Tag Archives: Arsenal

Five famous footballing returns

Many Liverpool fans were hoping against hope that club icon Steven Gerrard might have one last hurrah at Anfield after leaving MLS club LA Galaxy.

Gerrard, 36, opted to end his playing career last week, but may one day return to Liverpool in another role – possibly as a coach and potential manager?

For a footballer, leaving the club where you are seen as a legend is an incredibly hard decision, but the chance to return as a player or manager can be an even bigger one.

Remind everyone why you became a hero in the first place, or ruin your reputation; which way will it fall?

Here are five of those who did it best:

5 – Graeme Le Saux – Chelsea

Graeme Le Saux’s first spell at Chelsea ended in anger but the second was glorious.

Le Saux was the most expensive defender in England at the time at £5m – a far cry from the £30m Chelsea recently paid for David Luiz to return to the club after a £50million move to PSG two years earlier – when he returned after a controversial first spell in west London. 17 Sep 2000: Graeme Le Saux of Chelsea in action during the FA Carling Premiership match against Leicester City at Stamford Bridge in London. Leicester City won the match 2-0. Mandatory Credit: Dave Cannon /Allsport

In 1993 Le Saux was a regular starter at Stamford Bridge, but rarely lasted the whole match, and when he was taken off at Southampton, it proved too much for him to take and he ripped off his shirt in disgust, throwing it on the feet of manager Ian Portfield.

The defender was soon on his way to Blackburn Rovers, where in his first full season, he helped them win the Premier League title and became an England regular.

In 1997 he returned to Chelsea, making him English football’s most expensive defender and in the next three years, they won the FA Cup, League Cup, Cup winner’s Cup and UEFA Super Cup.

Leaving Chelsea as the “villain” for showing disrespect to the manager was tough enough, but returning to the club that sold you after your misdemeanours is a risk Le Saux took and evidently it paid off.

4 – Thierry Henry – Arsenal

When Arsenal’s record goalscorer Thierry Henry left for Barcelona in 2007, after eight years, 245 appearances and 174 goals, a huge part of his heart remained in north London.

So in some ways it was no surprise when five years later he returned to train with the team, and, inevitably, play for them again. Henry celebrates after scoring the winner on his return to Arsenal.

By then Henry was playing for MLS side New York Red Bulls, and during their 2012 off-season, he trained with the Gunners to keep in shape.

But when they suffered an injury crisis, manager Arsene Wenger looked to his former talisman and he signed a two-month loan deal. ‘King’ Henry was back.

He made four appearances and scored twice; the first came in his debut when he scored the winner goal in an FA Cup tie against Leeds.

His last ever Gunners goal came in his final match under Wenger – again, the winner, in injury time for a 2-1 triumph at Sunderland. No wonder there is a statue of him outside the Emirates Stadium.

Henry is now Belgium’s assistant manager and a pundit on Sky Sports. Many Arsenal fans would love to see him succeed Wenger as manager one day. Is another hero’s return too much to ask for?

3 – Ian Rush – Liverpool

Ian Rush’s 346 goals in two spells at Liverpool make him the club’s all-time record goalscorer. At his peak in the 1980s, there was no-one to rival him in English football. Ian rush celebrates scoring at Wembley for Liverpool.

Having won four league titles and two European Cups in six years with the Reds, in 1987 Rush left to join Serie A giants Juventus. It did not go well, with just seven goals in 29 appearances for the Italians.

Loaned back to Liverpool for the second year of his Juventus contract, Rush’s Midas touch returned, as he scored 30 goals in 42 matches.

A permanent return home was just a matter of time, and the Welsh striker spent another eight seasons at Anfield, making 245 more appearances and adding a further 90 goals. During this time he also won another league title, two FA Cups and became their record goalscorer.

A legend? Unquestionably.

2 – Didier Drogba – Chelsea

Didier Drogba was not just a legend as a player; over two spells at Chelsea, he helped change the history of his club.

His first spell, after joining from Marseille in 2004, saw Chelsea win their first league title in 50 years, in his debut season.

