Third place will be nothing to brag about for Gunners

Stoke City 1 Arsenal 1

the britannia stadium

Like getting a table for two at The Ivy, finishing third is an achievement but not one to trigger a street party. It is not heroic; it is about money and status but the prize of guaranteed Champions' League football is one that Arsenal are still on course to take.

Even without Newcastle's implosion at Wigan, a point at Stoke is still a valuable one, particularly from a club for whom journeys to the Britannia Stadium represent the kind of clashes of culture not seen since It's A Royal Knockout.

Tony Pulis remarked that Arsenal had coped better with his team's physicality, commitment and finishing than at any time since they started coming to this corner of the Potteries, where no member of what the Stoke manager called "the big six" have won this season.

They still fell behind to a fine header from Peter Crouch but when a lad smuggled into the press room asked if Stoke deserved to win, Pulis took a deep breath and replied: "No, that would have been unjust."

As someone who walked out of Ewood Park because he was so disgusted by the abuse meted out to Steve Kean, Pulis had rather more difficulty with questions about how the Stoke supporters had treated Arsène Wenger and in particular, Aaron Ramsey who was booed because two years ago he had the temerity to have his leg broken here.

It was in that context that Wenger made his remarks about Stoke being a rugby team which led the Boothen End to begin choruses of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot. As Wenger stood in the technical area waving his arms, the entire stadium did the same. In a county that contains England's best entertainment in Alton Towers you have to conclude that some are easily amused.

"They have a relationship with me but I don't have relationship with them," Wenger said. "I have enough experience to cope. It does not bother me. It is the easiest thing in the world to sit in the stands and chant abuse." However, he added: "I don't think you can be especially proud of booing Aaron Ramsey. He hasn't done anything wrong."

These days, however, Wenger is prepared to concede that Stoke's approach is valid, effective and has to be dealt with, which may be why Yossi Benayoun was given a prominent role.

Arsenal's equaliser may have come from a Tomas Rosicky cross deliciously put away by Robin van Persie for his 35th goal of a season that has left him with no serious competition for the title of footballer of the year. However, the move began with the Israeli midfielder holding off several challenges. It said something for the quality of Van Persie's finish that Marc Wilson, the Dutchman's supposed marker, barely moved by the time the move finished in the depths of Asmir Begovic's net.

Apart from the final few minutes, when Rory Delap was brought on to start delivering long throws that caused immediate panic, Arsenal were thereafter largely but not decisively on top. "It was a game where we showed great character and fighting qualities," Wenger suggested.

"This was a game of two different approaches. One was direct and in the air and one was on the ground but both teams are good at what they do. I can only give credit to my players for battling against a Stoke team that are well organised and direct. This was a good result because Newcastle dropped points but we still need to win our last two games to be sure of third place."

You can judge the quality of the matches by the number who sit on the bank between the stands and watch free.

Stoke (4-4-2): Begovic; Shotton (Upson 56), Shawcross, Huth, Wilson; Pennant (Jerome 78), Whelan, Whitehead, Etherington (Delap 84); Walters, Crouch.

Arsenal (4-4-1-1): Szczesny; Sagna, Vermaelen, Koscielny, Gibbs; Benayoun (Santos 83), Rosicky, Song, Ramsey (Diaby 73); Gervinho (Chamakh 78); Van Persie.

Referee Chris Foy.

Man of the match Van Persie (Arsenal).

Match rating 6/10.

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