Begovic heroics not enough to thwart Arsenal
2nd February 2013 3pm
Attendance: 59, 872
A deflected free kick by substitute Lukas Podolski was enough for Arsenal to get past a stubborn Stoke side.
The win propels Arsenal back into the Champions League qualifying spots whilst Stoke`s failure means they still haven`t won in the league this calendar year.
In an entertaining game, which saw good chances for both sides, German Lukas Podolski smashed a free kick from 18 yards which took a wicked deflection off American Geoff Cameron and left Stoke's goalkeeper Asmir Begovic stranded.
The Bosnian stopper, who was in top form all day, had looked unbeatable prior to the German's goal as the 25-year-old had twice scuppered Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and then Lauren Koscielny with world class saves.
Stoke manager Tony Pulis made two changes to his side that had drew with Wigan in the week with Dean Whitehead and Charlie Adam making way for Ryan Shotton and Andy Wilkinson.
Whilst Arsenal supreme Arsene Wenger gave a debut to Nacho Monreal in place of the injured Kieran Gibbs, whilst resting Santi Cazorla, Thomas Vermaelen and Lukas Podolski, with Chamberlain, Abou Diaby and Koscienly gave starting roles.
Stoke had a good start to the game and in what proved to be a rare attack struck the first shot on target when Jonathan Walters hit an audacious volley from 20 yards which looped comfortably into Woijech Szczesny hands.
Begovic was forced into his first world class save of the afternoon after the ball fell to Chamberlain in the penalty area who smashed the ball goal wards but Begovic managed to sprawl across his line to keep out the England internationals effort from 5 yards.
Arsenal continued to push forward and Begovic was once again there to deny Arsenal, this time in the form of French centre half Koscielny who smashed a header towards goal but the Bosnian who looked inspired, maybe because of the fact that Stoke had signed England goalkeeper Jack Butland in the week, kept out the effort.
Stoke managed to venture forward once more before half time but the ball fell to the wrong person in the form of captain Ryan Shawcross, who first sliced a volley wide when the ball fell to the 25-year-old and then the captain missed timed a free header from a corner.
Jonathan Walters had to receive treatment which resembled Stoke`s centre half Robert Huth, who had to have 28 stitches in his forehead on Tuesday against Wigan and was still sporting a bandage for this encounter. Irish international Walters had to have 8 stitches to his head after a clash with Nacho Monreal.
Just before half time, Arsenal had one final opportunity to test Begovic as a world class pass by Jack Wilshere found Chamberlain once again, but his curled effort that looked destined for the bottom corner was once again saved by the Stoke stopper.
The second half was more of the same, with Stoke defending courageously and playing with a rigid disciplined shape, whilst Arsenal continued to press with a free flowing style.
Arsene Wenger was growing more animated and frustrated on the sidelines by the minute and decided to shuffle his pack by bringing on Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla for Diaby and Chamberlain.
It wasn`t long until Arsenal got some fortune that they had lacked in the game prior.
Theo Walcott was fouled by Andy Wilkinson on the edge of the area which resulted in a chance for Podolski to make his mark on the game.
The German international duly delivered as his free kick deflected off Stoke`s Geoff Cameron and wrong footed the outstanding Begovic in the Stoke goal.
There was some controversy as the linesman seemed to rule out the goal for offside but referee Chris Hoy overruled his assistant and awarded the goal.
The game became scrappy and tempers began to flare as Michael Owen was caught by Mikel Arteta with a late challenge which saw the former England international react angrily and seemed to strike out at the Spaniard which then saw Arteta retaliate with a kick before Jack Wilshere needlessly got involved.
Arteta and Owen were both fortunate to get away without receiving their marching orders, but don`t be surprised if both, especially Owen being on the wrong end of F.A. action.
The goalkeeper was outstanding, and really showed why the likes of Manchester United and Manchester City are after the Canadian born Bosnian international.
He made three world class saves and was only beaten by a cruel deflection.
The signing of young England international goalkeeper has really seemed to have had a positive effect on the stopper, but with continued form like this, it is hard to see Begovic not playing at a higher level next season.