Arsenal held by dogged Stoke

Arsenal move closer to securing third place in the Premier League despite being held to a draw at Stoke.

Arsenal held by dogged Stoke
Van Persie's goal was not enough to give the Gunners all three points

Arsenal moved to within an inch of securing third place despite being held by a spirited Stoke City side.

The Gunners fell behind when a superb Matthew Etherington cross was met by a precise Peter Crouch header.

But the visitors quickly responded, with Tomas Rosicky’s pinpoint cross guided in by captain Robin van Persie.

Yossi Benayoun had a late appeal for a penalty turned down by referee Chris Foy before Bacary Sagna scrambled away a Rory Delap throw during a frantic finale at the Britannia Stadium.

Stoke came into the game having won only one of their last seven games in the league.

But the Britannia Stadium has been a fortress for the Potters this season against the Premier League’s elite, having already beaten Liverpool and Tottenham there before taking impressive points against Champions league finalists Chelsea and the two title-chasing Manchester clubs.

And with Arsene Wenger’s side having lost three of their last four outings there, the pressure was on for Arsenal to produce a performance of both guile and steel to banish those Stoke City demons.

That is exactly how the Gunners started, as a neat combination between Benayoun and van Persie left the Israeli with only the keeper to beat, firing a tame effort into the hands of a grateful Asmir Begovic.

And it looked like Arsenal were about to run riot, as another bombardment at the home side’s goal continued to cause havoc, this time from Robin van Persie.

Fresh from his FWA Player of the year and PFA Player of the year Awards, the Gunners talisman forced a brilliant point-blank save from Begovic.

But Stoke still defied all of Arsenal’s early dominance by taking the lead, and in trademark style. Etherington, costless down the left hand channel, managed to pick out Peter Crouch to score his 14th goal of the season past a static Wojciech Szczesney.

The lead only lasted for six minutes though, when the industrious Benayoun stole possession from the struggling Ryan Shotton. The midfielder – on-loan from London rivals Chelsea – then found the impressive Rosicky, who crossed for van Persie to sidefoot in for his 28th league goal of the campaign.

The Gunners should have added to their lead soon after as Gervinho, on so many occasions fluffing his lines in front of goal this season, brought out the worst side of his game at the wrong time after somehow failing to connect with a Bacary Sagna cross.

Stoke looked battered at halftime, unable to combat an Arsenal side combining their unquestionable style with their more disputed lack of doggedness when the going gets tough.

Tony Pulis’s men managed to regroup after the interval though, with the game’s tempo slowing down and chances few and far between.

Benayoun did however have a case for a penalty after being brought down by Glenn Whelan. Replays did show that the Israeli international went down a little too easily.

Stoke did have a half-chance at the end, when a Delap throw managed to find its way through the Gunners defence, for Sagna to eventually clear away the growing panic.

Arsenal now only have to win their final fixtures against Norwich City and West Brom to secure third, and a place in next season’s Champions League.