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23:07 23rd February 2011

Arsenal 1 Stoke City 0

A BATTLING performance at the Emirates Stadium wasn't enough to earn the Potters a deserved point against title contenders Arsenal on Wednesday night as Sebastien Squillaci's first half header settled an entertaining encounter.

The French international capitalised on some hesitant City defending in just the seventh minute to seal the win for Arsene Wenger's side, though the visitors did have opportunities of their own to take something from the game.

Norwegian international John Carew went close in the first half with a rasping 30-yard effort, whilst joint leading scorer Robert Huth may feel he could have done better after heading over a trademark Rory Delap long throw after the interval.

The game's final moment very nearly brought with it a last minute leveller for Stoke, but Jermaine Pennant, who started against his former side, saw his free-kick drop inches wide of the post.

Ahead of the game, Tony Pulis made two changes to his starting eleven with Asmir Begovic returning at the expense of Danish number one Thomas Sorensen and Dean Whitehead replacing the injured Matthew Etherington.

Pennant, meanwhile, passed a late fitness test to start on the right hand side of what was a five-man midfield, whilst Carew was deployed as the lone striker.

The game itself had barely been underway 90 seconds by the time the hosts had carved out the first opportunity of the night.

Some slick and intelligent passing culminated in Cesc Fabregas teeing up Theo Walcott inside the penalty area, however after seeing his strike beat Begovic, the ball came back off the post and straight back into the hands of the Bosnian.

The warning signs were ignored, and just seven minutes later the deadlock was broken when French international Squillaci stole a yard on Huth and steered Nicklas Bendtner's clever ball into the box beyond the City stopper and into the back of the net.

From then on, in all honesty, it did look as though the hosts would go on to dominate proceedings as for a while they laid siege to the Potters goal, though they were unable to find an avenue through an extremely stubborn back line.

The impressive Shawcross, who was jeered by the home supporters throughout the encounter, can't have done his chances of a recall into the England squad any harm with an impressive showing in front of the watching Fabio Capello, and it was he who denied Bendtner from eight-yards with a superbly timed challenge.

The longer the game wore on though, the more Stoke began to acclimatise to the surroundings, and with what was their first real foray into the Gunners half they very nearly grabbed a leveller through Carew.

The giant striker latched on to Jonathan Walters' flick on and struck a sweet strike goalwards from range which Wojciech Szczesny superbly palmed away down to his right hand side.

Former Manchester United defender Shawcross was next to test the Arsenal resolve just after the interval with a close range header, however his question of the Gunners defence was answered by Johan Djourou who bravely diverted his effort wide of goal.

Another Delap howitzer had the Arsenal backline in all of a panic moments later as he found the head of Huth, but despite his recent goalscoring credentials he could only glance the ball over the bar despite looking odds on to level the scoreline.

At the other end, Walcott wasted an opportunity to double the advantage midway through the second period after substitute Andrei Arshavin had teed him up, before his evening was ended prematurely with what appeared to have been an ankle injury.

Pulis thrust Andy Wilkinson and Ricardo Fuller into the action as the game entered its final stages, but it was Pennant who would almost steal the show right at the death with a curling free-kick which agonisingly dropped the wrong side of the post.

The result may read Arsenal 1 Stoke City 0 at the end of the game, but the Potters will travel back from the capital with their heads held high having put in such an impressive showing against a side who only seven days ago dispatched of Barcelona in the Champions League.

    Data provided by Press Association


    The Potters played out four replays to finally beat Bury in the FA Cup in 1955