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16:17 8th May 2011

Potters Triumph Lifts Them To Eighth

STOKE CITY gained the perfect shot-in-the-arm before their first-ever FA Cup Final appearance . . . with an emphatic 3-1 victory over Arsenal that boosted their prospects of finishing in the top half of the Barclays Premier League table.

Tony Pulis' side continued their excellent home form in 2011 as joint leading scorers Kenwyne Jones and Jon Walters both bagged their twelfth goals of the season, while Jermaine Pennant had the satisfaction of scoring against his former club.

The only concern was that key defender Robert Huth added to City's recent injury woes when he limped off with a knee injury early in the second half, although he appeared to be moving freely as he went down the tunnel.

City's stunning victory lifted them up into eighth position in the Premier League table and raised hopes that they can finish in the top half and improve upon the points haul of 47 which they achieved in the 2009-10 campaign.

Pulis resisted the temptation to make changes, sending out the same side that earned a goalless draw at Blackpool with Wilkinson having recovered from a knock picked up at Bloomfield Road, while Arsenal were without skipper Fabregas and Nasri.

It was the Gunners who had the greater share of the possession in the early stages of the game and they carved out the first opening when Wilshere's challenge on Wilkinson saw the ball break to Arshavin just inside the box, but he shot wide.

The first threat from City came after a run down the right hand side by Walters which set up the opportunity for Whelan to try his luck from long range, but that was well off target and failed to trouble the Arsenal 'keeper Szczesny.

Ramsey, back on the ground where he suffered a double break of the leg 15 months ago, slipped a well-weighted ball through to van Persie inside the box but the Dutchman lifted his shot over the bar from an excellent position.

Arsenal had to deal with their first threat from a throw-in as Delap launched one into the box carried by the strong wind, but it came to the midfielder and his cross was punched by Szczesny only as far as Pennant who hooked his shot wide.

A free kick from Whelan picked out Walters who volleyed the ball across goal, but unfortunately there was no Stoke player on hand.

City were beginning to build pressure after a subdued start and they went in front in the 27th minute with the softest of goals.

Arshavin committed two fouls on Pennant, the second of which resulted in a free kick, which was sent over by the winger and Jones, who had escaped the attention of Djourou, simply let the ball run into the net off his chest.

Walters and Jones then linked up well to cause the Arsenal defence more problems and it was the former Ipswich man who eventually tried his luck from long range which was comfortably gathered by Szczesny moving smartly to his right.

Shawcross then produced a vital block to keep out a shot from Ramsey after the midfielder burst into the box onto a pass from Arshavin.

City were forced to soak more pressure from the Gunners and Huth came across with a timely interception to halt Arshavin in his tracks.

Five minutes before the break, the Potters went further in front when former Arsenal player Pennant found space cutting in from the left and unleashed a long range shot which deflected off Djourou and looped over Szczesny.

Arsenal could have fallen even further behind moments later when Walters latched onto a long ball forward and slipped it through Song's legs and then from the tightest of angles tried a curling shot which hit the bar with Szczesny beaten.

Not surprisingly, the Gunners made two changes at half time with Bendtner and Chamakh replacing Arshavin and Ramsey.

City went close to stretching their lead shortly after the break when Pennant whipped over a corner from the right and Huth headed over the bar.

Worryingly for the Potters, the big German was caught by Song in the process and was feeling his right knee which led to him limping off moments later to be replaced by Faye.

Arsenal seized the opportunity to try and force their way back into the game as van Persie worked some space to try a shot on the turn, but Begovic was alert to the situation and made his first real save of the match.

There was another anxious moment for City when a flare-up resulted in a bad challenge by Wilshere on Pennant, to which the winger retaliated and this led to several players squaring up. Referee Halsey took his time when deciding the eventual punishment and showed both players yellow cards, much to the relief of the City player.

It was hardly surprising that a minute later when there was a break in play Pennant left the field to a standing ovation to be replaced by Pugh.

City had the chance to add to their lead when Whelan started and finished a move in which Walters' return pass found the midfielder inside the box and his shot flashed past the upright with Szczesny struggling to get across to it at his near post.

Faye had proved to be an outstanding deputy for Huth at the centre of defence as he and Shawcross resumed their old partnership.

But City's defence was breached when van Persie wriggled his way into a shooting position on his right foot and rifled a low shot under Begovic.

Any prospect of there being a tense finish to the match was killed off moments later with a third goal from the Potters from Walters.

It was the Republic of Ireland international who played a prominent part in the move at the outset and when Wilkinson drilled a low ball into the box, some poor defending from Arsenal led to Walters having the time to pick his spot.

As City played out time, Arsenal managed to create one more clearcut chance, but Begovic produced a one-handed save to deny Bendtner.

    Data provided by Press Association


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