Stoke City survived a second-half comeback from 10-man Arsenal to claim a 3-2 victory from an enthralling Barclays Premier League match on Saturday.
Mark Hughes' men appeared to be cruising to maximum points after three first-half goals seemingly put Stoke in complete command. Peter Crouch opened the scoring after just 19 seconds before Bojan Krkic and Jonathan Walters both netted to leave Arsene Wenger's men facing an embarrassing defeat. However, a disallowed Bojan effort turned the match in favour of Arsenal, who pulled one back courtesy of Santi Cazorla's 68th-minute penalty. Aaron Ramsey made it 3-2 two minutes later with a stunning volley to set up a grandstand finish. But the dismissal of defender Calum Chambers left Arsenal with too much of a mountain to climb, as Stoke held on to leave Wenger's men still waiting for a first win at the Britannia Stadium since February 2010.
Stoke made a dream start as Crouch, who was restored to the starting XI as part of three changes made by Hughes, capitalised on Arsenal's failure to deal with Steven N'Zonzi's right-wing cross to slot home from six yards.
Arsenal could have levelled in the 10th minute as right-back Hector Bellerin teed up Olivier Giroud with a cross from the right, but the France striker could only head wide at the far post. Arsenal goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez pulled off a superb diving stop down to his left to keep out Mame Biram Diouf's diving header after a Bojan free-kick had been flicked into the Senegal forward's path by Walters.
Arsenal failed to heed the warning signs and Walters linked up with Bojan again in the 32nd minute to double Stoke's lead. The Republic of Ireland international whipped in a superb right-wing delivery and Bojan stole in ahead of an Arsenal defence who failed to react to turn the ball beyond Martinez.
Walters was at the heart of almost every Stoke attack and got his reward for a typically industrious display on the stroke of half-time. Crouch rose highest to meet Bojan's corner, with his deflected header falling to Walters to lash home at the far post.
Hughes' men were fortunate to see their three-goal advantage preserved in the 56th minute when Arsenal forward Alexis Sanchez raced through the Stoke defence and rounded Asmir Begovic, only to strike a post with the net at his mercy. Stoke defender Marc Muniesa limped off in the 62nd minute, but the hosts looked to have made sure of the points three minutes later as Bojan found the net for a second time.
However, referee Anthony Taylor disallowed the goal as Diouf was ruled to have interfered with play from an offside position. Diouf was soon at fault again as Arsenal got their first goal, the forward conceding a penalty by bringing down Mathieu Flamini.
Cazorla slotted the ball into the bottom-right corner and Ramsey then cut the deficit further as he brilliantly fired in from Sanchez’s corner after Danny Welbeck had been denied with a one-on-one save from Begovic.
Arsenal's task was made harder when Chambers was shown a second yellow for pulling back Bojan 12 minutes from time and, although Cazorla tested Begovic from range, Wenger’s side never came close to finding a crucial third goal.
Stoke City manager Mark Hughes: “The first half was excellent to be perfectly honest, and was probably the best 45 minutes that we have played during my time here at the Club. I thought we executed our game plan to absolute perfection. We talked about getting the ball into the box with better quality and we managed to do that to quite devastating effect at times.
“That was incredibly satisfying from my point of view because we have worked on that a lot in training, so to see it come off in match play is hugely encouraging. Being 3-0 up at half-time isn’t something that occurs too often in the Premier League, so it is quite an unusual situation to be in, especially against a team like Arsenal.
“We were conscious of the scars we have from what happened against West Ham several weeks ago, and thankfully we managed to learn from that and see this one through, despite one or two things conspiring against us in the second half.”
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger: "There's a lot of regret, we had given a lot. We showed great energy levels and a great response. The spirit of the team was fantastic. Defensively we missed start of game. We gave easy goals away. We were not decisive in challenges. Once we were 3-0 down, we had a mountain to climb. We did climb, but a bit unlucky I must say.
"What goes through the mind at half-time? Everybody is down so you have to pump the team up and make decisions to change what can be changed. It's frustrating to see them lose. There were a lot of positives - defensively we were not strong enough.
"Anger doesn't help the team to play well. The players know we missed the start of game. If you come here you have to be on the first ball and have to win the header. We missed the start of the game. We also missed players like Laurent Koscielny - he couldn't play today.
"For Stoke, it's their game of the year. They have more animosity against us than other teams. In the future, we have to be prepared for more commitment. We unlock them by winning challenges and showing it from the start."
|13 Dec 2014||v Crystal Palace (A)|
|22 Dec 2014||v Chelsea (H)|
|26 Dec 2014||v Everton (A)|
|28 Dec 2014||v West Brom (H)|
|01 Jan 2015||v Man Utd (H)|
|11 Jan 2015||v Arsenal (A)|