Gunners beat gallant Stoke
By Mark Buckingham. Last Updated: 09/01/05 3:41pm
Arsenal overcame a major scare against Stoke City before booking their place in the FA Cup fourth round after a 2-1 success at Highbury.
The Premiership champions were rattled when Wayne Thomas plundered the opening goal of the contest on the cusp of the interval.
But second half goals from Jose Antonio Reyes and Robin van Persie, which sandwiched Stoke having a shot cleared off the line and hitting the crossbar, ensured The Gunners progress.
Arsenal offered an early indication of their determination to avoid a banana skin with van Persie flashing a shot narrowly wide of the upright after just three minutes.
But the expected procession failed to materialise as Stoke more than held their own and, in the much-maligned Ade Akinbiyi, the visitors possessed a striker capable of giving the Arsenal back-line the run-around.
The £5 million man's physical presence continually unnerved Philippe Senderos and, when the Swiss defender slipped, Akinbiyi nipped in to smash a shot which was saved by Jens Lehmann.
Van Persie had a weak attempt saved before a slick pass from Robert Pires created a chance for Jermaine Pennant but his shot was pushed out by Steve Simonsen.
Akinbiyi was unlucky not to open the scoring on 38 minutes when he lobbed the ball over Lehmann but his outmuscling of Senderos was deemed too heavy-handed.
On the stroke of half time, Stoke stunned their hosts when Arsenal's fallibility at set-pieces was again exposed.
When the original free kick was not dealt with, Chris Greenacre whipped the ball back in, Akinbiyi's header was superbly saved by Lehmann but Thomas reacted quickest to the rebound to pounce for the opener.
Just five minutes into the second half, though, and The Gunners were level after having sent a warning shot across Stoke's bow when Simonsen had to save low down from van Persie not long after the restart.
Stoke were left to rue their failure to adequately deal with Kolo Toure's cross as they only cleared towards the edge of the area where Reyes thumped his shot past the helpless Simonsen.
The visitors, though, refused to roll over and almost nosed back in front on 62 minutes when Greenacre took advantage of Lehmann's hesitancy to intuitively flick the ball towards goal but Gael Clichy was on hand to clear off the line.
Lehmann was a spectator again five minutes later when the impressive Akinbiyi spun on the edge of the box and unleashed a curling shot which bounced back off the crossbar.
Van Persie set his sights on 69 minutes when he was denied by Simonsen after Spanish duo Cesc Fabregas and Reyes had combined slickly.
Within 60 seconds, van Persie finally rippled the back of the net as his impudent finish from Pennant's cross flew inside the post.
The Dutchman's goal sapped the fight from Stoke and only a Simonsen save late on from Pennant ensured Arsenal did not put further daylight between the teams, although that would have been harsh on a spirited visiting side.
|Arsenal||Team Statistics||Stoke City|
|0||1st Half Goals||1|
|7||Shots on Target||4|
|10||Shots off Target||3|