Arsenal struggle to find goals after RVP exit
Stoke City 0 Arsenal 0: How do you solve the problem of losing 37-goal Robin van Persie? Arsène Wenger is having difficulty at the moment after watching his Arsenal side go 180 Premier League minutes without scoring.
Their plight was summed up perfectly by Stoke City's jubilant supporters after the new Manchester United forward's replacement Olivier Giroud spectacularly missed the target from Santi Cazorla's corner midway through the second half.
It started quietly in one small section of the Britannia Stadium before reaching a crescendo: "Robin Van Persie, he would have scored that!"
Wenger admitted afterwards that it is tough but he has called on Giroud, from Montpellier, Cazorla, from Malaga and Lukas Podolski, from Cologne, to make improvements in training if they are to replace Van Persie's goals as a team.
"The understanding was missing," said Wenger. "One month ago Cazorla and Podolski did not know each other. There is work to be done on the training ground. There is potential but something is missing. I am very positive about my team. We haven't scored in two games but we played against two units that defended very well.
"If you want to convince me we lost an exceptional player you are wasting your time. I was the first to say that. We must find a way around that by sharing around the goals we scored with Van Persie. I work for 30 years on the football pitch every day and I know what it takes to improve a football player.
"Giroud can't think like he should replace Van Persie. I had the same questions when Thierry Henry left. We have to take perspective."
Wenger was at least happy with the defensive aspects of his side's performance and his players' attitude against Stoke yesterday and Sunderland last week.
"We were very strong spirit-wise," he said. "We were dominant in the challenges and defensively very strong. I feel we played against two highly focused defensive sides. Other games are more open. Some other teams go forward and open their games. The team we played against it was a cup final for 90 minutes. But we behaved like men who were ready for a fight.
"Offensively we have some work to do as we missed accuracy in the final third. There was something missing in the final third. We should have won the game 1-0 but credit to Stoke, they defended really well with experience at the back.
"But we're happy with a point. Defensively we had no problem, they had one good chance in the second half but apart from that we did very well. If they have six basketball players at set pieces it's very difficult."
Stoke v Arsenal has always been a heated fixture, especially after a Ryan Shawcross challenge broke Aaron Ramsey's leg in six places two years ago. But aside from a few gestures by both managers on the touchline and several ill-natured songs from both sets of opposing fans, this match passed off without any lapses in discipline. In truth, neither side really looked like finding the net in a game that did nothing for the image of the Premier League.
Arsenal shaded the game in terms of possession but simply could not find a way past a spirited Stoke City side.
Cazorla, in only his second game in a Gunners shirt, was the most lively and chances fell to his boot in the first half, with one spectacular bending shot beautifully saved by Asmir Begovic.
Stoke only fleetingly offered an attacking threat and came closest when Michael Kightly's effort was held by Vito Mannone, only in the side due to the absence of Wojciech Szczesny with a rib injury.
Their best moment could well have been a penalty, with Kieran Gibbs lucky to get away with a coming together in the area with Jermaine Pennant, the former Arsenal player.
Both sides made attacking substitutions in the second half, Tony Pulis throwing caution to the wind to send on Cameron Jerome while Wenger used Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott. The changes did not work, although Giroud was cursing his luck a minute from time.
The Frenchman's brilliant 35-yard effort had Begovic worried but just cleared the crossbar. It could have changed Arsenal's mood and given them the lift they desperately needed.
Stoke, in their fifth season in the Premier League, look primed to stay there. It may not be pretty, and it never is with the Potters, but Pulis is proud of the side that he has assembled and has a big year ahead as the club concentrate on their youth set-up.
"I'm really pleased with a point," he said. "The attitude was first class. As a football club we must never become blasé.
"We have just got category A with the academy," Pulis added. "The chairman is a local lad and we hope it will be a system that brings through young players. The Coates family want local youngsters to give their all for this football club."
Pulis is taking that philosophy into what promises to be a lengthy week of transfer dealings. Maurice Edu should sign from Rangers today and the Potters hopes to eventually complete the loan signing of Tom Huddlestone from Tottenham. But Michael Dawson, also from White Hart Lane, may be beyond his means.
"I'd like to take Dawson at Spurs but I don't know if we can afford it," Pulis added. "You have a level on who you can bring in. If we have to bite the bullet, we bite the bullet."
Booked: Stoke Huth, Wilkinson.
Man of the match: Cazorla.
Match rating: 5/10.
Possession: Stoke 41%. Arsenal 59%
Attempts on target: Stoke 4. Arsenal 6.
Referee: L Mason (Lancs).