Arsenal drew 0-0 for the second game in succession at the start of the Premier League season as they were unable to break down Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium.
In an attritional game that witnessed few genuine chances, and became ever more rancorous as one of the Premier League’s real grudge matches progressed, Arsenal almost stole a win in the closing minutes through an audacious effort from Olivier Giroud.
However, their new recruit brushed the top of the net with his effort, ensuring Arsenal’s new attack was left frustrated again after drawing a second blank.
Having once angered Stoke by branding them a rugby team, largely due to their obvious aerial threat and brute physical presence, it was no doubt with some trepidation that Arsene Wenger was forced to name the unconvincing Vito Mannone as his goalkeeper following injuries to Wojciech Szczesny and Lukas Fabianski. The only other change from a 0-0 draw with Sunderland on the opening day saw Olivier Giroud come in for his first start, Podolski push wide and Theo Walcott drop to the bench.
Stoke had lost Matthew Etherington to injury and Dean Whitehead to suspension but, on a day when American midfielder Geoff Cameron also made his debut in midfield, it was the presence of Ryan Shawcross on the home team sheet that spoke to previous bad blood between the two clubs, the serious injury suffered by Aaron Ramsey in March 2010 never far from the surface when these two teams meet.
But while the stands witnessed some verbal sparring between the two sets of supporters, with Stoke fans in provocative mood when donning Wenger masks in an attempt to make fun of the Arsenal boss, the first half at least had little of the animosity that has characterised previous meetings between the two sides.
The game did at least initially follow one established narrative strand as Arsenal quickly found themselves exposed in the air. Peter Crouch rose above Thomas Vermaelen to nod the ball down to Jon Walters, who thumped the ball into the roof of the net before being rightly ruled offside. It had the shape of a warning shot for Arsenal, but unexpectedly the visitors defended superbly for the remainder of the half.
Stoke’s best chance came when Michael Kightly turned sharply 25 yards from goal and tested Mannone with a firm drive, but otherwise Arsenal dealt with set-pieces and long throws admirably, the influence of new assistant manager Steve Bould perhaps coming into play as they shed the kind of nervous energy that has caused them to lose three of their five Premier League games at the Britannia Stadium.
Fielding their three big summer signings simultaneously for the first time, Arsenal showed plenty of invention approaching the box with Podolski lively cutting in from the left and the tiny figure of Cazorla a joy to watch as he dictated proceedings from a central role in more considered fashion. The Spaniard tested Asmir Begovic with one stinging drive from long range but his best work came in his manipulation of the ball, teeing up Podolski for a firm shot over the man.
Hacing produced a lethargic debut against Sunderland, the Germany international was far more influential at the Britannia Stadium though he found his route to goal frustrated. One fine run was halted by a foul from Robert Huth, while his best chance was blocked by the diving Andy Wilkinson, who should have conceded a penalty when placing his arm in the way of the ball.
Arsenal lost their way somewhat after half time and were a touch fortunate not to concede a penalty after 58 minutes when Jermaine Pennant got round the wrong side of Kieran Gibbs and went down under contact just inside the box. The Stoke winger was furious when referee Lee Mason waved play on.
As any quality seeped out of the game, Stoke served up a reminder of the darker side to their game when Andy Wilkinson was guilty of a pretty disgraceful tackle on Podolski as he steamed into the German from behind on the edge of the box. He saw yellow, but such was the reckless nature of the challenge a red was hardly bound the bounds of possibility.
And once again the Ramsey-Shawcross incident spilled to the forefront when the former was introduced as a substitute after 82 minutes and was booed by the home crowd.
In search of poetic justice, the Wales international flashed one shot wide of the upright and, soon after Jon Walters wasted a good chance by poking the ball at Mannone, Ramsey hared forward late on, only to be ignored by Giroud as the striker went for the spectacular.
For Arsenal, it was another tale of minor frustration at the start of a season that has witnessed real upheaval in their attack.