STOKE-ON-TRENT – Stoke City’s new loan signing Jese Rodriguez made an immediate impact by scoring the only goal as his side stunned Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal 1-0 on Saturday.
The 24-year-old Spaniard, who only arrived in England this week, started and finished the move that saw Mark Hughes’s men add to the question marks that are already building around Arsenal.
Jese, who is on loan from Paris Saint-Germain, surged through midfield in the 47th minute and exchanged passes with Sadio Berahino before slotting an impressive finish past Petr Cech.
He had already set home pulses racing, having almost made a dream start to his Premier League career after just three minutes.
Veteran midfielder Darren Fletcher played a fantastic through-ball behind the Arsenal back three and Cech was required to sprint from his line to block Jese’s shot from a tight angle.
It was an attack that buoyed the atmosphere around the bet365 Stadium, mindful that their home campaign had ended in a dismal 4-1 defeat against the same opponents three months previously.
As the half wore on it looked as if there might be a danger of a similar outcome this time as Arsenal’s pace and movement began to cause problems.
On 16 minutes, Alexandre Lacazette’s pass played in Aaron Ramsey, but a slight nudge from Mame Diouf was enough to put off the Welshman, whose shot was blocked well by goalkeeper Jack Butland.
Moments later, a superb lobbed pass from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain landed on the foot of Danny Welbeck, whose volley was kept out by the diving Butland.
Arsenal appealed, unconvincingly, for a penalty after Diouf and Hector Bellerin tangled.
From another Arsenal attack, Stoke carved out their best chance of the first half as Joe Allen broke up play and Jese made an exhilarating run from one area to the other.
Offside flag denies Lacazette
He eventually pulled the ball back for Eric Choupo-Moting, who should have done far better than chip his shot into Cech’s arms.
Another outcome of that counter-attack was a pulled hamstring for Stoke’s Xherdan Shaqiri, who hobbled off soon after, his game over, to be replaced by Berahino.
It was a disruption Stoke could ill afford as Arsenal again threatened, just before the half-hour, this time from a set-piece.
Mesut Ozil’s free-kick picked out Ramsey at the far-post and his side-foot volley was blocked at point-blank range by the alert Butland.
It was not difficult to see how Arsenal had been involved in a seven-goal game against Leicester City on the opening night of the Premier League season.
Within minutes, Wenger’s defence somehow managed to leave the towering Stoke defender Ryan Shawcross unmarked eight yards out, after the breakdown of a set-piece, and he headed over from Choupo-Moting’s centre.
Stoke’s goal drew a response from Arsenal, with Oxlade-Chamberlain’s cross drawing an unsuccessful handball appeal against Kurt Zouma.
Then Bellerin sprinted through and, after Butland juggled his shot, Shawcross was forced to hack the ball behind at the expense of a corner.
Welbeck headed just over and Ramsey poked a shot straight at the goalkeeper, but Stoke retained a threat and an Erik Pieters cross found Berahino, whose awkward bouncing header was tipped over by Cech.
Butland made another fine save, stopping Welbeck as he again headed for goal, before the anonymous Ozil shot just wide.
When Lacazette finally put the ball in the net in the 72nd minute, an offside flag came to the home team’s rescue. — AFP