Another Premier League title followed the next year, setting up a glorious era in which he became the first ever player to score in four different FA Cup finals, as well as the first African player to score 100 Premier League goals. But nothing compared to how he signed off his first stint at the club.

His 88th minute equaliser in the 2012 Champions League final against Bayern Munich, in Munich, took the game to extra time and then penalties. And who scored the winner? Drogba, of course.Drogba celebrates scoring the winning goal in the Champions League final.

When he left that summer to join Chinese league side Shanghai Shenhua, after eight years, 226 appearances, 100 goals and eight trophies, a fan poll by Chelsea’s official club magazine saw the Ivorian named as the club’s best-ever player.

Supporters probably thought they would never see his like again. They were wrong.

Drogba’s stint in China was short-lived, and soon he was playing for Galatasaray in Turkey, where he added the 2013 Turkish Super Cup to his medal collection.

The following year, he was back at the Bridge, signing a one-year contract for manager Jose Mourinho – like Drogba, enjoying his second spell at Chelsea.

Drogba managed four more goal in 28 appearances, before announcing that the final game of the season against Sunderland would be his last for the club.

After half an hour, he had to come off injured, but rather than limping off, he was chaired off the field by his team-mates. Now that’s a stylish exit.

The success Drogba enjoyed in his first spell at Chelsea meant that coming back for a second time he had to be as good, if not better than he was previously. Undoubtedly, he was a good playing an integral part in saving Chelsea’s season and thats why he is second.

1 – Paul Scholes – Manchester United

An increasingly rare one-club man, Paul Scholes’ 466 appearances for Manchester United over 17 years make him one of the modern greats.

In his testimonial match in August 2011, the midfielder signed off with a 25-yard finish, showing that even though he was retiring, he had still not lost his touch and he could have played on for a while yet. But no-one expected that he would actually do so.

Five months later, with United going through an uncharacteristic rough patch, he was back, making his ‘second debut’ by coming on to score in the Manchester derby, and also finding the net in his first start second time around. Scholes makes his second debut for United in a Manchester derby.

He was persuaded to sign another one year contract extension, keeping him at United until the end of the following season, and retired for good at the end of the 2012-13 season – fittingly, picking up a yellow card in his farewell match. Well, he never was much of a tackler…

His total of 25 major trophies makes him the most decorated English footballer of all time, and he is now co-owner of Salford City FC, a coach at United and a pundit on BT Sport.

The fact that Scholes completely retired from football before returning to top level football looking fitter than ever, makes his comeback the greatest of all.

Review – The Wenger Revolution (Twenty Years Of Arsenal)

In September 1996 a Frenchman, so little known in English football that fans asked ‘Arsene Who?’, walked into Arsenal.

In his subsequent 20 years as manager, he transformed the club from ‘Boring Arsenal’ to a worldwide phenomenon.

A total renovation of the training, stadium, style, economics, diet and the attraction of a global audience has taken place under Wenger’s stewardship.

This fascinating era is chronicled in ‘The Wenger Revolution’ with distinctive photographs taken from inside the inner sanctum of the club by official Arsenal photographer Stuart MacFarlane while award-winning journalist and long-time supporter Amy Lawrence introduces each section to set the scene.

‘Arsene Who?’

When Wenger arrived from Nagoya Grampus Eight in Japan, the vast majority of the football public, Arsenal supporters and many of the players were sceptical. Could a foreign manager succeed in England?

Although he was new to almost everyone in the English game, Wenger, 46 at the time, didn’t see himself as a novice. His intellectual rigour, workaholic determination and human touch gave him the value of using his own ideas with an open mind.

“I could understand my acceptance would depend upon that mix,” he says in the book. “I didn’t want to compromise what I thought was important in order to push through the elements needed for the success. I wanted to adapt to the local culture.”

That manifested itself in the way the team evolved. By using English players with a never-say-die attitude like Tony Adams and Steve Bould, as well as the technical refinement that arrived with the likes of Patrick Vieira and Marc Overmars, Wenger’s mix came to fruition.

The most surprising thing for many people when they look back at Wenger’s first full campaign in England, was how quickly the team’s style came together.

Wenger’s ability to identify and recruit outstanding talent was paramount in them winning the double in the 1997-98 season. That general air of scepticism about the manager soon evaporated.

