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Arsenal vs. Stoke City: Final score 1-0, Lukas Podolski wins it for Gunners after Asmir Begovic heroics

Lukas Podolski's deflected free-kick gave Arsenal a narrow victory over a determined Stoke side, who were aided by a superb performance from Asmir Begovic.

Michael Regan

Perhaps surprisingly, it was Arsenal's wingers who looked the most threatening as the Gunners made a positive start, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain surging to the area and firing wide before Theo Walcott picked up a well-weighted Mikel Arteta pass before cutting a dangerous cross into the six-yard-box which the Stoke defence did well to deal with.

Despite the early promise, Arsenal soon became bogged down in attacking a disciplined Stoke defence, and the next real breakthrough they had was when Oxlade-Chamberlain got into a scoring position, but Asmir Begovic showed why he's been linked with a number of bigger clubs by using his legs to make a superb save and keep his side in the game.

As the half drew on, Arsenal put the Potters under relentless pressure, but their defence largely stood firm, and when it didn't, Begovic stood even firmer. After denying Laurent Koscielny a header, the Bosnian once again saved from Oxlade-Chamberlain after the winger had been released with a superb pass from Jack Wilshere, diving full-stretch to keep out his effort.

Stoke will have been grateful to their keeper for getting to the second half unscathed, but Arsenal made little use of the chance to regroup and looked even more blunt when they came out after the break. There was little creativity on offer as the Gunners alternated between sluggish midfield scrapping and aimlessly passing around the Stoke area with little idea of how to break the deadlock. In the end, Arsene Wenger sent on Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski for Abou Diaby and Oxlade-Chamberlain in an attempt to find a way through.

In the end, the subs proved enough for Arsenal, although perhaps not in the manner Wenger would have envisioned. Lukas Podolski stepped up to take a free-kick, and his low effort took a huge deflection off Geoff Cameron to cruelly deceive Begovic and give the relieved Gunners a late lead.

It was the narrowest of victories for Arsenal, and their winner came down more to luck than judgement in the end, but a nice three points for them regardless. If they were chasing the title, it would be pointed out as a classic example of a game that you have to win in order to take first place. The Gunners may only be chasing fourth, but the fact they found a way through in the end will be a huge boost for them.