Wenger happy to take point away from 'old-fashioned battle'
Arsène Wenger claimed last night that Arsenal emerged from an "old-fashioned Stoke battle" to prove their title credentials as they reclaimed top spot in the Premier League following a goalless draw at the Britannia Stadium.
Outstanding performances by goalkeepers Jack Butland and Petr Cech ensured that the game ended in a stalemate, with Cech denying the Stoke forward Joselu a 90th-minute winner with a save with his outstretched leg. But having seen his team travel to Stoke with just one victory in seven Premier League visits, Wenger insisted that Arsenal displayed the grit and determination required to emerge with a point from a stadium where Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United have all been defeated this season.
"It was a battle," Wenger said. "An old-fashioned Stoke battle, but the players showed they were up for it. We displayed solidarity and fighting spirit, and although we wanted to win the game, looking at our history here and the results of other teams here, this is a positive result.
"I cannot fault my team for their attitude. It was spot on. The way they responded to the challenge they faced was spot on. But Petr Cech was outstanding, we needed a player like him in the air when Stoke played that kind of game."
Arsenal's previous vulnerability at Stoke meant this fixture was identified as a potential problem for Wenger's team and one which would raise old questions about the club's ability to fight it out for the title. But Cech insisted that the doubts about his team-mates were banished following this performance.
"We were coming here and we could hear from everyone that we were going to lose the game," Cech said. "But we showed we can compete. In the circumstances, we take the point and move on. In midweek against Liverpool we were unlucky to concede the late goal and today we take the point.
"But we are in the position we wanted to be and now we go to the home game [against Chelsea next weekend] and we are ready to compete again."
Cech's second-half saves from Joselu and Bojan Krkic ultimately won a point for Arsenal, but the former Chelsea goalkeeper attempted to play down the importance of his contribution. "I was pleased with all my contribution because sometimes it can be a tricky game," Cech said. "You try and keep your composure and everything you do, you try to make it perfect. You feel confident and I'm very happy that in the second half I managed to keep everything out."
Arsenal were forced to face Stoke without their influential midfielder Mesut Ozil due to a foot injury, but Wenger hopes that the German will be fit to return against Chelsea at the Emirates at the weekend.
"Ozil had [an] inflammation of his foot," Wenger said. "Yesterday morning he was not very well and he was already not 100 per cent at Liverpool on Wednesday. We decided to leave him out, but he should be back for next Sunday."
The Stoke manager, Mark Hughes, whose team have now avoided defeat at home against all of last season's top four, praised Butland for his performance, but warned against placing too much expectation on the 22-year-old. "We are indebted to Jack for a great save from Olivier Giroud in the first half," Hughes said. "But it is early days for Jack, his first season in the Premier League as a No 1. He has proven what a good 'keeper he is but he can't be mentioned with Cech because he has not been doing it as long as him.
"This is a decent result for us and shows how far we have come. We can go toe-to-toe with every team in the league."
Independent News Service