Arsenal: 5 Positives for Gunners in 1-0 Win vs. Stoke City
The North London club dominated the Potters from the opening whistle, but after some brilliant saves from Asmir Begovic, it looked like the Gunners would again be forced to settle for a draw against a team that they really should have beaten.
That was until the 78th minute when the recently introduced Lukas Podolski's free kick took a deflection and found its way into the back of the Potters' net.
Arsenal would hang on for their 11th win of the season and move within one point of fifth-placed Everton as a result. They'll no doubt take plenty away from the match—and plenty from the three competition points gained—but there were several big points that stood out for the Gunners.
Here are the five biggest positives in the 1-0 win for Arsenal.
1. Points Gained on the Top Four
Perhaps what will be most telling out of this result is the way in which it pulled Arsenal back into the top-four race once more.
That's not to say that they were ever out of the race, per say, but the three points gained certainly kept the Gunners close to those above them—especially given the number of results that managed to fall their way over the weekend.
Everton were kept to a 3-3 draw at Goodison Park by Aston Villa, and were incredibly lucky even to get the one point from that match. Chelsea dropped all three points to Newcastle United; Swansea also dropped points in their 1-0 loss to West Ham.
With Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool still to play on Sunday afternoon, the North London club may well find themselves just one point outside the top four by the end of the weekend, with a six-point gap to the seventh-placed Liverpool behind them.
Week 25 could well be a defining moment for Arsenal in their bid to finish inside the Premier League's top four and in next season's Champions League once more.
2. Defensively Sound Once More
Stoke City were never going to trouble the Arsenal defense a whole lot, but given the way in which the North London club have been conceding goals of late, it wouldn't have been surprising to see Tony Pulis' side find the back of the net in this one.
Lining up in a 4-5-1 formation and scoring just 24 goals for the year didn't exactly strike fear into the hearts of Arsenal fans around the world, and rightly so. Stoke didn't pressure the Gunners a great deal in attack, and the North London club held firm as a result.
The 1-0 victory was a strong performance in defense from Arsenal, who allowed just one shot on goal and one corner for the entire match. They dominated possession and field position, and snuffed out more than half of Stoke's passes in the attacking third here.
And the clean sheet was, therefore, a deserved result.
What Arsenal need now is the consistency like this in defense next week; something that they haven't been able to produce consistently all season.
But for a club that had just one clean sheet in 2013 coming into this one, any improvement will do, and there was certainly plenty of improvement to be found here.
All whilst Andre Santos was on the bench. Who'd have thought?
3. Strength on Both Wings
With Arsene Wenger opting for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain over Lukas Podolski on the left flank, Arsenal had two regulation wingers for what seems like the first time in a while.
The German Podolski had been cutting in more (and achieving great success doing so), but the option of using The Ox definitely helped stretch the Potters' cluttered defense and open up great lanes for the likes of Olivier Giroud to exploit.
Both wingers were brought into the attack well by the middle men, with both having excellent goal-scoring opportunities denied by Asmir Begovic throughout the first half.
And whilst they might not have been able to make it count on the scoresheet, both wingers contributed greatly to the Gunners' possession and territory-dominated style and surely will have great impact moving forward throughout the rest of 2013.
Tactically, the use of both players out wide was a great move from Wenger to open up the Stoke defense, which Pulis had packed to try and score a goalless draw.
Especially when Podolski found the back of the net late to break the deadlock—then the introduction of both players out wide early had certainly seemed worth it.
4. Domination Through Midfield
The scoreline might have finished 1-0 to the Arsenal, but in reality, this match could not have been more one-sided even if Stoke had decided not to come out for the second half.
The Gunners midfield—buoyed by the return of passing maestro Mikel Arteta—once again controlled the center of the pitch and used that control to asset themselves right across the pitch.
Possession, field position, attacking chances; the Gunners simply bossed the middle here and deserved their victory. Arsene Wenger will be delighted that he was able to achieve it without using Santi Cazorla for the majority of the match and that they finally took advantage of their dominance with the goal.
Because at the end of the day, it truly was dominance from Arsenal. The match statistics via Stats Zone App show just one in control of this match they were.
Total pass attempts
|Pass completion %||88%||72%|
|Field position %||63.8%||36.2%|
|Attacking third passes||209 of 250||40 of 85|
5. They Finished off the Match
After Asmir Begovic had somehow denied Arsenal on numerous occasions throughout the first half, the Gunners would have thought that this one just wasn't going to be their match.
As the match continued to wear on, 75-odd minutes had been played without a goal being scored by Arsenal, and they might well have thought that it simply wasn't to be.
They had thrown everything they had into their attack, brought on some of their best players and created some excellent opportunities, but they were unable to break the Potters defense—much to their frustration and no doubt annoyance as well.
However, Arsenal's ability to finish off the match and get a result here was huge for Arsene Wenger's men, for it showed that they aren't lacking in tenacity.
Several times this year, the Gunners have simply let slip—either early on to allow the opening goal or late at the end to miss the potential game-winner—but not here.
This time, they took the chance when presented to them and even though it wasn't their best chance on the day, they still made it count by putting the ball into the net.
They didn't come from behind on the scoresheet, but they did to an extent in terms of their momentum and self-belief—something that will be immeasurable until the next time that Arsenal find themselves needing to finish off a match like this one.
Getting a result here when they know they deserved it—that's the biggest positive from this one for Arsene Wenger's men because it might just help them believe once more that they can still achieve something great from the 2012/13 season.
Don't look now, but the Gooners are coming.
What did you make of Arsenal's 1-0 win over Stoke this weekend?
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