Stoke City 1 Arsenal 0
(Walters 76, pen)

The optimist will see that Arsenal were undone by a flukey penalty when Laurent Koscielny was adjudged to have handled the ball which was more reactionary than malicious. The pessimist will note that once again, the Gunners have failed to fire at the Britannia stadium, and in a title challenging season that should not happen. Jonathan Walters has had a wayward record from the penalty spot, but sadly for Arsenal he hit the target sending Wojciech Szczesny the wrong way. The Potters’ normal penalty taker Charlie Adam had just been substituted, but surely he should expect an FA response to what appeared to be a deliberate stamp on the prone Olivier Giroud’s leg. The Gunners next play in the Premiership away at Spurs in a fortnight. By then the FA Cup quarter final at home to Everton and the Champions League last 16 return leg at Bayern will have been played. Arsene Wenger will be hoping this will be the only March madness in a month when the Gunners also travel to Stamford Bridge and also host Manchester City.

Arsenal welcomed back Kieran Gibbs who passed a fitness test, and his replacing Nacho Monreal was the only change to the side which thrashed Sunderland last weekend. In a usually raucous and feisty atmosphere, the Gunners attempt to gain control of the game was stifled by a direct and at times over robust Stoke. Jack Wishere and Santi Cazorla were seeing a lot of the ball but without creating anything for Asmir Begovic to be worried about.

Tomas Rosicky had called for his team mates to match the home side’s physicality, but their in your face approach and energy levels were keeping the Gunners from playing their natural passing game. Szczesny had to react to Glen Whelan’s effort in a half which saw Cazorla fire wide.

Peter Crouch caused some nervous moments for Per Mertersacker and Koscileny, but as long as the home side were kept in check, it mattered little. Crouch almost got to Adam’s free kick but Szczesny was able to clear the danger. Unsurprisingly Stoke’s aerial bombardment would lead to the game’s only goal. Crouch won another aerial duel which Walters reacted to and tried to flick over Koscielny’s head. The. France defender’s natural reaction was adjudged to be hand ball by referee Mike Jones, the same referee who controversially denied Chieke Tiote a legitimate strike against Manuel Pelligrini’s side. Walters stepped up to score.

Wenger brought on Özil for Lukas Podolski. The. German striker had earlier hit the side netting with Giroud unable to direct his header past Begovic, but the Arsenal attack was misfiring. Oxlade-Chamberlain was also introduced to replace Rosicky and the Gunners finally found some width in attack. Özil struck just past Begovic’s upright, and with perhaps the best chance for the leveller substitute Yaya Sanogo went for power after a neat build up but saw his effort shoot over Begovic’s goal.

Despite the loss, Wenger accepted that Arsenal have to show fight in the remaining ten Premeirship games and backed his defenders to continue their hitherto fine form.

” I think our defensive performance was outstanding. If you look well at the chances that Stoke had today I can see maybe one cross on Crouch and after that what did they create? Nothing at all, so you cannot say that our defenders didn’t perform. I felt we had a good defensive performance and overall we are unlucky to lose this game.

” Offensively we didn’t create enough and our offensive game was poor considering our standards. At the end of the day we didn’t score because of that. We conceded a goal that was a nice gift from the referee but it can happen,” he said.

Asked about the damage to the Gunners’ title challenger, Wenger noted, ” I’m not worried but in a game like that we didn’t produce the performance that we wanted. To win a title is when you are expected to perform you have to perform it’s as simple as that.”