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Saturday 10 December 2016

Wenger stokes title fires

Arsenal boss salutes side after 'old fashioned battle'

Stoke’s Irish midfielder Glenn Whelan remonstrates with Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud during their Premier League clash at the Brittania Stadium.
Stoke’s Irish midfielder Glenn Whelan remonstrates with Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud during their Premier League clash at the Brittania Stadium.
Theo Walcott is foiled by the Stoke defence.

Arsene Wenger saluted Arsenal for emerging from another Britannia Stadium battle with a point that lifted them back to the Premier League summit.

The Gunners arrived at Stoke with just one win in Staffordshire in the Premier League era for another instalment of a rivalry that was spawned by Wenger's dislike of the Potters' tactics under Tony Pulis.

Mark Hughes has promoted a more aesthetically pleasing brand of football since succeeding Pulis, yet Wenger felt their hosts still presented a physical challenge that they were forced to overcome in a 0-0 draw.

Clash

In a clash that featured few chances and no yellow cards, goalkeepers Jack Butland and Petr Cech took centre stage with brilliant saves from Olivier Giroud and Joselu in either half.

"Overall it was a battle, an old-fashioned Stoke battle," Wenger said.

"They made the game very physical, the crowd were up for it, the players were up for it. They went for a very direct game and we had to show physical response, solidarity, fighting spirit, togetherness - which is what we did.

"We lacked a bit of creativity to force the way through and on top of that we missed two or three good chances. They were really up for it, they really tried from the first to the last minute.

Overall

"We of course wanted to win the game but, looking at the history we have here, it is a positive result. Looking at the results of the other teams that play at the top, it's a positive result. But, overall we missed two points today."

Although Butland produced a terrific stop to smother Giroud before the break, the visitors struggled to create too many chances without injured playmaker Mesut Ozil.

The German was watching on television instead because of a foot injury and illness, yet Wenger expects the man leading the Premier League in assists to be back against Chelsea next Sunday.

"Yesterday morning he was not very well," Wenger revealed. "He already was not 100 per cent at Liverpool so I decided to leave him out. I think he should be back for next Sunday."

Stoke boss Hughes was perplexed by Wenger's insistence they had to contend with a robust approach.

He said: "I don't think there was a yellow card, was there?

"I don't know why the physical aspect of the game needs to be mentioned. I thought it was a good football game, with both teams trying to win a key Premier League game. That's certainly what we were doing."

Having already beaten both Manchester clubs and Chelsea at home in the league this term, the Potters' hopes of defeating Arsenal on their own patch too were thwarted by Cech's second-half brilliance.

He followed up a one-handed save from Joselu by denying Bojan from the rebound before using his feet to repel Joselu again late on to record the 172nd Premier League clean sheet of his career.

Elite

"I didn't think there was too much between the two sides," Hughes added.

"From our point of view, that shows how far we're progressing this year - we're prepared to go toe to toe with every team in the Premier League and see where it takes us.

"We've added Arsenal to Chelsea, Man City, Man Utd, teams that are elite teams in the Premier League and Europe and found it very, very difficult to get positives results. I'm sure Arsenal and Arsene are delighted that they've come here and got a point out of it."

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