Life after Van Persie continues to be painful
Stoke City 0 Arsenal 0:LIFE AFTER Robin van Persie is turning out to be every bit as painful as many Arsenal supporters feared. A day after the Dutchman opened his Manchester United account with an exquisite strike against Fulham, Arsenal fans departed the Potteries with their unbeaten start to the season intact but still waiting to celebrate their first goal.
Picking up a point at a stadium where Arsenal suffered defeat in three of their previous five visits hardly qualifies as a bad day at the office but as long as Arsene Wenger’s side continue to lack a cutting edge, which was also the case in the 0-0 draw against Sunderland last weekend, it is difficult to look beyond the absence of the man who almost single-handedly dragged them to a top-three finish last season. “Robin van Persie, he would have scored that,” the Stoke City supporters sang time and again.
None of the chances that fell to Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud, Mikel Arteta or Abou Diaby were clear cut, although the reality is that they never needed to be when Van Persie was still around. Wenger had a point when he talked about the need to be patient and give the new signings time to develop an understanding, but he also bemoaned the lack of spontaneity, something that Van Persie has in abundance.
Giroud, in fairness, gave a decent account of himself on his full debut, and came close to scoring an outrageous winner in the closing minutes, when he spotted Asmir Begovic, the Stoke goalkeeper, off his line and clipped a left-footed shot from well outside the penalty area that skimmed the roof of the net.
Podolski, deployed in the wide-left berth he occupies for Germany rather than the central striking role he took up against Sunderland, showed some early promise but faded, and Gervinho was a disappointment.
Wenger, however, was entitled to be reasonably satisfied with the outcome. Stoke, as he pointed out, are formidable opponents at home – the top six all failed to win there last season – and this had the look of an awkward fixture beforehand.
It was easy to imagine Tony Pulis rubbing his hands when he was given a team sheet that included the name of a rookie Arsenal goalkeeper. Vito Mannone was making only his seventh start for Arsenal and in his last appearance, against Olympiakos in the Champions League eight months ago, he made a dreadful blunder in a 3-1 defeat.
The Britannia Stadium hardly felt like the ideal place for a comeback but Mannone enjoyed a comfortable ride. Deputising for Wojciech Szczesny, who was ruled out with a rib injury, the 24-year-old Italian handled Stoke’s aerial threat from set pieces with the minimum of fuss.
Stoke, as Pulis later conceded, were poor as an attacking force, although they could have pilfered three points late on, when Republic of Ireland striker Jonathan Walters ran on to Michael Kightly’s through ball only to snatch at the chance and shoot wide of the far upright.
Defeat would have been hard for Arsenal to accept. Although Begovic was not exactly overworked, Arsenal had plenty of possession and always looked the more likely team to score. Arteta should have done better when he curled wide in the second half, and Podolski had a sight of goal in the eighth minute only for his left-footed shot to be blocked by Andy Wilkinson.
It struck the full back on the forearm but there seemed to be little intent and Wenger did not even mention the incident afterwards.