By Tom Foster
TWO late goals from title-contenders Arsenal ended 10-man Stoke City's superb 11 match unbeaten run as the Gunners inflicted the Potters first defeat in 2010.
Danny Pugh had given the hosts the perfect start when he struck home in his first league start of the campaign after just seven minutes, but Nicklas Bendtner's header levelled matters after 31 minutes.
Ryan Shawcross was dismissed for a challenge on Aaron Ramsey, who was then stretchered off with a nasty looking injury, and Arsenal eventually made the numerical advantage count.
Cesc Fabregas gave the Gunners the lead with just two minutes remaining from the penalty spot after Pugh had been harshly penalised for handball inside the area. Defender Thomas Vermaelen then made the points safe for Wenger's side as he tapped in from close range in stoppage time.
Potters boss Tony Pulis had made three changes from his side's FA Cup heroics against Manchester City in midweek, with Abdoulaye Faye returning at the expense of Danny Collins, Liam Lawrence making way for Pugh and Andy Wilkinson returning from suspension to take the place of Salif Diao.
Arsene Wenger made two changes from his side's 2-0 victory over Sunderland last time out by recalling Sol Campbell to the heart of the Gunners defence in place of Mikael Silvestre and Bacary Sagna earning a start ahead of Theo Walcott.
At a bitterly cold Britannia Stadium, it was the hosts who were having the better of the early exchanges without really testing Manuel Almunia in the Arsenal goal, with Mamady Sidibe heading wide in the fifth minute from Rory Delap's first long throw in of the evening.
From Delap's second throw-in though, the Potters had a seventh minute lead. Defender Shawcross rose highest to flick the ball into Pugh's path and the 27-year-old made no mistake from close range to mark his first league start of the season in spectacular style.
The Gunners were slowly but surely starting to see more of the ball but their stuttering start to the game was then summed up as striker Nicklas Bendtner scuffed his shot well wide from long range just after the quarter hour mark.
Delap's throw-ins were causing the visitors all sorts of problems and on 20 minutes, the missile evaded everybody in the penalty area when just a touch could of doubled City's lead.
The game was being played at a ferocious pace and on 21 minutes, Potters goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen was called into action for the first time as he tipped captain Fabregas's long-range volley just wide.
Andy Wilkinson then saw his ambitious 35-yard volley go well wide, but the Potters were certainly giving Wenger's side something to think about.
The visitors then enjoyed a prolonged spell of possession which ended in the Gunners leveling matters just after the half-hour mark. Fabregas's cross from the right found the Dane, who expertly headed home from ten yards to score his second goal in as many games.
Pulis' side responded well to the setback and nearly regained the lead just minutes later after Delap found Ricardo Fuller, who's mazy run was ended with Almunia gathering the ball.
Many of referee Peter Walton's decisions were infuriating the home faithful and tempers flared between Shawcross and Fabregas just before half-time, as the Spaniard escaped a yellow card for a late foul on the defender.
Arsenal had the first meaningful chance of the second half on 49 minutes as left-back Gael Clichy cut inside and forced Sorensen into a low save. The hosts responded well and forced three corners in quick succession as the Arsenal goal came under intense pressure.
The visitors came close to taking the lead just before the hour mark as space opened up for Eboue and his piledriver from just outside the area was well kept out by Sorensen.
A minute later, Pulis made his first substitution as skipper Faye was replaced by Danny Collins in the Potters defence and Shawcross was handed the armband.
Jamaican international Fuller tested Almunia in the visitors goal on the hour mark as he latched onto a misjudged header from Sol Campbell, but his strike was easily gathered by the Spaniard.
Six minutes later the hosts were reduced to ten men after Shawcross was given a straight red for a challenge on Ramsey, who after receiving lengthy attention, was stretchered off to warm applause from both sets of fans and replaced by Tomas Rosicky.
Theo Walcott was then brought on to replace Eboue with just over 15 minutes remaining as Wenger looked to make Arsenal's numerical advantage count and press for a winner.
Pulis then made his second substitution as he introduced Liam Lawrence for Dean Whitehead with 13 minutes to go before making his final change on 79 minutes as Fuller made way for Tuncay.
Wenger made his final substation of the evening with seven minutes remaining as Eduardo was brought on in place of Sami Nasri. The Croatian international then came agonisingly close to making an instant impact as he missed a guilt-edge chance to give the Gunners all three points, after missing from close range.
Arsenal did take a dramatic late lead on 88 minutes as captain Fabregas scored from the penalty spot. Bendtner's chip was deemed to have deliberately hit the hand of Danny Pugh and Walton awarded the spot-kick. And despite Sorensen diving the right way, Fabregas found the net to give the Gunners the lead for the first time.
There was hope for the Potters when the fourth official indicated seven minute of stoppage time but Thomas Vermaelen ended hopes of a City equaliser as he settled matters by tapping home from two yards to make sure of the victory.