Many said that it was March that would be the true test for whether Arsenal truly are title contenders. Well, bad news for Arsenal fans: they fell to relegation-threatened Stoke City on Saturday and, with Chelsea beating Fulham, the Gunners are now four points off the pace. More worryingly, they’re just two points above Manchester City, who have not one but two games in hand.
It took thirty minutes for the first real chance of the game – Olivier Giroud getting on the end of a cross from Bacary Sagna, only to see his header saved – to occur. If that doesn’t tell you all you need to know about the first half of Stoke vs. Arsenal, well, there were three attempts on target in that 45 minutes, and neither Asmir Begović or Wojciech Szczęsny needed to put themselves out stopping shots.
Despite Arsenal’s possession, their persistence, their superior league standing, it was Stoke that took the lead with 15 minutes left to play. The hosts had actually looked the better side for the majority of the second half, grabbing chances and causing panic among the Gunners’ back line.
That panic must’ve been what prompted Laurent Koscielny to handle the ball inside the area. Peter Crouch headed on to Jonathan Walters and, when the attacker attempted to flick past Koscielny, the defender stuck out his hand. But with Charlie Adam replaced by Stephen Ireland just two minutes earlier, it was up to Walters himself to take the penalty – Walters, who had missed four of his last six spot kicks. But he got it right this time, putting it past Szczęsny and into the bottom corner.
Stoke City: Begović; Cameron, Shawcross, Wilson, Pieters; Walters, Nzonzi, Whelan, Adam (Ireland 73), Arnautović (Etherington 88); Crouch
Goals: Walters (76′)
Arsenal: Szczęsny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Arteta, Wilshere (Sanogo 81), Rosicky (Oxlade-Chamberlain 74), Cazorla, Podolski (Özil 66), Giroud