A DRAMATIC late goal from Arsenal substitute Lukas Podolski was enough to inflict a harsh 1-0 defeat upon the Potters at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The Potters, who put in their best display in North London since winning promotion in 2008, looked well on course to record a thoroughly deserved point until eleven minutes from time, when the German substitute fortuitously won the game for the hosts.
His relatively tame free-kick from 25-yards took a wicked deflection off the leg of American Geoff Cameron, before nestling in the bottom corner of the net, to break the hearts of the visitors, who had battled bravely against their more illustrious opponents.
Asmir Begovic performed heroically during the first half to keep the Gunners at bay, but chances did come for the Potters too, with Ryan Shawcross and Peter Crouch both spurning decent opportunities.
Prior to the game Tony Pulis made two changes to his starting eleven, welcoming full-backs Andy Wilkinson and Ryan Shotton both into the side, with Dean Whitehead and Charlie Adam making way.
As was expected, Arsenal began the game in the ascendency, with the pace of Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain causing the City rear-guard a number of early problems.
Oxlade-Chamberlain, the son of former Potters star Mark Chamberlain, was the first to try his luck with an ambitious strike from 30-yards, however, Begovic watched the ball fly harmlessly wide of the post.
The Gunners continued to surge forward with England youngster Jack Wilshire next in line to attempt to hit the target from range, but like his fellow midfielder, his effort flew into the stand behind the goal.
Stoke showed their intent soon after with a spell of heavy pressure inside the hosts half, but despite the best efforts of Matthew Etherington and Geoff Cameron there appeared to be no way through a stubborn Arsenal backline.
A routine punt forward from Wilkinson did manage to cause a major problem for Per Mertesacker and co though, as Crouch rose highest to flick the ball on to Jonathan Walters, and he tested Wojciech Szczesny with a stinging half-volley from outside the 18-yard box.
The visitors were soon scenting blood as they continued to press in search of the opening goal of the game, but two chances came and went, with firstly Crouch, and then Shawcross failing to trouble the Polish ‘keeper when well positioned.
At the other end, a thunderous effort from Mikel Arteta brought the very best out of Robert Huth, as he threw his body and stitched up head, on the line to block the Spaniard’s seemingly goal-bound attempt.
An expected Gunners onslaught failed to materialise as Pulis’ side continued to enjoy the better of the half, with Shawcross somehow finding himself deep in the opposition half, but again, he was unable to hit the target with a snapshot from 20-yards out.
A vociferous roar from the clearly disgruntled home supporters inspired Arsene Wenger’s side on to create the best chance of the game with little over ten minutes of the first-half remaining.
Wilshire whipped a dangerous corner into the danger zone, and somehow the ball evaded a packed out penalty area, squirming through to the unmarked Chamberlain, who looked to have fired the ball home from close range, only for Begovic to respond with an incredible save down to his left.
The Bosnian stopper, who has been linked with moves to the likes of Manchester United and Manchester City in recent weeks, built upon his already impressive reputation with another superb save moments later, this time denying Laurent Koscielny.
It was soon apparent that this afternoon’s talking point was going to surround Begovic, as the 24-year-old produced arguably his best save of the day to thwart Oxlade-Chamberlain for a second time, just as the youngster looked set to celebrate his third goal of the campaign.
That incident proved be the final one of what was an entertaining opening 45 minutes of action.
The second half started in pretty much similar fashion to the first, with the Gunners dominating the possession stats, without really causing too many moments of panic amongst the visitors backline.
On the one occasion in which the rear-guard was breached, Frenchman Oliver Giroud was unable to keep his strike down - rifling over from 12-yards, following a clever lay-off from the lively Walcott.
Wenger attempted to reinvigorate his stuttering performers by introducing the hugely experienced international pairing of Podolski and Santi Cazorla from the bench, with Oxlade-Chamberlain and Abou Diaby both making way.
It came as no surprise to see the hosts adopt a more fluid, attacking approach to the game following the changes, but in true Stoke character, each attack was met by a wall of battling City defenders.
It was undoubtedly going to take a piece of individual magic, or a slice of good fortune for the hosts to forge that crucial breakthrough; and heartbreakingly for the visitors it was the latter which ultimately proved to be their downfall in North London.
Wilkinson, who had done a sterling job nullifying the threat of Walcott throughout the afternoon, was adjudged to have tripped the England forward in another Arsenal attack eleven minutes from time.
Referee Chris Foy wasted no time in awarding the free-kick! That decision was probably right, but there is no doubting that the injustice which was to follow was a cruel twist in the tale for the brave Potters.
German international Podolski, who joined the Club from Cologne in the summer, miscued his strike at goal, but the ball deflected off the leg of Cameron, and drifted agonisingly into the far corner of the net, with Begovic helpless to stop it.
There was a brief moment of disarray inside the stadium as the linesman flagged for offside, however, after consulting the referee the goal was rightly given.
Pulis responded by making a triple substitution, with Michael Owen, Cameron Jerome and Kenwyne Jones all thrust into the action, with Cameron, Crouch and Walters the players to make way.
Unfortunately the trio weren’t able to inspire a late leveller, as Arsenal stood firm to record an undeserved fifth successive home victory against the Potters.