Unbeatable 

“You work in a job where you never really know how good you are, but I didn’t think you can do more than go a whole season undefeated. To realise that life dream is a bit frightening, but it didn’t kill my hunger.”

To complete an unbeaten season at the highest level was an ambition Wenger had harboured for many years.

(Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

During the 2002-03 season, Arsenal were the dominant force in the early stages. However, with his team going strong in autumn, Wenger told journalists in a pre-match press conference that his team could go a season unbeaten. “It is not impossible,” he said.

However, Arsenal lurched suddenly into a first defeat of the campaign, and the critics who thought Wenger was arrogant and disrespectful relished that loss.

After missing out on the Premier League title that season, Arsenal rallied the following year and dominated the league. Their 2-2 draw at arch-rivals Tottenham ensured they won the league and with four games to go, Wenger’s dream was near reality.

Here was the chance to make history. “Make yourself immortal,” Wenger told his players. The players didn’t miss their chance.

Trailing at half-time to already relegated Leicester City in the last game of the season, the pressure was on. The team’s outstanding will-to-win, and the class of some of its most talented components – Thierry Henry who scored the equaliser and Vieira and Bergkamp who combined for the winner – made the difference.

Wenger does not think anyone will be able to emulate the class of 03-04 as the competition is much harder, but Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ seized their moment. His controversial prediction that it was possible, mocked at the time, became a beautiful truth.

Regrets 

Wenger is one of a handful of managers who can be said to have made a truly lasting impression on the Premier League.

Throughout his time at Arsenal, Wenger has revolutionised the club. With the Frenchman at the helm, they have moved from Highbury to the Emirates, built a new training ground at London Colney whilst also winning numerous of trophies, including three Premier League titles and six FA Cups.

(Photo by Bob Thomas/Getty Images)

But despite the many highs Wenger has experienced, he has also suffered much heartbreak. According to the Frenchman, the Champions League final defeat in Paris against Barcelona in 2006 will forever hurt him.

“It is my biggest regret,” he says. “I feel there was not much in it. The regret on the night is that we could not get the second goal.

“Thierry Henry, who has been magic for our club, had the opportunity to do that. We were 13 minutes away from winning the biggest trophy. Maybe I will have to die with that but it will still hurt.”

Ambitions 

Wenger typifies longevity and loyalty. Despite getting offers from the biggest clubs in the world such as Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, he has stayed put.

When trophies were hard to come by after the stadium move and competition was harder due to the influx of money put into the Premier League, Wenger remained loyal and consistently got Arsenal into the Champions League each year.

Mesut Ozil reading The Wenger Revolution book

Yet he was not delivering the trophies that Arsenal fans craved, and as the voices of dissent grew louder, the FA Cup win against Hull City at Wembley in 2014, was a huge moment in the club’s history.

“Winning this FA Cup was an important moment in the life of this team. When it comes after a long time it sometimes comes with suffering. We had such a feeling of relief and happiness,” Wenger said.

After back-to-back FA Cup wins in 2014 and 2015, Wenger’s hunger for winning trophies hasn’t diminished.

He now has a team capable of challenging the big guns and he insists his commitment to the club is still the same as when he first started.

“The club has grown a lot. I am still completely committed to it every day. I am today more nervous, more keen, to win the league than when I arrived here.”

Must-buy

The book achieves what it sets out to do. With the words of Lawrence and the images of MacFarlane, ‘The Wenger Revolution’ is a must-buy for Arsenal fans – but even non-Gooners will find it fascinating.

The book’s 11 chapters each focus on a different theme or period at Arsenal under Wenger. From his arrival to the stadium move to his opinions of current and former players, the book recounts every minor detail of Wenger’s reign.

His vision for Arsenal was in place when he first arrived, and since then the club has gone on a remarkable journey and achieved great feats. Much of this would not have been possible without the determination and ambition of one man: Arsene Wenger.

The Wenger Revolution (Twenty Years Of Arsenal) is available via Amazon for £20.00. Featured image by Stuart MacFarlane 

‘I’m certainly not going to call for Wenger to go’

Ranked amongst the top 10 stand-ups in Britain by The Independent, comedian Ian Stone has flourished to become one of the most talented topical acts in the country.

