Arsenal returned to the top of the Premier League thanks to a point from a goalless draw at Stoke. Arsene Wenger’s side missed the creativity of Mesut Ozil, who was injured, but had chances to win the game only to be denied by Jack Butland. The England goalkeeper tipped over Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s long-range strike, before denying Olivier Giroud’s header. Stoke finished strongly as Jon Walters had a late header cleared off the line by Aaron Ramsey. The draw means Arsenal move ahead of Leicester on goal difference. Stoke remain seventh. Arsenal have started 2016 well poised to challenge for a first league title in 12 years, and key to their impressive form this season has been Ozil.
The German tops the Premier League assist chart with 16, so his absence on Sunday because of a foot injury was undoubtedly a big blow for the Gunners. It did, however, provided Oxlade-Chamberlain with the chance to step up. He certainly looked like he had a point to prove, forcing Butland into a fine one-handed save with a curling strike midway through the first half. However, he was also guilty of losing possession at times and became increasingly anonymous as the game wore on. If he is to prove himself an able deputy for Ozil, he will need to a show a lot more than he did on Sunday. Arsenal were looking for their first win at the Britannia Stadium since 2010, so a victory at Stoke – especially without their talisman Ozil – would certainly have underlined their credentials as genuine title contenders. In the opening stages of the game, however, they were second best, struggling to match Stoke’s neat passing.
They improved as the game wore on, but not by much. Giroud’s header – well saved by Butland – was their only effort on target in the second half. Stoke could have snatched all three points just before full-time, but Walters’ header from a corner was kept out by Ramsey, before Petr Cech blocked Joselu’s follow-up. So Arsenal are back on top with 44 points, same as Lesicester and 1 point more than Manchester City and 5 more than 4th place Tottenham. Next up is Chelsea at home on Sunday.