Stoke Focus – Potters improve but Podolski free-kick brings defeat

Stoke’s winless to start to 2013 in the Premier League continued at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday as Lukas Podolski’s free-kick took a fortunate deflection off Geoff Cameron and found its way into the net for the only goal of the game.

It was harsh on Stoke but really, it was only down to a string of superb saves from Asmir Begovic that the Potters had even reached the 78th minute on level terms with the home side.

Manager Tony Pulis will no doubt be disappointed that his side could not come away with the point they had evidently planned for, but can at least take heart that it needed a moment of good fortune to break the deadlock. However, the defeat means that Stoke now have not won since that barnstorming 3-1 victory over Liverpool on Boxing Day, a full six games ago.

But Pulis will at least be pleased that against Arsenal there were signs that Stoke were just beginning to rediscover the attributes that made everyone sit up and take notice of them just a few weeks ago.

In too many matches of late, the Potters have been passive, lacking in aggression, passion or spark. For the Arsenals and Manchester Citys of this world, performing at 70% may still be enough to get the result given the quality of players at their disposal. However, for Stoke City under Tony Pulis to make progress, 100% commitment is needed in almost every match, particularly defensively where the Potters have shipped 16 goals in their six matches without a win.

Thus, it will have been a relief for all Stoke supporters to see their side perform so admirably defensively as a whole team against an Arsenal attack that have scored more goals at home than anyone else in the Premier League so far this season.

Lining up against the talents and pace of Theo Walcott, Olivier Giroud and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (with Santi Cazorla and Podolski coming off the bench), Stoke’s central-defensive duo of Robert Huth and Ryan Shawcross were magnificent throughout; a welcome sight for Pulis after both appeared to go through a rather shaky run of form since the turn of the year.

However, it was far from just the defence and Begovic’s excellent goalkeeping display – incidentally ending any doubts over the player’s commitment after Jack Butland’s summer arrival from Birmingham was confirmed.

Stoke defended courageously from the front. Peter Crouch may not have been granted his January move to QPR but the 31-year-old’s goal against Wigan last week appears to have given the striker a new lease of life as he hustled and harried for every ball. The Arsenal defence may have had a comfortable enough afternoon due to Stoke’s attacking impotency, which was to be expected, but there was just the feeling that Crouch was looking lively and confident, which could certainly not be said about some of his recent performances.

It must also be remembered that Stoke have faced a tough fixture list, with the trip to the Emirates coming after clashes with Chelsea and Manchester City (in both the league and FA Cup). With games to come against Reading, Fulham, Newcastle and West Brom, one would expect the Potters to start picking up wins again soon.

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