Currently presenting ‘The Football’s On’ for BT Sport, the north Londoner is a regular on shows like Mock the Week but his lifelong passion is Arsenal. Elephant Sport spoke to him about the highs and lows of being a Gooner, Arsene Wenger and much more.

How did you feel about the last weekend’s north London derby?  

Stone with Arsenal legend Brady

It was a fair result. They have some decent attacking players, they hit the post and I thought they played alright particularly in the first half an hour so 1-1 is probably fair.

We were kind of flat but we haven’t been brilliant in most games this season to be honest. We are muddling through.

It’s not the best but we are in it so I’ll take that.

Where do you think Arsenal will finish come the end of the season?

Genuinely – I’ve no idea. We could win it or we could finish third. The race will be between Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Spurs and us.

It will be tight. I would like us to be running away with the league but that’s not going to happen so I enjoy the big games.

Anyone can win it, even Spurs – I hate them but they’re a decent team. They have a good squad but ours is better.

Not having European football will benefit Liverpool and Chelsea but none of the teams are defensively good, apart from Spurs, so that’s why I think they are a threat.

Growing up what was the best thing you witnessed as an Arsenal fan? 

That’s not an easy question. But if you’re talking about the school years, then seeing Liam Brady for the first time and going ‘wow the way he plays is just beautiful’. I loved him and I still do.

How did you first become interested in Arsenal?

My dad. He just took me to Highbury and I thought ‘yeah this is it, I love this place’. That’s what happens to most of us, isn’t it?

Favourite all-time Arsenal player and why?

Hard to pick one. Brady first, I loved him, and Pat Jennings too. When it was a one on one with the keeper and Jennings was in goal, you thought they were never going to beat him. Tony Adams, because he loved the club as much as I do and Ian Wright for the same reason.

Dennis Bergkamp because he’s probably the best footballer I have ever seen, Thierry Henry because he’s a close second. There’s many, but those players are great players and they loved the club, and as a fan that’s what you want really.

Dennis Bergkamp was a great but comparisons have been made between Mesut Ozil and him – what is your opinion of the German?

Ozil. That goal against Ludogorets. I could watch that goal a million times and I wouldn’t get bored. That second dummy… the bloke is a genius and unlike any footballer I have ever seen. He has a lovely style about him.

When he first arrived, I was a bit disappointed. There were some moments but he didn’t really impose himself in games and you thought ‘you really could win this game on your own if you could be bothered’ but now he’s bulked up a bit and he’s scoring goals.

He’s an outstanding footballer and I’m glad we’ve got him. I love watching him.

Away at Villa last season, he brought the ball down right in front of me and you just thought ‘how did he even do that’?  That’s what I love about Ozil. He makes the incredibly difficult look incredibly easy.

Favourite current Arsenal player and why?

Alexis Sanchez. He just loves the game and he loves to play. Alexis is a great footballer. I’m so glad we have got him as it’s a pleasure to watch players like that.

Arsene Wenger is into his 20th season at Arsenal but what is your take on the boss?

Last season I was fed up, we had a great opportunity to win the title, and for all the romance of Leicester winning, we blew it and I blamed Wenger.

Sometimes when he’s signed players like Igor Stepanovs and Marouane Chamakh, I’ve sat there thinking ‘what on earth are you doing?’, but what can you say about the boss?

He creates beautiful football teams and will be remembered long after we’ve all gone as someone who created a style of football. He’s made some mistakes but we all have. He’ll go when he wants to go. I’m certainly not going to call for him to go.

What I would love more than anything is for him to win the Champions League and sign off with that. He deserves it but you know his legacy.

We all sit in the most beautiful of stadiums and that’s all down to him so I have the most positive of feelings towards him.

I’ve not had a 20-year relationship with anyone who hasn’t pissed me off though!

Who would you get as his replacement when he decides to leave?

I wanted Jurgen Klopp but he’s at the right club at Liverpool, they suit him. Anytime we ever talk about a possible replacement, it all goes wrong for them.

