Arsenal: Cech, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Flamini, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ramsey, Campbell, Walcott, Giroud
Subs: Ospina, Chambers, Gabriel, Gibbs, Arteta, Elneny, Iwobi
Arsenal returned to the top of the Premier League as they secured a hard earned 0-0 draw at Stoke.
Jack Butland denied Olivier Giroud in each half and Petr Cech made fine stops from Joselu and Bojan as the goalkeepers came out on top in a frantic game that lacked real quality.
The Gunners first scoreless draw since August takes them level on points with Leicester with Manchester City one point behind.
Despite reporting on Friday that his players had come through the draw at Anfield unscathed, Arsene Wenger was forced to make one change to his starting lineup with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain replacing the injured Mesut Ozil. The German is understood to have picked up a minor foot problem but should be back for next weekend’s game with Chelsea. New boy Mohamed Elneny was included on the bench, however, Alexis Sanchez’s dicky hamstring was again not risked. The Chilean has now been sidelined for 50 days.
After the trauma of conceding inside the first minute last season, Arsenal’s mission for the opening stages this time out was simple; keep it tight and don’t do anything silly.
The usual abuse rained down from the stands for Aaron Ramsey – because having your leg snapped in two is poor form – and it inspired a typically busy start from Stoke who harried and pressed us all over the field.
Arsenal’s response was to sit back and soak up the pressure. The Potters were restricted to one long-range effort from Ibrahim Afellay inside the opening quarter.
When we had the ball we chose to suck the pace out of the game playing considered, but not particularly imaginative, passes around midfield. That was until the 20-minute mark when a fine Joel Campbell through ball split the Stoke defence freeing Giroud to bear down on goal inside the right channel; the Frenchman’s first-time shot was closed down well by Jack Butland.
The missed opportunity inspired a little more adventure from the Gunners with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain firing two efforts at goal. The first, a curler from the edge of the area, forced Butland to tip over, the second, a low left foot drive following a half cleared corner, was accidentally deflected wide by Laurent Koscielny.
That aside, there wasn’t much in the way of attacking action from either side. An ugly half of football fittingly drew to a close with Bojan and Chamberlain squandering possession on the break.
Alex Oxlade Chamberlain set the tempo for a frantic start to the second half by chasing a lost cause that led to a corner. Ramsey’s delicious set piece was met by Giroud whose crashing header forced Butland to save low to his left.
Not long after referee Craig Pawson waved away two Arsenal penalty claims in the space of two minutes. First Giroud went down in the box under pressure from Philipp Wollscheid, then the German defender tugged down Theo Walcott as he raced onto a through ball.
Stoke battled back and Cech had to make an epic double save as the hour mark approached. First he dived full stretch to his right to deny Joselu’s effort and then he smothered Bojan’s effort from the rebound. The ex-Barcelona man was replaced by Mame Biram Diouf not long after.
Cech was again called into action on 65 minutes pushing away a stinging effort, slightly deflected on its way, from Joselu.
As the match dripped into the final twenty minutes Arsenal started to turn the screw. Hector Bellerin’s probing runs on the right provided much needed width and the introduction of Alex Iwobi, on for the ineffective Theo Walcott, brought more composure in possession on the left.
Clear opportunities were few and far between although Campbell should have done better with a curled effort that flew high and wide.
Having dominated the second half the Gunners came close to losing in the final moments as Aaron Ramsey cleared a header off the line and Cech saved the rebound with his feet.