London: Substitute Lukas Podolski scored with a deflected free kick to give Arsenal a much-needed 1-0 victory against Stoke in the English Premier League on Saturday. After securing just five points in five league matches, sixth-placed Arsenal were in danger of losing ground in their quest for a European spot.
Stoke goalkeeper Asmir Begovic had an impressive first half in which he superbly denied Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain either side of stopping Laurent Koscielny's header. Podolski ended Stoke's hopes 12 minutes from time with a low free kick that deflected in off Geoff Cameron.
The Gunners made five changes for the match, with deadline-day signing Nacho Monreal handed his debut. The Spain international replaced injured Kieran Gibbs at left back. Robert Huth blocked early threatening balls from Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere, before Oxlade-Chamberlain, making his first league start since January 13, struck wide. It took 15 minutes for Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny to be tested by Stoke. Jonathan Walters' strike from distance was comfortably dealt with by the Poland international, who then watched Peter Crouch's attempt deflect off Koscielny and out for a corner.
There were rare moments of relief for a Stoke side on the backfoot, with Olivier Giroud heading Abou Diaby's cross into the ground when Arsenal returned to the attack. Andy Wilkinson then blocked a right-footed strike from Walcott and, after Ryan Shawcross sent over a wayward volley, City goalkeeper Begovic came to the fore.
First, the Bosnia international denied Oxlade-Chamberlain from close range after Wilshere's corner fell straight into his path. Begovic prevented Arsenal once again in the 34th, denying Koscielny's header with another block.
Four minutes from the break, Wilshere played an exquisite through ball to Oxlade-Chamberlain, whose curled effort was superbly palmed wide by Begovic. After the break, Giroud fired wide under pressure but Arsenal's attacks were becoming less frequent.
Wenger brought on Santi Cazorla and Podolski in a bid to inject new life into his side's attack, with Diaby and Oxlade-Chamberlain replaced. The introduction of the Spaniard almost had an immediate impact as Cazorla sent in a floated cross to Giroud, but the Frenchman was unable to direct his header on target.
Glenn Whelan picked up a booking as City looked to hold off the hosts, who finally took the lead in the 78th minute. Wilkinson received a yellow card for bringing down Walcott on the edge of the box, allowing substitute Podolski to send a low free kick that deflected in off Cameron's heel.
It had looked like the goal would be disallowed for an apparent offside against Walcott, but, after consulting with his assistant, referee Chris Foy awarded the goal. Cazorla came close to making it 2-0 shortly afterwards, only for Begovic to get the slightest touch to send it behind.
Michael Owen, Kenwyne Jones and Cameron Jerome all came on for the final stages as Stoke manager Tony Pulis looked for an equalizer, which never came in a heated end to the game. Shawcross was booked for a late challenge on Koscielny and Owen appeared to aim a punch at Mikel Arteta after a late challenge by the Spaniard.