Arsenal's 1-1 draw leaves them fighting for Champ League place
But Wenger's disappointment at missed three points is tempered by Newcastle's 4-0 thrashing
Arsenal picked up what could prove to be an invaluable point against Stoke on a day when the Newcastle bandwagon was derailed by Wigan in an astonishing 4-0 thrashing.
Had the Gunners won at the Britannia Stadium instead of drawing 1-1 they would been almost assured of a third place finish but manager Arsene Wenger was nonetheless pleased with a point at a ground where only four sides have won in the league this season.
"We have put a fantastic battle in and put in a great spirit," said Wenger, whose side have lost three of their last four matches against Stoke. "We deserved at least a point and I can only give credit to my players for their battling qualities and the way they responded to what Stoke offered us - full commitment, well-organised, direct. We did not always cope with it but today I felt we did."
Arsenal began the match aware that the race to finish third has intensified with Chelsea’s progress into next month’s Champions League. Should the Blues beat Bayern Munich on 19 May then they will go forward into next season’s competition leaving three instead of the usual four places up for grabs in the Premier League.
The two Manchester clubs are already guaranteed two of those spots so Arsenal must fight off competition from Newcastle and Tottenham for the remaining place.
That task was made all the more difficult on nine minutes when Peter Crouch rose above the Arsenal defence to head home Matthew Etherington's cross, but the Gunners were level six minutes later thanks to the brilliance of Tomas Rosicky.
His perfect cross from out wide on the left was dabbed into the Stoke net by Robin van Persie for his 28th league goal of the season. Arsenal shaded possession for the rest of the match and the visitors thought they deserved a penalty late on when Benayoun took a tumble as he and Glenn Whelan went for the ball.
Referee Chris Foy waved away the Arsenal appeals and then on the stroke of full-time Stoke almost squeezed home a winner following a goalmouth scramble.
Wenger’s disappointment at his side’s failure to pick up three points for the third consecutive league match was tempered by the result from the DW Stadium where Wigan were out of sight by half-time.
Victor Moses scored twice in the first 15 minutes and then Shaun Maloney and Franco di Santo joined in the fun as the Magpies – unbeaten in their last six matches – were added to a growing list of recent Wigan scalps that includes Manchester United and Arsenal.
“We just didn't match their intensity,” conceded Newcastle boss Alan Pardew later. “Forget shape, systems and so on, intensity is everything in football.”
The defeat means Newcastle remain fourth in the table but are now four points behind Arsenal with a game in hand over the Gunners. But whereas Arsenal have Norwich and West Bromwich Albion to come, the Magpies face a trip to Chelsea and then games against Manchester City and Everton. “At Chelsea on Wednesday we will show the intensity we're used to showing and give them a far stronger game,” promised Pardew.
Wigan’s win moves them into 16th spot, ahead of QPR, who play Chelsea this afternoon, Bolton, who drew 2-2 with Sunderland, and Blackburn who travel to White Hart Lane today to take on Spurs in a game the Lilywhites must win if they’re to keep alive their hopes of finishing third.
Bottom place Wolves, despite being relegated last week, showed their spirit in fighting back from 4-1 down against Swansea to draw 4-4. Six goals came in an incredible first-half and though the two defences tightened after the break Swansea still allowed Dave Edwards and Matt Jarvis to complete the Wolves turnaround.
In other results Everton hammered Fulham 4-0, Liverpool won 3-0 away at Norwich thanks to a wonderful hat-trick from Luis Suarez, and it finished goalless between West Bromwich Albion and Aston Villa at the Hawthorns.