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Gunners fail to capitalise

Arsenal could only draw at what is something of a bogey ground for them, but must still be favourites to finish third, guaranteeing qualification for next season's Champions League, after Newcastle's unexpected mauling by Wigan. Arsene Wenger's resurgent Gunners are now four points ahead of Newcastle, who have a game in hand, and seven in front of Tottenham, who have two more matches than their north London rivals still to play.

Arsenal have won one and lost three of their past five visits to the Britannia Stadium, but it is not only their results that they dislike about the venue. The Stoke fans scorn Wenger and his passing game, and even for the impartial observer it was unpleasant to hear the vitriolic abuse of a manager who has always been a positive influence on football in England, and the booing of young Aaron Ramsey, apparently for having his career threatened when his leg was broken in two places by Ryan Shawcross in the corresponding fixture two years ago.

"The Stoke crowd have a relationship with me, but I don't have one with them," Wenger said afterwards. "It's easy to sit in the stand and abuse people." Asked about Ramsey's hostile treatment, he said: "I don't see what he has done wrong and so I don't think the crowd can be proud of what they've done there."

In what, as usual, was the ultimate clash of styles, Arsenal stood up for themselves in the physical confrontations, which has not always been the case in the past and, in dressing room parlance, earned the right to play.

Even Tony Pulis, had to admit that Wenger's side was much the better team, especially in the first half.

"Arsenal's play was smashing, but we were a lot better in the second half and might even have nicked another goal," the Stoke manager said. He added that his players could take "great credit" from the fact that none of the top six clubs managed to win at the Britannia this season.

On the subject of the crowd's behaviour, Pulis said: "It's not just Arsene who gets it. I go to other grounds and get abused. You have to accept it as a manager. Should you accept it? I don't know. You'd better ask the police."

The match could be personified as a tale of two strikers. Peter Crouch did his prospects of making the England squad for Euro 2012 no harm at all with his 10th goal of the season in the Premier League and his 13th in all competitions. Wenger had warned his players on Friday about the aerial threat posed by the itinerant beanpole, but the lesson went unheeded when Crouch headed home Matthew Etherington's left-wing cross.

When Arsenal equalised, in the 15th minute, it was almost inevitably through Robin van Persie. The Dutchman's 35th goal in 46 games took the form of a nicely taken cushioned volley at close range, the chance set up by Tomas Rosicky's centre.

Stoke were without their regular right-back, Andy Wilkinson, with hamstring trouble, and Kieran Gibbs, Rosicky, Yossi Benayoun and Gervinho all took it in turns to exploit Ryan Shotton's fallibility in the role, which meant Jermaine Pennant had to track back to help out. Shotton, turned inside out, gave way to Mathew Upson 10 minutes into the second half, with Robert Huth switching from central defence to right-back.

Arsenal might have had a penalty after 75 minutes, when Benayoun went to ground inside the 18-yard area, the claim being that he had been pushed in the back by Glenn Whelan.

"We'll stick it on the end of the video of all the other penalties we should have had this season," said Wenger, smiling wryly.

Stoke threatened to steal a victory at the death when Bacary Sagna made a last-ditch clearance from Crouch, but such an outcome would have been a travesty.

Arsenal's recovery since the beginning of the year probably merits third place in the league, which almost certainly be theirs providing they gain favourable results from their two remaining games, at home to Norwich next Saturday lunchtime and then away to West Brom.

Observer

Sunday Indo Sport