Arsenal made the trip to Stoke on Saturday afternoon with their fate in their own hands in the race for third place in the Premier League. The most important thing for Arsenal was to end the day with their fate still in their own hands, and they managed to do so. The draw wasn't an ideal result for them, but Newcastle's defeat to Wigan was exactly the result they needed elsewhere.
Arsene Wenger played the team that he was expected to play with Yossi Benayoun and Gervinho coming in for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and the injured Theo Walcott. The team played well enough on the day, but it's never easy to play away to Stoke. They put in all the effort that was required, but some quality was missing at crucial times.
Arsenal started very well and made a couple of decent chances before Stoke scored with their first attempt of the game. Peter Crouch rose above the Arsenal defence to head past Wojciech Szczesny, and there was nothing Szczesny could do to keep it out. I thought some more pressure should have been put on the player who crossed the ball, but he was given time and space to pick his target.
There were still 80 minutes to play, and I feel confident Arsenal could turn things around. It didn't take too long for Arsenal to respond, and Robin van Persie was again the man to get the goal. He was on hand to prod home a delightful pass from Tomas Rosicky, and Arsenal went on to dominate the rest of the first half.
There were more chances for Arsenal in that first half, but unfortunately the best of them fell to Gervinho who's finishing is wayward at best. If he was a bit braver he would have got on the end of a great cross from only a few yards out, but he didn't look like he fancied it at all. He was also through on goal at an angle, but his shot was well off target and he never looked confident of scoring.
Stoke were a little more successful with their pressuring and long ball tactics in the second half, but Arsenal managed to hold firm. The closest they came was when Bacary Sagna dropped in behind Szczesny to clear the ball from just in front of the goal. It was a timely clearance from Sagna, and it could prove to be crucial by the time the season ends.
Both Chelsea and Spurs won their games on Sunday, and the midweek games involving all of Arsenal's rivals now become crucial. It would be a fantastic result for Arsenal if Newcastle could hold Chelsea to a draw, as it could count them both out of third spot if Arsenal beat Norwich on Saturday. If Bolton can take any points from Spurs it would be happy days for Arsenal too.
Ideally it would be great if Arsenal were able to tie up third place with the home game with Norwich, but it's far from an ideal world. There is every chance relegation fighting Bolton will get a result at home to Spurs, or that Aston Villa will do likewise on Saturday afternoon. By the time the Spurs game kicks off Arsenal will nearly be finished their game with Norwich, and three points for Arsenal would be a huge blow for Spurs.
I still think Arsenal are in the driving seat to finish third, and hopefully the announcement today of the signing of Lukas Podolski will be a boost for the team. He's a player with genuine quality who will be a real addition to the squad. Players of his quality are need to convince Robin van Persie to sign a new contract, and it's great to see Arsenal getting their transfer work done early for a change.
There will probably be a couple of other top class signings to follow in the coming months, and hopefully they will be enough to convince RVP to stay. It will be easier to get him to stay if Arsenal finish third also, and he's one of the players who can do something about it. It was good to see him get his goalscoring touch back on Saturday, and a home game against Norwich is a real opportunity for him to bag a few more goals.
Norwich have done well since their promotion, but there defence has been porous at times. Only the bottom three clubs have conceded more goals than them so far, and they have conceded 11 goals while losing their last three games in a row. I think Arsenal have a real chance to score a few goals if they take the game to Norwich, and bring themselves so much closer to their final goal of third spot in the Premier League.
That's it for today.
Here's the highlights from Saturday's game.
See you tomorrow.