Van Persie rescues Arsenal
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.
Shawcross had to be alert to block Benayoun as the Israel midfielder was about to shoot after a fine run into the area.
The Stoke defender was also well-placed to pull off another important block after Kieran Gibbs had burst into the area and hit a shot.
Dean Whitehead had a powerful shot deflected over as the hosts enjoyed a rare spell of second-half pressure.
Van Persie thumped a free-kick against the wall and when the rebound fell for Thomas Vermaelen, the Belgian defender saw his follow-up blocked by Shawcross, with the visitors appealing for a handball.
Ramsey missed with another drive from just outside the area as Arsenal failed to turn their control into a lead.
Arsenal also called for a penalty when Benayoun went down in the area under a challenge from Glenn Whelan.
Wojciech Szezesny had very little to do in the second period but was still able to produce a fine save, clawing Cameron Jerome's powerful effort away from the top corner, to keep the scores level.
At the other end, Sagna broke forward and had a thumping drive that flew through a crowd of bodies held by Begovic before Vermaelen thumped an effort wide from a free-kick just outside the area.
There was still a late scare for the visitors, when Rory Delap's long throw reached Crouch in the area but Sagna hacked the ball to safety.