Van Persie rescues Arsenal as Gunners stay third in EPL
AFP STOKE ROBIN van Persie’s 35th goal of the season cancelled out Peter Crouch’s opener as Arsenal picked up a 1-1 draw at Stoke.
While Arsenal knew a victory would have tightened their grip on third place in the Premier League and they controlled the game throughout, a draw does their hopes of Champions League football next season little harm.
At a venue they have rarely enjoyed, they fell behind early on through Crouch’s header.
But Van Persie, who faces speculation about his future with only one year remaining on his contract, touched in for his second goal in eight games.
Although Arsenal have endured a miserable record at the Britannia Stadium in recent years, they began with real purpose and Yossi Benayoun should have opened the scoring when he was sent through by Van Persie after robbing Ryan Shotton.
But the Israeli midfielder, who is on loan from Chelsea, could only manage a scuffed finish from a good position.
Van Persie went closer when he was picked out by a neat cross from Tomas Rosicky but Asmir Begovic turned the Dutchman’s header around the post.
The hosts had barely threatened but they took the lead with only eight minutes gone.
The ball was played out to Matthew Etherington on the left flank and the winger sent over a cross that was guided into the corner by Crouch.
But the visitors continued to dominate and Aaron Ramsey, who had his leg broken in a challenge with Ryan Shawcross here 26 months ago, just missed with a shot from the edge of the area.
Arsene Wenger’s side pulled level with under a quarter of an hour gone when Benayoun once again stole the ball from Shotton and Tomas Rosicky crossed to the far post for Van Persie to prod in.
French defender Laurent Koscielny headed over from a Van Persie free-kick and Gervinho also lifted an effort well over the bar after racing clear of the Stoke defence.
Just before the break, former Arsenal winger Jermaine Pennant’s free-kick picked out Shawcross but the Stoke captain’s header was deflected wide of goal before Robert Huth’s long-range effort also flew off-target.
Arsenal continued to press after the interval and worked space on the right through Alex Song but Van Persie’s diving header flew straight at Begovic from Bacary Sagna’s cross.