Clinical strikes from Andrei Arshavin and substitute Aaron Ramsey helped Arsenal back to winning ways against a typically stubborn Stoke side to win 2-0 in their Premier League clash at the Emirates Stadium.
Arshavin put the hosts in front in the 26th minute with some exquisite close control to shuffle his way past Abdoulaye Faye and slot a crisp shot beyond Thomas Sorensen after a slick exchange with Cesc Fabregas on the edge of the Stoke box.
The match looked to be petering out poorly in a pretty drab second half, but substitute Aaron Ramsey lifted the mood once more and eased the anxiety around the Emirates with a composed finish, 11 minutes from time.
The margin of victory could have been considerably more handsome, but for some profligate finishing from the hosts, some heroic defending from Emmanuel Eboue on his opponent’s goal-line, and their skipper squandering a 21st-minute penalty.
Arsene Wenger handed Arshavin the lone-striker berth with a five-man midfield in support of him, and the hosts laid siege on the Stoke goal in the opening 10 minutes with the Russian at the forefront of everything in the final third.
In just the third minute, Arshavin should have given the Gunners the lead after he was put clean through on goal by Fabregas, but he dallied fractionally to allow the excellent Sorensen to sprawl himself at the forward’s feet and make a smart save.
As Arsenal’s pressure became incessant, Stoke were forced to defend valiantly to limit the damage inflicted and, after Eboue had surged down the right, Faye made a fine intervention to turn his cross away with Arshavin loitering ominously at the back post.
In the 20th minute, the hosts were awarded a penalty as Rory Delap scythed through the back of Arshavin in clumsy fashion and referee Mark Clattenburg had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Fabregas stepped up, but side-footed his shot tamely to the goalkeeper’s left, and his effort was parried away to safety.
But the Russian took matters into his own hands as he showed some sublime footwork in jinking past two Stoke defenders and toe-poking a precise shot past Sorensen to open the scoring midway through the first half.
It should have been two just a minute later, as Fabregas pounced on a loose ball inside the Stoke penalty area and, with Sorensen stranded, planted an assured finish down the centre of the goal, only for Eboue to inexplicably block his skipper’s shot to the dismay of his team-mates.
Arsenal could have been awarded a second penalty on the stroke of half-time, but Clattenburg ruled that Faye did not intend to block Samir Nasri’s shot inside the Stoke box and the visitors were handed a reprieve.
Mexican striker Carlos Vela was brought on at the break to replace Tomas Rosicky, with the injury-stricken Eboue following shortly after as Ramsey racked up another substitute appearance in a very claustrophobic midfield.
Arsenal continued to pile forward in their droves throughout the second half, but it was a scrappy and fragmented affair as three glorious opportunities fell to Arshavin, but the Russian was unable to add to his tally with Sorensen making two further impressive stops.
The imposing Dane dived low to his left to tip a low shot from Arshavin away for a corner, before he bravely stooped low to smother the ball at the forward’s feet midway through the second half. Faye then managed to deflect his third effort onto the crossbar after Fabregas had threaded another incisive ball through to him.
Stoke’s best chance fell to Tuncay Sanli, who stole in beyond William Gallas but crucially dithered when through on goal and the prodigious pace of Armand Traore enabled the defender to recover to alleviate the danger.
The home fans grew increasingly anxious and disconsolate as Wenger’s side failed to build on their slender lead, but despite a pretty turgid second period, Ramsey’s intricate run and finish ended Arsenal’s afternoon on a positive note.
As a result of their first victory in three matches, the Gunners leapfrog North London rivals Tottenham into third place, eight points behind Premier League leaders Chelsea.