Arsenal 1 Stoke 0: Lukas Podolski free-kick breaks Asmir Begovic's resistance
Last Updated: 03/02/13 3:47pm
Arsenal gave their hopes of a top-four finish a boost with a 1-0 win over Stoke City, but needed a deflected free-kick to beat the outstanding Asmir Begovic.
Arsene Wenger's side dominated for much of the game and created several clear-cut chances, only to be denied by fine saves from Stoke's stubborn goalkeeper.
Best of the match
- Man of the match: Asmir Begovic made a string of excellent saves in the first half and was beaten only by a deflection.
- Goal of the match: The only goal came from the boot of Podolski, but it found the back of the net only because of a wicked rebound off Geoff Cameron.
- Save of the match: Begovic's strong hand to push Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's well-placed shot was the pick of three fine stops in the first half.
- Talking point: Stoke City have so often exposed the weaknesses in Arsenal's defence over the years, but they seemed too reluctant to push men forward for fear of getting caught out. Wojciech Szczesny practically had a day off.
However, the Bosnian was left helpless when Lukas Podolski's free-kick 12 minutes from time deflected off Geoff Cameron and into the back of the net.
The result sees Arsenal close to within a point of fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur, who play on Sunday, while Stoke remain tenth.
Arsenal made a high-tempo start, with Theo Walcott's pace proving an early thorn in Stoke's side and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain trying his luck with a shot that flashed wide.
The visitors took 20 minutes to get into the game and eventually had half-chances of their own through Peter Crouch, Ryan Shawcross and Glenn Whelan.
But Arsenal soon returned to the ascendancy and would have led at half-time had it not been for a trio of excellent saves from Begovic.
First, the Bosnian stopped a close-range snap-shot from Oxlade-Chamberlain, before palming a point-blank Laurent Koscielny header to safety.
However, his best stop came five minutes from the break, when Jack Wilshere released Oxlade-Chamberlain, who opened up his body and sent a right-foot shot towards the far corner, only for Begovic to divert it wide with a strong hand.
The break came at the wrong time for Arsenal and they struggled to regain their momentum for the first 20 minutes of the second period.
However, the introduction of the rested Santi Cazorla and Podolski from the substitutes' bench gave them fresh impetus and they soon set up camp in and around Stoke's box.
It looked like the breakthrough would not come, but after Andy Wilkinson brought down Walcott on the edge of the box, Podolski produced the winner courtesy of a helping hand from Cameron.
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