Drawing a blank
As part of our new Premier League Snap-shots feature, Rob Parrish looks back on Stoke's 0-0 draw with Arsenal as the Gunners were again frustrated in the Premier League.
By Rob Parrish - Follow me on Twitter @skysportsrobp. Last Updated: August 26, 2012 6:00pm
Olivier Giroud went close late on for Arsenal in their goalless draw with Stoke
Two games and no goals for Arsenal is not the start to the season Arsene Wenger would have wanted following the sale of Robin van Persie, but there were still some reasons to be cheerful after the 0-0 draw away to Stoke.
Olivier Giroud suggested in flashes that he can become a solid performer in the Premier League and Santi Cazorla was again always hungry for possession in the centre of the park, while in Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain Wenger has further options on the bench.
And, unlike in previous years, the Gunners had little difficultly in dealing with Stoke's approach to the game, with Abou Diaby helping them dominate from midfield.
Wenger made two changes to his starting line-up from the clash with Sunderland, one which was forced upon him and another tactical decision. Goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny's rib injury meant Vito Mannone was the last line of defence and the Italian coped perfectly well, meaning any pre-match concerns from Gunners fans were misplaced. The French coach also handed Giroud his first start and dropped Walcott to the bench, with the striker threatening at times without being able to make the breakthrough.
Opposite number Tony Pulis also made two switches to his team from their opening day draw at Reading, with Dean Whitehead's suspension meaning summer signing Geoff Cameron was handed his Potters debut in midfield and Jermaine Pennant coming into the starting XI in place of Matthew Etherington, who was not part of the match day squad.
Arsenal started with an attack-minded 4-3-3 formation with Giroud at the focal point of their line-up, Podolski in his preferred position out on the left and Gervinho taking up residence on the right. Cazorla was the man in behind pulling the strings while the excellent Diaby was hugely impressive in the middle of the park. The visitors dominated possession throughout and forced 11 corners but managed just two shots on target throughout the contest.
Stoke lined up in a 4-4-2 formation, with Peter Crouch and Jon Walters paired together up front and the latter tasked with dropping back into midfield when necessary - which proved to be a regular occurrence as the home side were often chasing the ball rather than dictating the game. Crouch is always a willing outlet but he lacked support and the wide men of Michael Kightly and Pennant were unable to provide much in the way of service.
Pulis was the first to make a change, sending on Cameron Jerome for Pennant with 25 minutes remaining, which resulted in Walters moving out to the flank as the new arrival joined Crouch in attack. But it failed to change the course of the game and soon after Ryan Shotton was sent on for the giant England international, with Walters back up front. Wilson Palacios was the final man to join the fray, but had little time to influence the game in the final nine minutes.
Wenger went for a double switch 18 minutes from the end, taking off the wide men of his attacking triumvirate in Podolski and Gervinho and sending on England duo Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to run at the Stoke defence. Both men showed their talent in flashes, but could not find a way through the resolute home defence. Aaron Ramsey arrived nine minutes from time and was jeered by the home fans unhappy at his apparent refusal to accept an apology from Ryan Shawcross over the tackle which broke his leg back in February 2010.
Lee Mason may have travelled to the Britannia Stadium expecting a testing afternoon, given the history and animosity between the two clubs. He only dished out two yellow cards to Robert Huth and Andy Wilkinson, both of which were fully deserved after clumsy challenges from the Potters duo. The official angered the home support by waving away penalty appeals after Pennant went down under Gibbs' challenge, with the Stoke winger making the most of what contact there was from the defender.
Ryan Shawcross had an impressive game at the heart of Stoke's defence, coping well with everything that Arsenal's three-pronged attack could throw at him, and also cutting out many of the probings of Cazorla from midfield.
Abou Diaby has been handed the task of replacing Alex Song in Arsenal's midfield and he was an impressive presence against the Potters, regularly breaking up play before finding his more creative partners in Mikel Arteta and Cazorla.
Arsenal boss Wenger is far too experienced to listen to the critics who question his transfer dealings or panic after a couple of scoreless outings in the Premier League. The Frenchman will stick to the principles which have served him so well during his tenure with the Gunners and in Cazorla looks to have found a player who is eager to make a real impact on the top-flight.
Stoke only have domestic matters to contend with this season after finding the additional demands of the Europa League harder to cope with last term as they finished 14th, albeit only two points adrift of West Brom in the top 10. If their interest in Tom Huddlestone and Michael Owen comes to fruition then they will have much greater strength in depth.
Pulis admitted after the match that he was keen to "freshen up" his squad ahead of Friday's deadline, with a move for Tottenham midfielder Huddlestone likely to be revisited in the coming days after it appeared to be dead in the water at the end of last week. Owen continues to be linked with the Britannia Stadium and would form an impressive partnership with Crouch.
Wenger revealed he was "still on the market" after the Britannia Stadium stalemate, with a defensive midfielder thought to be high on his list of priorities following the sale of Alex Song to Barcelona, with Nuri Sahin having opted for Liverpool over the Gunners. The Emirates outfit still have funds to invest after bringing in nearly £40million from Song and Van Persie's departures.