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Arsenal 1 - 0 Stoke City: match report

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1 - 0 Sebastien Squillaci 8'

Arsenal ground out a victory against Stoke today in a subdued affair at the Emirates Stadium which the home side mostly dominated aside from a ten-minute spell at the start of the second half.

The first half was mostly Arsenal possessing Stoke to pieces.  Theo Walcott had an early chance, latching onto a Cesc Fabregas through ball only to curl an effort back off the far post.  Stoke won a free kick on the other end that Wojciech Szczesny punched away powerfully, and then Arsenal were in front.  A corner was flicked on by Stoke's defense straight to Nicklas Bendtner, who controlled at the far post and floated the ball back in front of goal, where Squillaci was waiting to nod it home from five yards.  He ran off celebrating his eventual game-winnter as if he had just conquered the Transvaal, and then continued to defend very well for the next 87 minutes.

Unfortunately for Arsenal, the worst moment of the match occurred shortly thereafter, as Cesc came up lame from a challenge, and had to come off, with Andrei Arshavin taking his place.  Early reports are that he has a muscular problem in his thigh or hamstring, but no word has come through yet about his chances for Sunday or the Nou Camp in two weeks' time.

The first half rolled on, Stoke absolutely out of the match, not pressing at all, Arsenal having well over 70% of the possession.  The only opportunity for the Potters came as John Carew half-volleyed a knockdown from John Walters, producing a fine save from a diving Szczesny.  Arsenal tried to create opportunities, but in the absence of Cesc, their final ball was usually intercepted or low-quality, and the half petered out.

Stoke would come out of half time with a little more bite in their play, and it started to show as Arsenal were forced back on a couple of occasions.  It unfortunately also started to show as first Samir Nasri, then Bacary Sagna took some knocks.  Ryan Shawcross had a header deflected wide by Johan Djourou.

Arsenal pulled their way back into the match, though, Arshavin setting up Theo Walcott with a lovely cutback, only for the winger to almost whiff completely.  It was Walcott's last action of the match, as a couple minutes later, under pressure from Danny Whitehead, he twisted his ankle badly and had to leave on a stretcher, Denilson taking his place.

After that, the match fell pretty flat again, both sides having slight opportunities, but nothing major.  Stoke continued to threaten from set pieces and throws, but Szczesny, Djourou and Squillaci were more than up to the aerial threat today, and Arsenal saw out the match after five minutes of extra time.  The Gunners move within one point of Manchester United at the top, although the northerners have a game in hand.  Man City, Tottenham, and Chelsea fall further behind.

Next up is the Carling Cup final on Sunday at Wembley against Birmingham City; news on Fabregas and Walcott's injuries, as well as Robin van Persie and Laurent Koscielny, to come.