premier League.
Arsenal were the better side but simply could not find a way past a spirited Stoke City side.
Cazorla, in only his second game in a Gunners shirt, was the most lively and chances fell to his boot in the first half, with one spectacular bending shot beautifully saved by Asmir Begovic.
Stoke only fleetingly offered an attacking threat and came closest when Michael Kightly’s effort was held by Vito Mannone, only in the side due to the absence of Wojciech Szczesny with a rib injury.
Their best moment could well have been a penalty, with Kieran Gibbs lucky to get away with a coming together with Jermaine Pennant, the former Arsenal player.
Both sides made attacking substitutions in the second half, Tony Pulis throwing caution to the wind to send on Cameron Jerome while Wenger sent on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott. But the changes did not work although Giroud was cursing his luck a minute from time.
The Frenchman’s brilliant 35-yard effort had Begovic worried but just missed the crossbar.
Stoke, in their fifth season in the Premier League, looked primed to stay there. It will not be pretty, as it never is with the Potters, but Pulis is proud of what his club are trying to build.
“I’m really pleased with a point,” he said. “But we were disappointing going forward and looked unbalanced. The attitude was first class. As a football club we must never become blaise.
“We have just got category A with the academy and have a set-up. The chairman [Peter Coates] is a local lad and we hope it will be a system that brings through young players. The Coates family want local youngsters to give their all for this football club.”
Stoke v Arsenal has always been a heated fixture, especially after a Ryan Shawcross challenge injured Aaron Ramsey two years ago. But aside from a few gestures by both managers on the touchline and songs of hatred from opposing fans, this match passed off without a hitch disciplinary-wise.
“You can’t affect what people would do,” added Pulis. “If I can’t affect it I don’t worry about it. That happens outside my sphere.”
Stoke (4-4-2): Begovic 7; Wilkinson 7, Huth 7, Shawcross 7, Wilson 6; Pennant 7 (Jerome 66 6), Cameron 7, Whelan 6 (Palacios 81 6), Kightly 7; Walters 6, Crouch 6 (Shotton 79 6).
Subs not used: Sorensen, Jones, Upson, Delay.
Arsenal (4-3-3): Mannone 7; Jenkinson 6, Mertesacker 6, Vermaelen 6, Gibbs 6; Arteta 7, Diaby 7, Cazorla 8 (Ramsey 82 6); Podolski 6 (Oxlade-Chamberlain 72 6), Girould 6, Gervinho 5 (Walcott 72 7).
Subs not used: Martinez, Santon, Djourou, Coquelin. Ref: Lee Mason (Lancashire).