Belfast Telegraph

Arsenal held to draw at Stoke

Arsenal missed a chance to pull away from Newcastle in the race for third place in the Barclays Premier League as they were held to a 1-1 draw by Stoke at the Britannia Stadium.

The Magpies' thrashing at Wigan opened the door for the Gunners to move six points clear and all but clinch a Champions League spot. But they went behind after nine minutes when Peter Crouch rose above the defence to head in and, although Robin van Persie equalised six minutes later, they could not find a winner.

The two clubs have history and the atmosphere was spicy from the start. Dean Whitehead was booked in only the third minute after catching Alex Song with his studs.

Arsenal had lost on three of their previous four visits to the Britannia, but they had two great early chances this match, the first in the sixth minute when Van Persie played in Tomas Rosicky, but his shot lacked power and was held by Asmir Begovic.

The same duo combined moments later as Rosicky picked out Van Persie at the back post, and his header drew a terrific save from Begovic low at his near post. Stoke went down the other end and took the lead with nine minutes gone, Matthew Etherington picking out the towering Crouch, who planted his header firmly past Wojciech Szczesny.

Arsenal hit back strongly and, after Aaron Ramsey had curled a shot just wide, they found the leveller in the 15th minute. Stoke again allowed Van Persie to run through the defence to meet a cross from Rosicky, and this time he made no mistake for his 35th goal of the season.

The visitors were well on top now and continued to threaten Begovic's goal, with Laurent Koscielny heading over the bar and Gervinho missing a cross completely six yards out before ending a fine run with a wild shot.

The loudest cheer of the day came from the Arsenal fans when the Newcastle scoreline was read out at half-time, but the visitors were grateful to Szczesny for some alert goalkeeping in the opening minutes of the second half as he twice punched away dangerous crosses, one from Etherington and one from Jermaine Pennant.

The first 20 minutes aside, there had been very few real chances for either side, but Arsenal were given a good shooting opportunity when Ramsey's turn 20 yards out was too sharp for Glenn Whelan.

Van Persie's shot was blocked by the wall, though, and Ryan Shawcross then did well to stop Thomas Vermaelen's follow-up, although Arsenal felt he should have been penalised for handball just outside the area.

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