London: Arsenal missed out on the chance to pull away in third place as they had to rely on Robin Van Persie to earn them a point in a 1-1 draw with Stoke. The home side took the lead early in the game as Peter Crouch rose to head home a Matthew Etherington cross, but five minutes later Van Persie earned his side a point with a simple tap-in following an inch perfect Tomas Rosicky cross.
Both sides made two changes ahead of kick off with Jermaine Pennant and Dean Whitehead returning for Stoke in place of Wilson Palacios and the injured Andy Wilkinson. The full back picked up a groin injury against Newcastle so Ryan Shotton dropped back into defence and Pennant took up his place on the right wing. Arsenal named a starting line-up missing speedsters Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, with Yossi Benayoun and Gervinho recalled to provide support to the prolific Robin Van Persie in attack.
The visitors were quickly into their stride and created two good opportunities in the opening eight minutes for Benayoun and Van Persie. The Israeli was released by the Dutchman in the sixth minute but his low shot from inside the penalty area lacked power and Asmir Begovic was able to save with an outstretched left hand.
Two minutes later Van Persie had his first sight of goal but he too was denied by Begovic. Tomas Rosicky delivered an inch perfect cross onto the head of the unmarked striker at the back post but the Bosnian stopper made an excellent reaction save to turn the ball behind.
The Gunners were made to rue those misses in the 10th minute as the home side took the lead with their first attempt on goal. Matthew Etherington was found on the left wing and he delivered a the ball right onto the head of Crouch and the striker made no mistake, jumping above his marker and heading into the bottom corner.
However Stoke's lead lasted just five minutes as Arsenal equalised through Van Persie. Rosicky found more space on the left wing and delivered a lovely cross behind the Stoke defence to find the run of Van Persie and the Dutchman had the simple task of tapping it into the net.
After such a bright start to the game the rest of the opening period was fairly uneventful as both sides struggled to create clear cut chances and neither goalkeeper was forced into a real save. Gervinho found himself in some good situations but his final touch seemed to always let him down, while at the other end the Arsenal defence coped well with the dangerous balls put into their penalty area by Pennant.
The second half began in lively fashion and five minutes in Arsenal had a great chance to go ahead through Van Persie. A typically neat and flowing move from the Gunners ended up with Bacary Sagna being released down the right wing, his low cross was perfect for the Dutch striker to fire a diving header towards goal but Begovic saved well down to his right.
The home side were really struggling to create any chances as the Arsenal defence remained resolute, and despite plenty of effort and desire the clinical final touch was just eluding them.
Tony Pulis' decision to introduce Cameron Jerome late in the game for Pennant was met with a few boos from the home crowd but it was nearly a masterstroke as the striker found himself with a clear shot at goal, his effort was on target but Szczesny saved well and Arsenal were able to clear. The Gunners pushed for a late winner, and even threw Marouane Chamakh up front to support Van Persie but Stoke remained resolute and held on for a much deserved point.