Ronald Koeman is a very good manager and we will see what happens despite losing 5-0 to Chelsea on the weekend!

There’s been talk of Diego Simeone but I don’t think he’s right for Arsenal. He needs the fans onside and I think our fans are a little bit different.

We can be aroused but I don’t think we are right for Simeone. We’ll see what happens but I don’t think Arsene is going away for a while yet.

Best goal you have ever witnessed as an Arsenal fan?

Against Bayer Leverkusen in a Champions League game at Highbury. Robert Pires was penned in in the corner by three defenders but somehow managed to play a 40-yard pass to Dennis Bergkamp in the centre of the pitch.

He killed it, exchanged passes with Patrick Vieira and he’s away. Bergkamp plays the ball inside the full back to Sylvain Wiltord, who lays it across to Thierry Henry, who’s sprinted 80-yards to side-foot it in.

From one end of the pitch to the other in six seconds – it was the most exhilarating thing I’ve seen Arsenal ever do.

Worst moment as an Arsenal fan?

Losing the Champions League final to Barcelona was bad – I enjoyed the trip to Paris but not the game. Losing the 2000 UEFA Cup final to Galatasaray on penalties was awful.

In the 1980 season, I went to 60 games out of 68, and we lost to West Ham in the FA Cup final, then Valencia in the Cup Winners Cup final and somehow managed to get hammered by Middlesbrough 5-0. That was pretty grim.

Best moment as an Arsenal fan?

Beating Barcelona at the Emirates a few years ago was pretty awesome, and Thierry Henry scoring on his comeback against Leeds United in the FA Cup was special too. I interviewed him for a radio thing and he loved talking about that moment.

How impressed have you been with Alexis Sanchez up front this season?

It’s working. I like the fact that there’s movement when Sanchez is up front. Olivier Giroud is a great sub and you can bring him on and play him in a two but I like the mobility of the team when Sanchez plays.

What have you made of the summer signings of Shkodran Mustafi and Granit Xhaka?

Excellent. Two very good signings. We needed spine – we’ve got it now.

How do you feel about the progress that Laurent Koscielny has made over the years to become one of the world’s best defenders? 

I think most people realise how good Koscielny is. He’s got better as quite often defenders do so I’m pleased for him and he enjoys being at the club so let him stay as long as he wants!

Which player that left the club hurt you the most?

It killed me losing Patrick Vieira but he wanted to go. I remember him coming on as an 18 year old against Sheffield Wednesday – we were losing and he turned the game. He was a stunning footballer and a fighter and I loved him and Emmanuel Petit together.

How do you see Arsenal fairing throughout the season and could this be Wenger’s final season?

I think if he wins the Premier League or Champions League, I think he will stay. We can win the league but will we? If we get lucky with injuries, we will be there come May, but it’s very tight. Our position in the league is good at the moment – let’s see.

Lastly, how do you feel Arsenal will fair against Manchester United after the international break?

I want to beat them so badly. I’ve not seen Arsenal win many games at Old Trafford but I went to the FA Cup game there when we won 2-1 with Danny Welbeck scoring, and it was absolutely wicked – 9,000 of us there on a Monday night.

What I loved was weeks later, reading that the players had been so happy with the support and the difference it had made. That means a lot to the fans. I love winning at Old Trafford, so hopefully we will.

I’d love us to have a run in the Champions League too. I want us to finish first in the group and give ourselves a chance because if we do that, the second leg of the next round will be at home and that’s huge.

It’s a long time since we went far in Europe and if we got to the semis and do well in the League, Ozil and Sanchez will stay and we can continue to improve. We’re doing all right at the moment, I’m enjoying it so let’s continue!

Follow Ian Stone on Twitter @iandstone

Messi, Suarez, Neymar – oh my…

Arsenal fans could have been forgiven for rolling their eyes and thinking ‘not again’ when the Champions League last-16 draw was made.

Their team’s reward for beating Olimpiacos 3-0 in Athens to secure a place in the knockout stages was yet another tie against Barcelona.

With one win in eight Champions League encounters since 1999, and Barca’s formidable front three in fine form this season, the omens were not good.

Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar had scored 91 goals between them this season ahead of this week’s first-leg clash at the Emirates Stadium, leaving the red-and-white half of north London fearing the worst.

And yet, Arsenal could take encouragement from the fact they’d had the patience and killer instinct to beat Bayern Munich 2-0 at home in the group stage, when Robert Lewandowski was Europe’s hottest striker.

Enticing

However, this time out, the Gunners’ defence was facing arguably the current three best players in the world. For 70 tense minutes, the Catalan magicians were frustrated and contained, but they still ran out 2-0 winners.

“Not a single errant touch ever allows the ball to go astray for someone to nick it off their foot”

Messi plays as if he knows at some point he will find a way through. It’s like watching the best kid in the playground; he plays without a care in the world, he knows he will get the better of you eventually because he is that good.

The Argentine entices his pursuers to get close to his body, skin tight, before a exchanging quickfire passes with his closest team mate and suddenly he is the other side of his opponent in a blink of an eye.

At times. you don’t see the ball, the movement is so quick. Sometimes you’re left wondering has he even seen it himself?

The trouble for any team facing the European champions is that no matter how hard or difficult a pass that they receive, every player kills the ball. Not a single errant touch ever allows it to go astray for someone to nick it off their foot.

Life-saver

Arsenal managed to keep Suarez quiet for most of their defeat to Barcelona, although even on a quiet night he still managed to thunder a shot against the base of the post and glance a header just wide. Barca’s threat mostly came from Messi and Neymar.

Neymar had his work cut out against former La Masia graduate Hector Bellerin. But when he did trick his way around the right back, the Emirates crowd held its breath as Neymar cut in from the left hand side with just Petr Cech to beat.

“The three strikers came out and warmed up together by themselves, a close-knit bond that only helps them create moments of pure genius”

But the Arsenal keeper’s outstretched leg blocked the shot – another life-saver from the former Chelsea man.

Per Mertesacker was supposed to be ‘exposed’ at the back, but although his lack of pace at times hinders Arsenal’s defence, his reading of the game is hugely important and he was forever intercepting passes and through-balls that would have cut Arsenal to shreds.

Laurent Koscienly seemed to be tasked with hassling Messi off the ball. At times he came off worse, but the odd challenge and tackle won was greeted with a huge encouraging roar from the supporters, especially if it sprung Arsenal into a counter attack.

Exposed

Hard work and patience were required by the hosts, and it seemed to be paying off until an attack broke down leaving their backline exposed. Memories of the counter-attacking goals scored by Monaco a year previous flooded back as the three amigos combined.

“In a dangerous area, Flamini’s decision-making is more often than not the stuff of nightmares”

Suarez fed Neymar who tore down the left with Bellerin trailing in his wake. He cut in again with Cech to beat but, perhaps mindful of his earlier miss,  squared to the amazingly unnoticed Messi who, with all the time in the world, beat Cech. The energy inside the ground was evaporated within seconds.

Arsenal had fallen victim an attacking front three that possess not only extraordinary talent but a real spirit of camaraderie.

The relationship between the trio is the nucleus of their formidable form on the pitch.

Pleasure

When the Barcelona team came out to warm up, the three strikers came out and warmed up together by themselves, a close-knit bond that only helps the players create moments of pure genius.

For the neutral, it’s a real pleasure to see this amount of talent on the pitch. For opposition supporters, all you can do is sit tight and hope for the best.

The second goal came from the spot after a stupid foul by Mathieu Flamini.

He regularly enjoys telling experienced defenders what to do or where to go, but when the time comes for him to do the right thing in a dangerous area, his decision-making is more often than not the stuff of nightmares.

Messi dispatched the penalty and left Arsenal with a mountain to climb for the sixth year on the trot in the last 16. Time to focus on the Premier League…

Image courtesy of Nacho from Flickr Creative Commons

Gunners show their grit at snowy Stoke

One win in eight visits to the Britannia Stadium for Arsenal under Arsene Wenger.

It’s the stat that explains why Gunners fans dread the long journey to Stoke more than most away trips.

The Britannia is often portrayed as one of the most hostile locations for other teams to play at, a feared assault course for Premier League players to negotiate.

“When Tony Pulis was their manager, Stoke seemed to enjoy bullying opponents at the Britannia”

This year’s expedition to the Potteries from north London was accompanied by snow and ice, adding to the dread felt by the travelling hordes.

 I have family in Manchester which I go to see occasionally and I’ve had the opportunity to make several trips to Stoke to support Arsenal over the years, usually heading back south after yet another disappointment.

Would it be different this season? With Arsenal tipped by many for their first title since 2004, getting something at Stoke City would surely be a good omen for their ambitions.

Debut

Would the Gunners be helped by Stoke’s more attractive style of play under Mark Hughes? When Tony Pulis was their manager, they seemed to enjoy bullying opponents at the Britannia.

One thing that didn’t help them was the absence of the in-form Mesut Ozil. The German midfielder missed out because of a foot injury, allowing Mohamed Elneny to make his debut. The 23-year-old Egyptian recently completed his transfer from FC Basel.

After a 3-3 draw at Liverpool in their previous match, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain started in the number 1o role, with Mathieu Flamini and Aaron Ramsey in the starting line up – the latter making this his 250th appearance for Arsenal – at the hub of midfield.

The hosts were unchanged from the line-up that defeated Norwich City. Stoke’s combination of pace and strength has left many teams with an uphill battle this season especially at home, with victories over both Manchester clubs and Chelsea. Would Arsenal be their next victim?

Rallied

The match got off to a slow start, and it took 20 minutes for the first serious threat from Stoke as Jonathan Walters found Marko Arnautovic outside the Arsenal box. The Austrian’s inventive flick made space for Afellay 20 yards out but his dangerous-looking strike went a yard or so wide.

“Butland was called upon again shortly afterwards when he was forced to tip over a fizzing effort from Oxlade-Chamberlain”

That seemed to spur Arsenal to switch on, and they pushed up the other end and created the best chance of the half.

Joel Campbell was the innovator, finding space 25 yards out before slipping the ball into the path of Olivier Giroud.

The Frenchman got clear of the hosts’ back four but saw his well-placed effort gathered up by Butland, who had charged out to narrow the angle.

The young England goalie was called upon again shortly afterwards when he was forced to tip over a fizzing effort from Oxlade-Chamberlain. At the other end, Petr Cech saved Joselu’s header as an evenly-matched first period ended.

 Direct

Arsenal could have taken the lead only 70 seconds after the restart. Again, it was Giroud who went close, with a strong header from Ramsey’s corner which forced Butland to make a outstanding reflex save at the near post.

“Arsenal weren’t losing, and their solid performance was a big improvement on what their fans were so used to seeing at Stoke”

The visitors were making progress, as Giroud and then Theo Walcott both had penalty claims waved away before Stoke rallied.

With Nacho Monreal pushing up, the home side counter-attacked, working the ball around well to make a good opportunity for Joselu who cleverly turned away from Laurent Koscienly before seeing his well-hit strike tipped away by Cech at full stretch.

Bojan looked set to take advantage of the rebound but the ever-alert Cech shuffled back to divert his shot wide.

Joselu then forced Cech into another fantastic save midway through the second half, although the visitors were by now pushing up into the final third without making it count.

Stretched 

But Arsenal weren’t losing, and their solid performance was a big improvement on what their fans were so used to seeing at Stoke.

Cech has, of course, made a big difference, keeping his team in games and  earning valuable points for the Gunners which might have slipped from their grasp. 

“For once, the journey home from Stoke was not a completely deflating one for Arsenal fans”

With the match becoming more stretched, Wenger brought on Alex Iwobi. The 19-year-old striker helped make a late opportunity for the Gunners, providing Oxlade-Chamberlain with a decent through ball to play into the lively Campbell who agonisingly curled it over the bar.

There was time for one more opportunity for Stoke but, fortunately for Arsenal, Ramsey was correctly positioned to clear Walters’ direct header off the line before Cech booted Joselu’s rebound shot clear to guarantee the point.

So an even contest ended at 0-0, thanks mainly to some world-class goalkeeping towards the end of the match. Arsenal kept their title challenge on track and, for once, the journey home from Stoke was not a completely deflating one for their fans.